World Youth Day homilies in some of Italy’s most beautiful churches spoke for mercy, the Catholic faith, and its enduring relevance.
Fr Daniel Russo was ordained mere weeks before the World Youth Day pilgrimages began. Assigned to St Mary’s Cathedral, he has acted as chaplain for schools in the parish catchment on Bus 15 including Marist College North Shore.
His homily in Florence allowed pilgrims to see the flaws of the Church along with the value of the Catholic faith. The next stop in Assisi, where Fr Ben Johnson spoke of the example of St Francis, cemented the view.
“When our Lord revealed himself to St Francis at the point of his conversion he said: ‘Rebuild my church for it is in ruins’. Francis initially thought that meant the physical church he was in, but he realised later that it was to rebuild the spiritual life of the Church that had become decadent.
The challenge of the modern priest is to present the Gospel in a way that is accessible to young people.
“The 14th century has been called a golden age of the life of holiness in the church. St Francis along with St Clare and St Dominic really spearheaded a revival. When confronted with corruption and scandal within the church, St Francis shows us a response – it is renewal from within.”
There was also no shying away from the reality of the Church’s history, both older and recent.
“The point I tried to make in my homily [in Florence] is that we are called to be part of the change and call out what is bad,” he said. “St Dominic and all of the other saints we are going to visit on this pilgrimage were also sinners. The saint is simply the humble sinner. St Francis shows a truer way to greatness is the path of love and humility.”
Fr Daniel said the call of the Gospel was timeless, and Wold Youth Day a chance to look beyond our current situation.
“We gather together with other people of a like mind to go see Pope Francis, but on the way we are on pilgrimage. This is the time for change and it is a time we give to God in pilgrimage, to discover Him more deeply.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the desire of young people today for God. That although we live in a very secular age, and although our children find it kind of difficult to be expressive about faith it is still there.
They don’t look at the challenges but at the most important things. That is the spirit of World Youth Day.
“The challenge of the modern priest is to present the Gospel in a way that is accessible to young people and after having gained their trust. We might be tempted to despair when we see diminishing numbers in church attendance, but that’s not a reason for discouragement, and that doesn’t mean changing the message.
“If a team on the soccer field keeps missing the goal it doesn’t mean we need to move the goal posts, it means we need to shoot better.”
Krakow is Bus 15 chaplain Fr Simon Kitimbo’s fourth World Youth Day, after Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Sydney. So what goes through one’s head when writing a homily for a World Youth Day audience?
“The most important thing is to help the young people come to Jesus Christ; to experience his love and his mercy,” he said. “Mercy is something that we experience every day of our lives but sometimes we take it for granted. It is very easy to not pay attention to what mercy does for us, and God’s mercy for us.
“I think this World Youth Day is a good opportunity for us to come to God and to be able to understand what it means to be forgiven by God. After experiencing that, we ourselves are called to be merciful to others.
“The joy and excitement of World Youth Day will come to an end when world Youth Day ends.
“That excitement is limited to a particular time, to that event. But the joy that the Lord gives us is much more than that. It comes from actually humbling ourselves, of being able to give of ourselves to others in love and service.
“It is not that we give this service in order to receive joy, but there is a sort of boomerang effect.”
Fr Simon said the beauty of the World Youth Day experience was that people were able to put up with any sort of setback.
“They don’t look at the challenges but at the most important things,” he said. “At World Youth Day we take what comes and call it part of the pilgrim experience. We are able to put up with it and be nice to one another, be happy and just help each other out. That is the spirit of World Youth Day and the spirit God asks us to be.
“If we were able to live like that every day, the world would be a better place.”