An Encounter for Change at World Youth Day

Father James Wilcox

Director of Vocations

North Texas Catholic


I finally succumbed to the weather and dug the World Youth Day-issued poncho out of my backpack. I tend to never carry an umbrella and will just run through the rain from my car to the building. Getting a little wet never hurt anyone.  As a priest who serves the souls in Fort Worth, I learned quickly that we never complain about rain. But this time I was not moving from vehicle to shelter; I was in the midst of joy-filled young adults from the diocese at the WYD papal welcome. So, the poncho became a necessity.

The rain was a true blessing as it kept us cool on this summer day in Krakow, Poland while we waited for the Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis. During this time, the young people on the pilgrimage shared stories of the journey so far.  

We began this journey with Jesus Christ in the Eternal City of Rome, including the celebration of beautiful Masses at the historic basilicas. For most on the pilgrimage, the Mass celebrated by Bishop Olson at the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter was a distinct highlight to that point.  

However, now here we were — a plane flight and long bus ride away in Krakow and a bit of a hike to Blonia Park, participating in World Youth Day activities and welcoming the Holy Father to the events. Blonia Park is a large open field divided into various sections to help organize the people and provide for a flow of foot traffic. As we would see in a few moments, it also provides a pathway for Pope Francis to come amongst the excited pilgrims in the popemobile. While we waited for him, there was music, entertainment, and people waving flags from their countries. (Of course we Texans proudly included the Lone Star flag as well!)

All this preparation and journeying and excitement can lead one to wonder the point of the whole excursion. The Holy Father answered that question quickly once he arrived and was able to greet us pilgrims: “So many young people from such a variety of nations, cultures, and languages but with one aim, that of celebrating Jesus who is living in our midst. Do you understand this? To celebrate Jesus who is living in our midst!”  

The focus of 2 million pilgrims at WYD was not the walking, or the rain, or the flags, or the entertainment, or even the opportunity to visit a beautiful country like Poland. When we walked in the footsteps of St. John Paul II toward Blonia Park, it was all to have an encounter with Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Through that encounter, we sought to understand the will of God and to receive the grace of courage to align our will with his.

In essence, all pilgrimages are journeys toward Jesus Christ. Our life is a pilgrimage. However, in a special way, the journey toward Christ is more intimate for the man who answers the call to priesthood or the young woman who is beaconed to religious life. The call to serve, especially in the priesthood, is always a call from Jesus Christ. When one sets out on the pilgrim journey of faith, he or she must be open to knowing that we may be called to an extraordinary life of service.

At the welcome, Pope Francis asked the young people if they wanted a life with a lasting sense of fulfillment. He helped them answer the question: “To find fulfillment, to gain new life, there is a way, a way that is not for sale, that cannot be purchased, a way that is not a thing or an object, but a person. His name is Jesus Christ.”    

Those on pilgrimage know about relinquishing items that burden one during the journey. When the focus is a person — Jesus Christ — the things that we possess and the things that possess us become expendable. We strongly desire to reach the destination and to encounter the person of Christ, so we shake off materialistic needs, prideful habits, and selfish actions. When the love of the person to whom we journey grows deeper, we desire to have others with us on the journey. We seek to help them learn about the journey, join the journey, and have an experience of Jesus Christ.

While the beginning of the papal welcome was a little wet and required ponchos and umbrellas, the rain disappeared in time for the popemobile to drive through the crowds and for Pope Francis to arrive on stage. The Lord granted us comfort and a respite on this journey, which can be seen as a moment of grace.

Throughout the entire pilgrimage for World Youth Day with the diocese, the call to priesthood was heard and the call to religious life was felt — especially in our more than 200 traveling companions. These youth were serious about listening to the Lord, through the exhilaration of the pope’s presence as well as during the difficulties of a long hot walk. May the flames ignited on this pilgrimage serve to light the path of their journey to serve the Lord.

It is now the task and the responsibility of all Catholics in the Diocese of Fort Worth to pray fervently for these young people, that they may have the courage to answer the call to follow Jesus Christ.


I finally succumbed to the weather and dug the World Youth Day-issued poncho out of my backpack. I tend to never carry an umbrella and will just run through the rain from my car to the building. Getting a little wet never hurt anyone.