September 16, 2005

World Youth Day 2005: An Experience of Unity

By Michelle Bauman *

This past August, I had the privilege of traveling with a group of 30 people from my high school on a pilgrimage to Cologne, Germany to celebrate World Youth Day. It was my first World Youth Day, and it was truly an unforgettable experience of faith and hope. During the pilgrimage, I was able to grow deeper not only in my faith, but also in my understanding of the Church’s unity.

On the night of the vigil, 800,000 young pilgrims gathered in a large open field for a night of song, prayer, and adoration. We spent much of the evening meeting other young people from around the globe, learning new songs and dances and exchanging small gifts from our own country. As we talked, sang, and prayed with young Catholics from over 100 countries, I was overcome with awe at the unity of the Church. We were visiting with people from almost every country in the world, and we were all united in our common beliefs as members of the Catholic Church.

The sense of unity that I experienced at the vigil was deepened the next day. While listening to the newly-elected Pope Benedict XVI speak about the need to remain true to the teachings of Catholicism and to fight moral relativity, I realized that our struggles are shared by young Catholics all around the world.

But the moment in which my eyes were truly opened to the unity of the Catholic Church came during a small Polish Mass we attended in Cologne. Although I do not speak a single word of Polish, I was able to follow along with the Mass. During the consecration, I was struck with amazement by that fact that, although I could not understand the words, I knew exactly what was happening. The bread and wine were becoming the Body and Blood of Christ. The consecration is the same whether it takes place in English, Polish, or any other language.

I was overcome with the realization of how universal the Catholic Church really is. The word Catholic means "universal," and our Church truly is universal through time and space. The Mass that we celebrate in America today is essentially the same as the Mass celebrated in Brazil, Korea, and Ethiopia. It is essentially the same Mass celebrated by the early Apostles 2000 years ago. Time and space are not powerful enough to alter the essence of this sacred celebration of the Eucharist, and through the Mass, we are united with all Catholics throughout the world who have ever lived or ever will live. As the Nicene Creed states, we are "one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church," united with all other Catholics through time and space by the Eucharist.

It was amazing and spiritually refreshing to see so many young people from around the world all gathered together in one place, united by a common faith. I believe that many graces will come out of World Youth Day, and I pray that God will use this gathering to give the youth of the world the strength they so desperately need to deal with the complex and difficult issues they face every day. For this reason, World Youth Day was not only a gathering together, but also a sending out. God is calling young people throughout the world to act as His witnesses. Now that we have seen the incredible numbers and realized the possibilities and potential of a group of such size and vigor, we must act. We have heard the call and we must respond. It will be difficult, but I believe that today’s youth will rise to the challenge and confront the evil and sin present in the world. We are now waiting to see the fruits that will result from the seeds that were planted within 1,000,000 young people in Cologne, but I, for one, have already experienced the incredible unity and strength that was present at this amazing World Youth Day.

Michelle Bauman is a senior at the University of Dallas, where she is studying politics and journalism.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.