Over the past few months, I have been interviewing local youth and young adults who are planning to attend this year's World Youth Day in Panama. Some of their stories are featured in this week's paper, and some will be featured in a future issue. They come from different backgrounds and are at different places in their faith journey, but all share excitement about what is to come.
I am grateful that I will also be traveling to Panama at the end of next week to share the story of World Youth Day with everyone back in the United States. Through the frenzy of writing stories, brushing up on my Spanish, setting up international phone coverage and making a packing list, it was not until recently that I actually stopped and asked myself some of the same questions I have been asking the other World Youth Day pilgrims: "Why are you excited? What are you hoping for?"
Admittedly, my role in this is different than the pilgrims I have written about. I am primarily going to be there as a journalist. But I am also a young Catholic, and I haven't quite wrapped my head around the fact that I am going to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of other young Catholics from around the world.
To be honest, that scares me a little. I'm not a big fan of crowds. When I am choosing a spiritual experience for myself, I am much more drawn toward a silent retreat in the woods than a loud conference with a lot of people.
At the same time, one of my favorite parts about being Catholic is the universality of the faith, and I am excited to be able to visualize that more readily when I see people from every continent around the globe gathered together in one place, worshiping the same God who loves us all.
I have attended Mass in different countries and in different languages before, and I am always struck by how I can be united to people from a completely different culture through a liturgy that is still so familiar.
While interning in Dublin, Ireland one summer in college, I would sneak to the closest church for Mass during my lunch breaks. Much like St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, the church was in the middle of a very busy part of the city, but when I walked inside and shut the doors, there was a peaceful silence and warmth. When I was missing my family and friends back in the United States, something about being in front of the tabernacle in that church felt like being home.
So even though I don't know exactly what to expect for my first World Youth Day, I think it might feel a little bit like sharing a home with people who I have never met, whose language I don't speak, and who have very different life experiences than me. I think it might look a little bit like what we will see when we arrive in our real home – Heaven.
I hope our reporting from Panama will bring a little bit of that feeling back to Washington, so our readers can also experience the hope and joy that so many World Youth Day pilgrims describe. We will be posting stories, pictures and videos on our website and on our Catholic Standard Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages. I will also continue to post reflections on the Everyday Faith blog throughout our time in Panama.
We will be praying for all of our Catholic Standard readers, and we ask that you please pray for us and for all World Youth Day pilgrims as we embark on this journey!