“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.”
The single most influential person in my spiritual formation is Pope Saint John Paul II (hereafter JPII). Incidentally, he was also one of the inspirations for the founding of the Abbey Youth Festival in 2001. During his time as pope, JPII traveled to over 100 countries speaking and ministering to millions of people across the globe. In 1984 JPII instituted World Youth Day, giving the youth of the world an opportunity to gather for prayer, catechesis, formation, and fellowship. Since then there have been fifteen World Youth Days held around the world - including Denver, Colorado in 1993. Your’s truly attended that one with fellow young adult leaders from the Youth 2000 1 movement. The international World Youth Day held in the Philippines in 1995 saw the largest gathering of people in recorded history for a religious event - boasting 5 MILLION people in attendance. (That record was beat in 2015 by Pope Benedict during an apostolic visit - again in the Philippines - when 6 million people gathered for mass with the Holy Father. Who’s hungry for Jesus? The Philippines for sure!)
Wow. But what’s the point? I’m glad you asked. There are several points actually. First point: JPII is awesome!!! No, really. He’s incredible, and in the fashion of all the great saints, he’s perpetually relevant. He died in 2005 but his legacy lives on. JPII spoke right to the heart of my generation. He was our pope. But you know what, he can speak to you too. Okay. Not audibly but you can read his work - and there’s a lot of it to read. He loved the youth. Do a quick google search for images of JPII and you’ll see him doing some pretty incredible things like skiing in his white pope outfit, camping, hiking, and so on. He embodied the Young Life 2 principal of “earning the right to be heard”.
From the time he was a young priest JPII intentionally spent time with young people, not just in active ministry but also just having fun. He surrounded himself with young families and maintained close friendships with people from every walk of life. He loved acting, wrote poetry and his own plays. He was an outdoorsman who enjoyed teamwork and comradery. He lost his entire family in the space of 18 years and lived under Nazi occupation. He attended seminary in secret. He knew what it was to go hungry and to live under oppression. So when JPII talks about friendship, sacrifice, work, family life, forgiveness and such, he is speaking as a man who experienced these things. He really lived alongside his fellow men and women and listened. More than that, he cared deeply.
Second point: When Pope Saint John Paul II says that it’s important for young people to gather, to come together in solidarity, in communion of purpose, I listen. This is a man who taught me who I am in Christ. He believed in me, in the youth. He inspired us with his absolute confidence that we could answer the Lord’s call. JPII knew the task would be difficult but he really, truly, deeply believed we could do it. And even should we fall, we could get back up and try again.
He instituted World Youth Day because he recognized that the youth of the world needed a time and a place to call their own. Young people need to have a chance to see and to know that they are not alone in their walk of life and of faith. Christianity, Catholicism doesn’t occur in a vacuum. By meeting others from different places, backgrounds, et cetera we learn how we are similar and grow in appreciation of our differences. Encounter creates understanding and promotes peace. We need community because as humans we need friendship.
Third point: Events like WYD and Abbey Youth Festival create an environment where an authentic encounter with Christ can occur. It’s like one-stop-spiritual-shopping for Catholic teens. You get: solid catechesis, access to the Sacraments, prayer, exposure to priests and religious from various orders, vocational awareness, fellowship with teens from a much broader area than available on a daily basis, praise and worship, and the inspiration and cool stuff to take home to help keep the fire of Faith burning! JPII would say it better, but you get the idea. Is it possible that one day with a few thousand teens, some great speakers, and the Sacraments can change your life? You bet. God’s grace with our cooperation can do anything. If I didn’t believe this I wouldn’t be a part of this ministry. WYD, AYF, and events like these are essentially about that critical encounter with Jesus and His Church. And this is the reason my husband founded AYF at the Abbey in 2001.
Final point: The locations for WYD are selected around the world so that the Gospel, in this unique format, is brought to as many young people as possible. And that’s kind of the bottom line of why Saint Joseph Abbey and Seminary College hosts the Abbey Youth Festival every spring. This place, this unbelievably beautiful place nestled in the woods of Covington, Louisiana is a place set apart for prayer and communion with God. Every day when I drive onto this property for work I am reminded that the Lord calls all of us to discover our own oasis in this hectic world. We all need retreat; we all need serenity and peace to connect with the Lord. Teens in the southern region of the United States have the chance to come to this holy place to meet Jesus without having to cross an ocean or even travel too far across the US to get here. The icing on the cake is the Benedictine community at the Abbey. How cool is it to experience a taste of a way of life that has existed in our Church since the 6th century!?
So I’ll end as I began with a quote from Pope Saint John Paul II. “The future is in your hearts and in your hands. God is entrusting to you the task, at once difficult and uplifting, of working with Him in the building of the civilization of love.” Please join us at AYF on March 17, 2018. Together we can answer the Lord’s call to build up his kingdom together.
1) Youth 2000 was started in response to St John Paul II's invitation to the youth to take an active part in the Decade of Evangelization leading up to the Great Jubilee Year 2000. In his address at World Youth Day in Santiago de Compostella in Spain in 1989, Pope John Paul II asked young people to evangelize each other by coming together, learning about and experiencing the love of God, saying "It is up to you young people that the task first falls of bearing witness to the faith and bringing into the Third Millennium the Gospel of Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life" Ernest Williams, a twenty-six-year old IT specialist from England, was moved by the challenge and came up with the idea of Youth 2000, formally founding the organization in Medjugorje in 1990. (Wikipedia)
2) In 1939, Presbyterian minister Jim Rayburn started the Gainesville, Texas chapter of the Miracle Book Club for high school students. The book club became Young Life on October 16, 1941. The headquarters moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1946. Young Life volunteer leadership began in the 1940s at Wheaton College, Illinois. At the beginning of Young Life's ministry its focus was directed almost completely to suburban high school students. By the early 1950s, it had begun ministries in approximately 25 urban areas. Young Life now has over 700 ministries located in 324 cities, reporting about 18,000 members. (Wikipedia)
By Abbey Youth Festival Director, Christine Kelly Baglow