Tuesday, August 12, 2008

WYD: When the party's over

During the World Youth Day 2008, I watched with envy as youths from all over the world came together in Sydney to celebrate the Catholic faith, celebrate Christ, celebrate unity and diversity, and celebrate hope.

I did not have the luck to be onsite to breathe in the festive air of the Holy Spirit over the World Youth Day, but thanks to the internet, I was able to follow the major events live, from the Pope’s arrival on the boat-a-cade to the evening under the stars with the Pope. I was especially moved by the Stations of the Cross on Friday as the re-enactment of Jesus’ last moments took place on the streets of modern day Sydney.

I am sure that all the participants of the event have been deeply touched by what they have experienced these days. But all of us who follow on television or the internet also feel affected by what we see on the screen. This is the wonder and the grace of this tremendous event that our late Pope John Paul II started over 20 years ago.

Yet, as I was watching the wonderful images of young people smiling, hugging, praying, shedding tears, singing praises to God, and giving witness to God to their peers, I can’t help but think forward to the days following all the festivities.

Great, I said to myself, it’s fine to pray and talk about God when you’re among friends, among people who are like you. But what happens when you return back to your country, your house, your school, and your neighborhood?

What happens when you live in a house where your mom sometimes go to church and your dad refuses to ever step into one?

What happens when speaking about faith and God to your friends is like speaking about a taboo subject?

What happens when you go to Sunday mass where there is not even a choir, much less a whole orchestra like that at the World Youth Day?

What happens when you go back to a neighborhood where people don’t greet you with hugs and smiles like they do this week?

Many other situations come to my mind that represent the reality in life, a reality that many young people face everyday in their normal environment. All these situations are contradictory to the spirit and actions seen on the streets of Sydney.

The World Youth Day only lasts a week, but these situations last for years, and even for a lifetime. It is easy to express and celebrate our faith in a utopia like the World Youth Day, but the real challenge for all of us is to live out and celebrate this same faith with the same spirit and zeal in the very difficult situations of our everyday life, where our faith confronts real obstacles.

During the WYD, we hear the Pope teaching about the danger of popular culture. In our every day life, we need to act according to this teaching by avoiding paths that lead to self destruction. Are we willing to be less obsessed about clothes, car, Ipods, and mobile phones? Are we willing to not run after the latest technological gadgets that are advertised on television and in the magazines?

During the WYD, we hear the Pope entrust the environment to us to take care and protect. In our everyday life, we need to make decisions about how we use resources that deplete the earth of life and beauty. Are we willing to take public transportation instead of demanding the convenience of driving our own car everywhere? Are we willing to separate the paper from the plastics and take them to the recycling center?

During the WYD, we hear about the virtue of chastity. In our everyday life, we need to make a decision of what to do when we are alone in the room with a girlfriend or boyfriend when the parents are away. We need to be not ashamed in telling our friends that we are going to wait until marriage before having sex.

During the WYD, we praise God along with hundreds of thousands of people accompanied by huge orchestra. In our everyday life, we have to be able to praise God alone, unaccompanied by any musical instrument except for the beating of our heart.

During the WYD, we make the sign of the cross in front of tens of thousands of Catholics. In our everyday life, we have to make the sign of the cross before eating when all around us, there are only Muslims, Buddhists, or atheists.

During the WYD, we hug people who hug us, and laugh with people who are hapy to meet us. In our everyday life, we have to smile with peole who frown at us, and love people who want to harm us.

The surreal feeling of faith and zeal of the World Youth Day will fade as we all return to real life and confront with the cold reality of everyday life. How each of us live in this very environment will speak the greatest of what we truly got out of our experience of being taught by the Holy Father, the Bishops, and fellow young people at the event. How each of us do when we are alone will be most meaningful – much more meaningful than what we do when we are surrounded by people just the same as ourselves.

It is impossible to have the World Youth Day everyday so that we can live in this set up environment all the time. We have to return back to real life. We have to return to a life in which we are often surrounded by a lack of faith, a lack of love, full of temptations, and full of opportunities for evil.

The hope is that having been at WYD, or having participated indirectly through television, all of us have brought Jesus into our heart so that even when we don’t have friends around us, don’t have the Holy Father in front of us, and don’t have bishops and priests behind us, we still have Jesus inside us. It is Jesus, in the end, who will help us to stand up to all situations that put our faith to the test.

Let us remember that we did not come to WYD just for the Pope. We did not come to WYD just for the people. We did not come to WYD just for the spectacles. But remember that we came to WYD, first and foremost, for Jesus. If that’s what we truly came to WYD for, surely, we would have gotten him. And when we return to our home, school, and neighborhood, Jesus will follow us to all those places. On the other hand, if we did not come to WYD for Jesus, but only for the Pope, the people, or the spectacles, then we missed out on the greatest thing that WYD had to offer.

WYD comes and goes, but Jesus comes to stay. May each of us be filled with Jesus and His love in every difficult and challenging situation of our life.


Vietnamese Americans sound off to the Pope

This year the World Youth Day takes places in Australia, thousands of miles from the United States. Many young people from America have been doing fundraising and other activities in order to have the funds to join in the festivities in Sydney. However, many are sad that they will not be able to meet this Holy Father in person this year.

Modern Talkings asked three young people from California the following questions and here’s what they had to say:

1) If you could meet the Pope in person, what would you like to tell the Pope about life as a young person nowadays?

Ben Tran: These days and age, especially in capitalism societies such as America. Young people are faced with many challenges. Stepping into the world, we need to establish our own places in life. With so many different forces influencing us from all directions. It is very easy for us to go astray and set a priority that leads us on a dangerous path away from God and could potentially cost us our salvation. I have friends that are formerly devout Catholics who are simply too busy to attend Sunday masses or even go to confession once a year.

X.S.: I would like to tell the Pope that believing God and living the God's words have changed and continue to shape my life in a positive way. I think with God’s power, I can help out many other people who haven't had a chance to know about God.

Minh-Kha Michael: As I am only experienced in the life of American Western society, I can only speak about the youth in this society, even though most of the world is following in these capitalist countries' footsteps. The youths are exposed to so much of the "culture of death": drugs, sex, violenc, etc. A lot of youth cannot even fathom life without the internet, cell phone, cable TV, fast cars because life = technology.

As technology advances, a lot of youths become dependent on it and are often pulled away from what is serene. Lots of people cannot even sit in silence for they are too accustomed to being busy. On a more basic level, some youths are homeless and poor, and do not have the luxury of even "touching" technology. On a deeper level, youths are often confused about a lot of things. They struggle with internal identity issues, whether it is vocational, sexual/gender, religious, ethnic/cultural, or all combined simultaneously. They are also influenced by social agents like parents, religion, culture, and school. I'm sure the pope is aware of a lot of these factors that shape and form the lives of the youths today.

One important trend I see happening, from both personal experience of friends and acquaintances and from studying psychology, is that youths are learning to differentiate between their religiosity and spirituality. People claim that religiosity is defined by religious rituals, practices, dogma, and doctrine of a specific organized religion like Christianity and Buddhism, and spirituality is defined as a relationship with a higher Supreme being, whether that is God or nature or whatever. It is said that you can be spiritual without being religious, but if religious, you are most likely spiritual as well. Youths I see are tending to move towards the un-theistic spirituality, which I feel can be dangerous if they have no foundation and believe that they will waver and fall. It's hard though with so much busyness, temptations, and questioning of the faith, and I am no exception to at least being exposed to this trend.

I hope the Pope could address the needs of the youths. I know it most likely starts at the diocesan level because that's where most youths live and can be influenced at large. That means priests should integrate their homilies to address the youths and relate the readings to their issues at masses, and more religious should be involved more with retreats and other youth supported activities. I remember the late Pope John Paul II saying, "The youth are the future of the Church and the world." We are the true foundation of the Church.

2) If you could meet the Pope in person, what questions would you like to ask him?
Ben Tran: Living in such a society, I would ask the pope what is the best way to keep up with life and not losing your relationship with God and your chance for salvation?

S.X.: I would like to ask the Pope: What is the best way to approach most elders of the way think about God? Even though they heard some good things about God. Also, will God be listening to other who is not Catholic when they pray in the name of God? I am a newly converted Catholic baptized in March 2008.

Minh-Kha Michael: How will the Church improve it's training and focus on the youths needs? What will the Church do to keep the youth from falling or leaving the Church, if that is one of the goals of the Church? I know that the World Youth Day may be fun and exciting, but the youths may come down after the "high" when they go back home. How would the Church explain or help the youth maintain their faith and "highs" even when they have dry spells in their spiritual journey?

Given that the more mature youths become early career professionals, how does the Church and/or God expect/want/help us to reconcile the difference between staying true to our faith and Church teachings while also being morally and ethically bound to our professional stances? For example, a Catholic doctor struggling with giving an abortion, a pharmacist selling contraceptive pills, a lawyer arguing for a death penalty or divorce case, or a psychologist discussing with teens about sexual activity (abstinence).How can/will the Church tell parents to be the primary educators and instillers of the faith with their children? Because I see that most parents nowadays drop their kids off at catechism class and expect the religious education teachers to do that work. I don't think it's fair to rely and depend only on these teachers to teach about the faith. It must be lived out and encouraged by the parents.

(Ben Tran, S.X., and Minh Kha are Vietnamese Americans in their early and mid twenties, from the cities of Rosemead, El Monte, and Rancho Cucamonga in California. They are members of Thieu Nhi Fatima Movement, which is based in the archdiocese of Los Angeles).

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