I don’t know why, but this World Youth Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Cross. It is partly because the Cross is the symbol of WYD (very clearly displayed as the WYD Cross). But there are other reasons. I began this journey reflecting on the adventure of walking alongside Jesus hoping to encounter Jesus. At some point in that journey, we are bound to encounter the Cross.
The Feast of St. James was this past week on July 25, and I had the wonderful opportunity to be the Deacon of the Mass with Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia. Being up on stage in such a prominent role was an emotional experience. Coleridge spoke about martyrdom because St. James, the brother of St. John, was the first disciple to be martyred. He was beheaded by King Herod. But this is the disciple who asked Jesus if he and his brother could sit at His right and at His left. Jesus asks them if they are willing to drink from the same chalice that He will drink. They respond yes, not understanding at all what that meant. Surely, at the time of his martyrdom, St. James would have been reflecting on the journey of the last couple of years. Finally, understanding and filled with grace, he did drink of the chalice. His encounter with Christ meant giving it all. Archbishop Coleridge also reminded us of the tragic train derailment in Spain that had taken place that morning. Forty-five people lost their lives. They were on their way to Santiago de Compostela, where the shrine dedicated to St. James is located. Pilgrims on a journey lost their lives.
While I was setting up the altar, Sarah Kroger was singing “Run to the Cross.” I kept thinking about all those who’ve come to the Cross. Those who’ve been martyred, but more so those who have given so much of their lives: parents, lovers, children, believers, pilgrims. What are you willing to die for? What are you willing to live for?
And that is a huge part of WYD. We come seeking to encounter Christ and we suffer hunger, we have to walk, we sleep on the floor. There are lineups and there is rain. Things are delayed and sometimes cancelled. You get sick and get blisters. This is the Christ who says “follow me” and then takes us where we don’t expect to go.
On Wednesday when Pope Francis visited the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, he spoke about the openness to being surprised by God. That has to be an important part of our faith. It has to be part of our spirituality. It definitely has to be part of our attitude if we want to survive WYD!
Last night, during our coverage of the Thursday Papal Welcome Ceremony, live from Copacabana beach, as we were being entertained by a beautiful display of Brazilian music and dance, representing the vast culture and faith of this country, a country whose roots are seated deeply in the Cathollic faith, the satellite signal was lost. We were not able to continue our coverage. Thankfully, our team in Toronto was able to adjust, switch satellites and show the coverage from Vatican TV with commentary in English from Vatican Radio.
Compared to the families who lost loved ones in that train derailment in Spain, our “adjustment” is of no consequence. Compared to the people who live in the Community of Vaghinas, the favela slum that Pope Francis visited Thursday morning, our frustrations are nothing. Still, God calls us, everyone in our own way, to let Him lead, let Him decided, let Him be God.
WYD has always been for me a time of transformation. I pray that as we go through into the “Triduum” portion of the week, with Friday’s Way of the Cross, Saturday’s Vigil and Sunday’s Closing Mass, we remain open to being surprised by God and not afraid if we see the Cross as we turn a corner. On the other side of the Cross is freedom.
I don’t think that I can drink of the chalice. I don’t want to drink of the chalice. But I trust that when the time comes, I will be given the Grace to respond as the sons of thunder, James and John did: “yes, Lord, we can!”