World Youth Day, an opportunity for spiritual progress

By Marlon De La Torre

North Texas Catholic


Late last month, Pope Francis attended his second international World Youth Day since becoming pontiff. 

He and millions of pilgrims descended upon Krakow, the birth country of St. John Paul II, St. Faustina Kowalska, and St. Maximilian Kolbe to mark the celebration of Christ amongst the youth of the Church. For those pilgrims who had the opportunity of attending World Youth Day, it was truly an astonishing witness of faith amongst the Church’s faithful displaying an ecclesial identity rooted in Christ.

And yet through all of the spiritual opportunities of the week (i.e. Mass, confession, keynote talks, catechesis, concerts, etc.) that identify with World Youth Day, it is important not to forget what the premise of a World Youth Day pilgrimage is all about: spiritual progress. What I mean by spiritual progress is not how much we’ll be fed spiritually, instead the underlying tone of spiritual progress is what you and I are willing to offer and sacrifice for the kingdom of God. In other words, how far are we willing to sacrifice for others before ourselves?  

Human Promotion
When we think of progress from a secular point of view, it is typically associated with the personal fulfillment of one’s desires or, in other words, a desire for self-promotion. If we take an honest assessment and application of what the term ‘progress’ truly means, our first response would involve what the Catechism refers to as human promotion (1929). This involves the charitable recognition of the inherent dignity all of us possess as children of God. It serves as the genesis of human progress because it involves honoring and affirming the dignity of your fellow human being first and foremost before yourself.

Partakers of the Divine Nature 
Our role in human promotion reflects our willingness to first recognize ourselves as children of God, and second not forget that those around us are also his children. Our participation in the life of Christ is an incarnational reality where the aim is to draw into his divine nature (CCC 460). This communal character draws us to the same end: God. 

The human person needs to live in society.  [I]t is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service, and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation. ... By means of society, each man is established as an heir and receives certain talents that enrich his identity and whose fruits he must develop.   — CCC 1879 

Let’s not forget that at the heart of our participation in the divine nature of Christ lies the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist makes the Church (CCC 1396). It unites us as one body in Christ, which explains why a pilgrimage like World Youth Day would be centered on the reception of the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. 

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.                                                                                                                                                                — 1 Cor 10:16-17

The Nature of our Spiritual Progress
An important aspect of our identity as children of God is the vocation to seek God’s Kingdom. This is done primarily by engaging in temporal affairs (i.e. our duties within society and family) and directing them in concert with his will. When we decide to go on a spiritual pilgrimage, we are initiating by virtue of our baptism, an opportunity to live out the universal call to holiness. What this entails is that our central mission is to be a witness of faith proclaiming the divine message of salvation to all men. Our kerygmatic activity sets the stage for spiritual progress to be made not just for ourselves; it also provides an opportunity to plant the seed of faith for those traveling with us. Thus our activity is essentially an ecclesial work in unison with Christ and his Church. 

Responsible Discipleship
It’s very easy to get caught up in the secular aspects of a pilgrimage — especially at World Youth Day. A good way of keeping things in a Christ-centered perspective is to maintain a sense of discipleship throughout. One method of exercising our role as disciples is to serve as an intercessor of prayer (Romans 8:34) for the intentions of those in need. A second method is to meditate and reflect on the word of God through lectio divina. A third method is to prayerfully read and study the Catechism of the Catholic Church through the method of lectio divina to reflect on what Christ has taught and how we are to live out our doctrinal call. The fourth and most important method we can embrace as disciples is to associate our life with Christ and live out the mysteries of Christ in the sacraments (Jn 15:4-5) especially the Holy Eucharist (Jn 6:56).

In the end St. Paul (Col 3:12-15) places everything in perspective when he reminds us:

As God’s chosen ones to exercise and put on compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience forbearing one another...and over all these put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 

Late last month, Pope Francis attended his second international World Youth Day since becoming pontiff.