What a gift Pope St John Paul II was and continues to be to the Church. Not just for his leadership and example, his teachings on Theology of the Body or even the Luminous Mysteries, but I have particular gratitude for his establishing of World Youth Day.This two to three-yearly event for young Catholics around the world has played a pivotal role in sparking, nourishing and fortifying my faith.

I attended my first WYD in Sydney as an 18 year old in my first year of university and it was the conduit for a real shift in my life. For the first time, I saw other young people alive in their faith - something I had been yearning for myself, and truly came to understand the true meaning of the ‘Catholic’ universal Church. Over the last few years of high school, I had been experiencing a growing desire to deepen and live out my faith.

Though I had gone to the local youth group a couple of times and felt like it wasn’t for me (everyone was FAR too nice), the announcement that our parish wanted to send a group of young people to WYDSYD08 had me excited and I ended up going with that same youth group. Turns out I loved how nice, authentic and real these people were. What started out as going to the weekly Monday night youth group to catch up with these new friends turned into 14-year-old friendships where we all grew up in our sense of faith and ministry. Our little community has continued to deepen in friendships as we all slowly stepped away from being ‘youth’ and entered into our vocations of marriage and parenthood.

WYD Madrid and Rio followed in the same suit. The small groups in particular were such beautiful avenues of sisterhood. It continues to amaze me how often a shared experience like a pilgrimage or even a retreat can connect and bond a group of people. Despite living interstate for 5 years, I have been able to remain close with most of the women in my WYD small groups and been able to journey together through the highs and lows of discernment, weddings, babies, and baptisms.

Thank you JPII for your witness and faithfulness that continues to bless so many young people in their vocations and service to the Church. Totus tuus.

Author: Vivien Lemalu