My whole life, I have stated I am a member of the Catholic Church. I specifically remember learning in youth group that the word “catholic” meant universal, but the definition didn’t mean much to me until I partook in World Youth Day 2005. It was the summer before my freshman year of high school. I was only 14 years old, technically younger than the recommendation for a World Youth Day participant. Despite knowing that, my mom and dad decided to bring along the entire family when my two older sisters and their youth group needed adult chaperones to attend World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany. While my mom tried her best to prepare me for what we were about to embark on, I admittedly had the notion in my head that we were just going on another family vacation.
The Universal Church
We arrived in Munich, Germany, and my family of six along with my parish’s youth group began an adventurous excursion up to Cologne, complete with castle viewings, eating delicious German cuisine, and praying in some of the most beautiful churches I have ever stepped foot in. But it wasn’t until we arrived in Cologne that my jaw really started to drop. As we entered Cologne, pre-ceremony events and activities were starting to take place. And there were crowds and crowds of people everywhere. As a young teenager, it hadn’t truly registered in my head just what it meant to have a “world” youth day. Seeing so many nations represented with flags and people of so many different heritages come together to unite as a church was incredibly powerful to me. The words “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” that I stated in the creed every Sunday at Mass started to gain more traction in my head and in my heart. There is a universality to our faith; and I was watching it come to life before my very eyes as a 14-year-old teenager.
The Most Impactful Part Of World Youth Day
The most impactful moment for me was the Mass celebrated in a huge Cologne field. We camped out overnight and slept on the ground awaiting our pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, who would arrive the following morning. I remember waking up groggy and chilly from the dew that collected on the grass overnight. But I quickly shook off any sleepiness when I sat up and looked around me. Surrounded by Catholics and their representative flags, the rest of the community also began to wake up around me. I was encompassed by approximately 400,000 young people from over 200 countries. Exciting, anticipatory music began to play. Everyone was full of life and joy, excited to celebrate Mass with the pope. To celebrate the liturgy with such a vast and diverse gathering of young people who loved their Catholic faith was inspiring and intense.
I was caught up with emotion as it took over an hour for Communion to be distributed. The length of time didn’t bother me as it would have back home. Mass was no longer seen as just something I had to get through with my family every week. World Youth Day showed me that my faith was something that I was choosing as a young adult. It was no longer something I did just because my parents made me or because that’s what my family has always done. Faith was now something I was going to personally prioritize. It became my own after that Mass in the middle of a field in Germany.
Our faith as Catholics is rich, deep, and something that is always ready to be explored and unpacked more and more. I encourage you to dive deep. Come to understand that God loves you, and that His love spans throughout the entire world, to every person, regardless of heritage. This love God has for me that I first experienced in Germany still impacts me to this day. My relationship with the Lord has continued to grow, but much of it started as a teenager all those years ago.
About the Author: Mallory has a deep love of the Catholic faith and enjoys sharing her faith with others. Mallory is a wife and mother who is a stay-at-home mom and resides in Denver, Colorado. Prior to having children, Mallory worked as a Child & Family Therapist specializing in trauma-focused treatment of children. She also served as a missionary with Christ in the City, conducting relational ministry with friends on the streets of Denver.