This post follows on from Part 1, which can be found here.
3. Sense of the Universal Church
For many of the pilgrims, World Youth Day is their first experience of a major Catholic event. Only at large celebrations in Rome, really, is such a beautiful example of the universal Church otherwise offered. A quick glance at the national flags in the crowds shows one part of this, but it is also the range of religious habits, of the New Ecclesial Movements and communities, that reveals something of the healthy plurality that exists in the Church, and which becomes a strengthening factor in the experience of World Youth Day. That plurality, too, is of course maintained and disciplined by the guidance of the Holy Father. His presence at World Youth Day is not simply as a crowd-pleaser, but as an essential sign of the universal nature of the Church, which gathers with Peter to say to the Lord, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you”. World Youth Day pilgrims take this idea away with them – they learn something about the universal nature of the Church, and they glimpse the real and paternal care exercised by the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. They learn something by experience that in the past was reserved to seminarians sent to Rome for their studies and, in doing so, they gain a profound understanding of their incorporation into the mystical body of Christ. Whether they come from thriving parishes, or are relatively isolated as young, faithful Catholics, such an encounter creates a personal sense of discipleship, and an intentional sense of mission, making them more confident to speak of their own experience of Christ’s love to their friends and peers.