By Rev. Brendon M. Laroche
I have recently returned from serving as a chaplain for a pilgrimage of young men and women to World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal. I wanted to share some of my experiences watching these young men and women over the week’s events. My hope is that it will fill others with hope for the future of the Church, just like it did me.
The first thing I want to mention is how easy these young Catholics formed friendships with others from all over the world. Through broken English, half-remembered bits of Spanish, impromptu hand gestures, and simple smiles and nods, barriers to communication were broken down through shared love: love of God and love of the Church, but also love of soccer, basketball, dance, and song (to name only a few).
I watched as young people from all over the world traded signatures on t-shirts and national flags, traded religious medals, holy cards, and homemade crafts. I watched as the youths from our pilgrim group played soccer with the Portuguese, Spanish, and Italians. I watched as we learned to cheer in Italian (Italiano batti le mani, if I remember correctly). I watched as they discussed faith and life with young people from the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, other parts of the USA and the rest of the English-speaking world at English-language events. I watched them join in dancing to the chants of “Alleluia!” led by a group from South Korea.
Most importantly, I saw them at prayer before our Eucharistic Lord. I saw them deeply enthralled by his Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament. I saw them moved to tears and praise as they prayed in silence and sung along with the songs of meditation and thanksgiving.
These two things are not separate. Our Holy Father Pope Francis chose the Visitation as the theme of this year’s World Youth Day. We know that Our Lady was deeply contemplative. Her Magnificat shows a deep familiarity with the Scriptures of Israel. And twice St. Luke tells us that she kept the events of Our Lord’s childhood “in her heart” (Lk 2:19, 51). But she lived the idea of contemplating and then handing on the fruits of contemplation.
The first thing she did after her Fiat, after accepting the Real Presence of the Word in her womb, was to carry that word to others. Hearing that St. Elizabeth was pregnant, she went to help a beloved member of her family. And in doing so, she brought Christ to St. Elizabeth, filling her with the Holy Spirit and sanctifying St. John the Baptist within her womb.
What I saw among the young pilgrims in our pilgrim group, and among pilgrims from all over the world, was this spirit of the Visitation. Of a deep, even contemplative, love for Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament leading to encounters of shared faith, love, and understanding. And this should give us all hope. Christ, who came to set a fire upon the Earth, has kindled his fire in the hearts of our youth.
Photo: Father Brendon Laroche and St. Thomas More youth ministry members visited Fatima while in Portugal for World Youth Day.