• Steph Unger

Esta es el juven tude el Papa: ‘This is the youth of the Pope’ by Rachael Grech

**This reflection was written by Rachael Grech, teacher at Christ The King Primary School Deception Bay**

World Youth Day, 2019, hosted in Panama Central America, 100,000 registered pilgrims. What a journey. It is something that I am really struggling to do justice. It can easily be told, however, to truly understand you must be one that felt what it was like to be there. I am very lucky, grateful and blessed by the experiences I had. Some things I wish to share with you include the pivotal moments that resonated most with me and the things that I hope will help with your perspective of religion and faith that you can take with you moving forward into each and every day.

I did not and still do not 100% know where I fit in our faith world. There are two things that people say you shouldn’t talk about; politics and religion, yet I just spent two weeks talking about nothing but religion, and with an open heart and mind, my perspective has changed. I have realised that my faith comes from within. The biggest thing I have learned is that you don’t have to be a bible basher to experience unity, strength, understanding or enjoyment with like-minded strangers. Your choices and spirit are what make you a good person as faith is as much about looking outward as it is inward.

The whole theme of WYD this year was ‘Dare To Say Yes’ and this was directly linked with the story of how Angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her that she was chosen by God to bare Jesus. After some thinking, some questioning "why me" and some confusion, Mary said "Yes". The young woman of Nazareth was not part of ‘social networks’ at the time. She was not an ‘influencer’, but without wanting or trying to, she became the most influential woman in history. This made me realise that I need to consider my influence on others. This is usually a direct reflection of how you feel about yourself and your own inner strength and challenges. You may find your true self when you realise what your calling is – and I think this is pretty relevant for us as teachers. Our identity and purpose go hand in hand.

A big thing that hit home for me, and allowed me to connect, was realised during Mass held under a shelter in the middle of a zoo. It was windy, there were school children running and screaming, wildlife to contend with and rock-hard wonky tables. I personally sometimes struggle with prayer, it can be something that we as Catholics, and in a Catholic school can ‘go through the motions’ of. In his homily, Fr Stanley, our in-house priest spoke about different types of prayer. Prayer is our way of connecting with God, and even though he is not physical, and we can’t see to believe, it is still powerful to feel like someone is listening. And what Fr Stanley said was this… ‘Our prayers should not always be nice, kind words. They MUST be honest. It's okay to be angry, to question, and dislike and disagree with what happens around us.’ The power of embracing this is that we need in order to accept our circumstances. To offload our burdens to those around us, or to God is a liberating way of being able to feel in control of a situation – especially if it is something that can’t be changed or was not chosen.

Papa Francisco spoke strongly about how it is impossible for us to grow unless we have strong roots to support us and keep us firmly grounded. It is easy to drift off when nothing holds us down. These four key things include: family, work, education and community. You have to water the roots that you wish to grow.

While in Panama I witnessed many different perspectives of belief, and let me tell you, the Americans were very interesting, fundamentalist views are not my cup of tea – but they are taken on board (then pushed back over board). Faith to me is about finding what fits you, and allowing yourself to embrace the Lord and the Bible teachings. Moving forward I will definitely be embracing the morals, principles and messages provided to us through each story. Us young people in the Catholic church are the future of a 2000 year old institution. Change in the Catholic church will occur, however it will just occur slowly and it is our job to embrace and assist the evolution in letting the church guide us, and we make our own informed choices.

Something I found quite challenging at times was being in a foreign land, as much as I loved it and enjoyed all sorts of weird street meat on a stick, trying to communicate was at times awkward and hopeless, but we managed. And FYI – talking louder, slower and with hand actions does not miraculously allow the locals to understand English – but to communicate with a smile, hug, a high five or prayer hands, at times, was more than enough.

The Pope’s addresses were absolutely mind blowing – they are available online if you google it ‘Popes address World Youth Day’. He is labelled as ‘the progressive pope’ and he was an absolute legend. His message was clear, we need to do good, be good and make good choices in this world around us – we must spread love and joy, and respect all creation. He encouraged us pilgrims to embrace life and accept the things that are not perfect, pure or distilled, as these imperfect things are no less worthy of our love. Is a disabled, or frail person not worthy of our love? Is a person who happens to be a foreigner, a person who made a mistake, a person ill or in prison not worthy of our love? Jesus embraced the weak, weary and difficult. He even embraced and forgave those who crucified him – why? Because only the loved can be saved, only what is embraced can be transformed.

Esta es el juven tude el Papa ‘This is the youth of the Pope’. 

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