World Youth Days

By Claire Dulac

Claire Dulac grew up in Haines Junction, a small town in the Yukon Territory in northwest Canada. She attended the World Youth Days in Denver, USA (1993), Manila (1995), Paris, France (1997) and Rome (2000). Here is an edited version of a letter she sent to friends after Rome.

My Dear Friends in Christ,

I have just physically returned from an amazing journey with God and with friends, though my spiritual journey continues. I was extremely privileged to be one of two million youth to attend the Jubilee World Youth Day (WYD) Pilgrimage in Rome, Italy, from 13 to 23 August 2000. What a truly encouraging, spiritual, wonderful, and enlightening experience this was for me.

Since coming home I’ve often been asked, ‘What did you think? Did you enjoy it? And how was it?’ My answers might range from, ‘It was way too hot, there were way too many people, I was exhausted, the walk was hard and long, etc.’ Instead, I think the questions should be, ‘How did you feel? What did you experience?’ My answer then would be ‘God.’

I had nine wonderful days in Rome, with the Diocese of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Canada, which had kindly adopted me. Our group of 45 included a seminarian, a deacon, three priests, an incredibly ambitious couple and 38 young adults ready to experience God. Our group was part French-speaking and part English-speaking from Ontario, and myself from the Yukon. We gelled together extremely well. Others were amazed at how strong our group was. We began each day with group prayer in both languages and closed each evening with group prayer and sharing time, not to forget all the praying that took place during the day. In any message received from Mary, the Immaculate Conception, she tells us to ‘pray, pray, pray’; and that we did.

The week was well planned, packed with activities and events. Our first day saw us in Assisi. On our second day WYD opened with the arrival of the Pope. The following three days were set aside for preparation for our pilgrimage walk and the vigil and Mass with the Holy Father. After WYD we had a two-day tour of Rome, one in the ancient city and one in the religious city.

The Pope’s arrival was amazing in one way, but extremely frustrating in other ways. I was too busy fighting with 700,000 other people for a spot in St Peter’s Square, which holds a mere 50,000, just to see and be near the Holy Father, instead of sitting and listening to his message. I felt the energy of the crowds, the excitement, knowing that the only thing between me and the Holy Father was a barrier and the stairs of St Peter’s Basilica, and being able to share the experience with friends. The Holy Spirit was so alive that evening in St Peter’s Square.

The following day we had our first catechesis session, with Cardinal Polycarp Pengo from Tanzania. He spoke to us on the words ‘Jesus of Nazareth is God with us.’ He spoke to us about Mary and her visit from the Archangel Gabriel, and how she and Joseph were both very young at the time. Therefore, we as youth should see these two saints as our role models, for at such a young age, they gave up their lives for God. Cardinal Pengo asked us, ‘How can you as youth, bring God’s presence to the world today?’ In summary, our answers were: to try and exemplify Christ using as few words as possible, through our daily actions, and to pray, pray, pray.

We then had the opportunity to ask His Eminence questions, which he answered with incredible grace and simplicity. When someone asked about the need to go to confession my heart felt heavy and my Spirit weak. I almost felt ill, and then it dawned on me that it was God talking to me. He was telling me that I had to go to confession. Cardinal Pengo told us that as Christians we all have faith; our faith is personal but also communitarian, meaning with God. As we all sin we cannot have full completion, full commitment, and full involvement with God; we therefore need to realize that we indeed sin, and that even the greatest of saints sinned. As a result, we need to go to personal confession before we go to total confession, otherwise known as redemption. Because of sin we are segregated from our fellow Christians and so should want to go to confession to rejoin our community of believers.

During the Mass with the Cardinal, I struggled inside; I felt empty. When I was going up to receive Holy Communion I had a continuous feeling that I should not take the Host but should go back and sit down. Of course, I did not listen, and the moment I took the Host, I was ill. I had instant tears and felt awful inside. It took me a few minutes to quit crying and summon up enough energy to receive a blessing from the Cardinal. However, when I was face to face with him I started to bawl. I felt like an absolute bumbling idiot but found that his blessing calmed me. That evening I went to confession and afterwards felt my spirit had been released of a great burden and it began to soar. I was then, in hindsight, ready to receive what God had in store for me.