Because the Pope invited me.
I know, it’s a bit of a grand claim. But there’s a story behind it.
In September last year, the Pope came on a state visit to the UK. It was a powerful event in many respects. Powerful in that the pope’s presence caused an astonishing change in attitude from negative to positive in much of the British media. Powerful in that it helped to heal some old wounds left over from scandals of the last 50 years. And powerful for me on a personal level in so many ways.
I went on a pilgrimage to London from Devon (geographically not terribly far, but the change in scenery and an overnight bus journey with no sleep certainly reinforced its pilgrimage status). I was with a lovely group of young catholics from Plymouth diocese (Cornwall, Devon and Dorset). Our first stop was Westminster cathedral where the pope gave mass. Afterwards he came out and addressed us, a crowd of young people from every diocese in the country. He spoke to us meaningfully and gave us real things to think about. It was amazing.
Whilst that was an unforgettable event, the reason I’m going to World Youth Day probably stems more from the vigil at Hyde Park that evening. The shear diversity of the massive crowd at that event was astonishing. From young families, to teenagers, the elderly and those from other countries there was little at first sight that would bring such a mix of people together. And yet, there we were, all there to witness a vigil.
I think that really showed me for the first time the power of the Catholic Church to bring people together. Everyone was lovely to everyone else. If you wanted to have a little prayer, or just proclaim that you loved god, it was okay. No one was going to judge you.
Later, the Holy Father spoke to us directly. Addressing the young people present, he invited us to world youth day. I hadn’t heard of it prior to that day, and a person on the visit had been promoting the diocesan pilgrimage to the event. Others told me that it was a bit like the day I had just had, but on a much larger scale.
The opportunity to do something even approaching the experience of being with so many other young Catholics wasn’t one to miss. Which brings me roughly to where I am now. Someone once told me those sort of events “give the spiritual batteries a recharge”. I think I’m ready for another recharge.