In his “year in review” Pope Benedict the XVI mentioned much about the recent World Youth Day in Madrid. Rocco Palmo shared his message and you can read all of it here. But here’s my favorite snippet:

I would like to speak of one last feature, not to be overlooked, of the spirituality of World Youth Days, namely joy. Where does it come from? How is it to be explained? Certainly, there are many factors at work here. But in my view, the crucial one is this certainty, based on faith: I am wanted; I have a task in history; I am accepted, I am loved. Josef Pieper, in his book on love, has shown that man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another. He needs the other’s presence, saying to him, with more than words: it is good that you exist. Only from the You can the I come into itself. Only if it is accepted, can it accept itself. Those who are unloved cannot even love themselves. This sense of being accepted comes in the first instance from other human beings. But all human acceptance is fragile. Ultimately we need a sense of being accepted unconditionally. Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being. If ever man’s sense of being accepted and loved by God is lost, then there is no longer any answer to the question whether to be a human being is good at all. Doubt concerning human existence becomes more and more insurmountable. Where doubt over God becomes prevalent, then doubt over humanity follows inevitably. We see today how widely this doubt is spreading. We see it in the joylessness, in the inner sadness, that can be read on so many human faces today. Only faith gives me the conviction: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being, even in hard times. Faith makes one happy from deep within. That is one of the wonderful experiences of World Youth Days.

I had travelled to Sydney and to Toronto for the World Youth Day celebration and some experiences were central for me.

The first was the International Flair: All these people coming together and barely any hostility in the air. If only politics ran as smoothly. It goes to show what an attitude of peace can bring. I particularly enjoyed meeting a young man named Allen from Kenya and we’ve kept in touch a bit over the years. His spirituality gave me much hope for the present. Take a listen:

And we thought we had problems. Here is a young man dealing with the care and the financial burdens of people with HIV and AIDS. We need more inspiring people like him.

Additional gratitude goes to a bunch of lovely women from Chicago who I have kept in touch with for the most part. They were all different and had different perspectives on things. Lauren Gaffey (pictured, right) continues to be a colleague at Charis Ministries and is now a young mother. I remember the stress of organizing the trip was getting to her and she embraced me when we met at our hotel. I think we had met in person only once before that. Helping her relieve a bit of stress began the start of a week where we’d grow closer and she’s one of my closest colleagues today.

Brianna (pictured with the reaching Koala, left) also was a colleague who I now simply refer to as “Lil Sis.” We continue to share joys and sorrows, prayers and blessings. She’s found a new ministry through art and studies and even rounds things out by being an enthusiastic barrista at Starbucks. She can lift my spirits with a quick note on any day of the week.

Lori (supporting my bad back on the left) was the wise acre of the group, who always had a smart answer for everything. She could take it and dish it out with the best of them. Her faith is different from mine, hers a bit more traditional, but she often lets me know that she likes that we can have conversations and see one another’s point of view. I think she’s made me a better minister through our friendship and I pray that she brings others to similar places in her ministry.

Lexi (right) was the fun one. She could find a party in the middle of nowhere and her smile lit up every room she’d enter. She would remind us not to take ourselves too seriously and would always challenge me to loosen up a bit. I am grateful that I could recommend her to my alma mater, Fordham, where she now works in student activities.

Melissa (Below) was also one with whom I enjoyed spending time. She talked much of her family and the children in her family especially. Polish by nationality, she had more energy than just about anyone and was always up for something new.

These holy women were my favorite part of World Youth Day. This unexpected joy brought me closer to Christ, to the Magis of my life–to enjoy being with people especially in one on one experiences and in bringing them together prayer experiences where all could share their lives with one another. Some of the deeper experiences of discernment happened for me with them and they made me realize where I am most called in ministry.

So like the Pope, I am grateful for having been loved by God through these experiences. These people brought me to realize who I am most called to be and I hold those experiences close to my heart as I do each of them.

So today I pray for my traveling companions from Chicago. Next year at Wrigley!

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