Michigan, USA – In the hours before dawn stirs, a “youth” of the world is waking up to say a prayer, only to see that every way he turns, on the cold ground with sleeping bags and blankets, scores of his own peers are wrapped up tightly and are entranced in a dream which has arisen in their minds. And as he quietly turns to face the church and kneel, he allows his fingers to softly intertwine, securing faith, hope and love between the smoothes of his palms. He then gently lifts his head to look upon the rock of his faith, and smiles as his heart says its prayer.
While many Catholic youths across the globe gather for events, prayers, and other such occasions in their towns, for five days every two to three years, the youthful believers of Catholicism make their way to one special spot in the world to unite with the Holy Father and other religious leaders. As Pope John Paul II stated in his letter to Cardinal Eduardo Francisco Pironio on the event of the seminar on World Youth Days organized in Czestochowa, a city in southern Poland, this is done “ to consolidate the ordinary youth ministry by offering new encouragement for commitment, objectives which foster ever greater involvement and participation.”
Drawing together hundreds of thousands of youths from nearly every country on the planet, World Youth Day was instigated by Pope John Paul II in 1985. The purpose of this joyous celebration comes in three parts: 1) Collective Unity: This is a calling for the youth of the world to join and be one, and is a powerful reminder of the strength and confidence the young bring and give to the Catholic Church in this day and age. 2) Placing Trust in the Young: For if it were a “simple gathering”, the ways of the World Youth Day would not be as faithful and eloquent as they are. It is a time to put confidence in the world’s youth and their faith. 3) Meeting the International World: How fascinating is it that people of the 20th and 21st centuries exchange their time, care and devotion with others from all over the world and merge with such a moving international experience? Each stranger becomes a friend, a brother, and/or a sister during this event. Race, traditions, and social position have no authority here, just as they do not in the eyes of God.
What brings incredible delight is that Chaldeans from our own community connect with this experience and travel to the designated location to be a part of history. Marla Garmo, 23, declared, “My time in Cologne can be described in two words: grace filled. The entire 17-day pilgrimage was unforgettable, but the days in Cologne were the pinnacle of the trip,” when asked to summarize her time spent in Cologne, Germany for World Youth Day 2005. “It was my first experience at a WYD, and I was in for a big shock. We were pilgrims, not tourists.”
Some would probably think that there would not be many Chaldeans present at the World Youth Day event, but Maryann Shango, 21, can prove otherwise. She stated, “One thing I can tell you is that we were surprised to see Chaldeans. Not because we didn’t expect to see them, but instead because we didn’t expect to find them amidst the thousands of people! It was an amazing feeling to meet Chaldeans from all over the world: Germany, France, Switzerland, and even Iraq.” Along with that, Garmo gracefully added, “That moment was incredible. Each group we met with was special. We couldn’t communicate perfectly… but we embraced each other. Without being able to express it verbally, we knew why each of us were there. We knew the history of our people, and in those moments, we knew and we shared, and it was unspoken.”
However, with a charm in her way, Shango expressed what really stood out the most while taking part in the gathering in Germany. She explained that, “It is truly an experience where you can witness and really appreciate the universal characteristic of the Catholic Church. These feelings are even more pronounced when you, along with people from all over the world, adore Christ in the Holy Eucharist, even at 3 or 4 in the morning.”
Each World Youth Day that takes place is casually identified with what is known as the “theme”. Michael Mansoor, 21, explained that the “theme” for every event is actually “a couple of things. The first one is, obviously, youth. Another would be togetherness. It is just a time when we all come together with one important thing in common, our faith. When you’re there you feel the ‘togetherness’ with everyone there, our brothers and sisters. That’s the main theme.” When Mansoor joined the experience in 2005, the charismatic focus was, “We have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2), and for the next World Youth Day, which is to take place in Sydney, Australia in 2008, it is, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
It is a blessing that every World Youth Day brings hundreds of thousands of individuals and shapes them into one being with God, but of all international level celebrations, World Youth Day 1995 brought 5,000,000+ people together to make one self, leaving it at what is to be considered the largest papal gathering in Roman Catholic history. This specific event was held in Manila, Philippines and the theme was fitting entitled, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you” (John 20:21). Nevertheless, the World Youth Day of 2005, which appealed to 1,200,000+ faithful youths in Europe, truly united the attendants on deep emotional and spiritual levels. “The word communion has a few meanings, but if you think of this word in the context of WYD, it has a different mean,” affirmed Garmo. “People were in Cologne for the same experience, a mutual experience of Holy Communion. Seeing all of the young people that were ‘on fire’ and spiritual was refreshing and reminded me that His Kingdom is not of this world, but of the next.”
Kristina Younan, 23, avows that her favorite part during her five-day encounter in Germany was, “definitely the mass on the last day of WYD. When we receive the Eucharist at mass, we are, in a very real way, showing our union with all the rest of the Church. This is easily imaginable in each parish as you go up for communion with the rest of the parish present. But at WYD, it was on a much larger scale. I was united and received communion with 1,200,000+ people. I can’t even imagine!” And as Garmo called to mind having been in the midst of Pope Benedict XVI, she recalled how blessed she felt to be near him, “because it is such a surreal experience where you know you are in the presence of a living saint.”
WYD 2005 was the first such assembly to take place after the death of the beloved John Paul II, and commemorated the first apostolic journey of Pope Benedict XVI. In fact, it was the first instance in which the Pope had traveled outside the walls of Italy since his election.
Mansoor hopes to go back someday, “I definitely plan on returning to WYD. It was a life-changing event. This time around I would encourage more youth to come along. I believe it is a great experience for a young person.” Moreover, other Chaldean community members, such as Jenna Atcho, 18, pray that by God’s will, she may one day walk upon the grounds where the World Youth Day event will take place, “This is truly an event that I would like to take the time to experience in my life. I mean, how often do you get the chance to travel to a whole different part of the world to see one of the most well-respected, well-known, and well-loved people in the world?!”
As Mother Theresa so devotedly stated, “If you want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out. To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it, “ and that is just what the young in our Chaldean community are doing with others all over the world. Showing that words and actions are one matter, but the faith and love in the depths of our Chaldean hearts, are the same as theirs: flowing with the grace of God.
Evon Elias is an Oakland University, Michigan student with a deep understanding and interest in religious and spiritual matters. Ms. Elias writes for www.CHALDEAN.org and publishes her work in the religious and spiritual section of the community website. Comments regarding this article or suggestions for future articles can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or directly to Ms. Elias at WithHisLove48@yahoo.com