Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I have just returned from the massive trip that was two years in the planning and two weeks in duration.  Right now I am in the shell shocked, over exhausted, and slightly sick recovery state.  A few more days of normal sleep (trying to get back into this time zone) and finishing my laundry will put things to right again.

The trip was incredible.  No matter how many World Youth Days (WYD) I attend, each one in it's unique way is absolutely wonderful and the occasional disaster.  This one blew me away in some major and innumerable small ways.

The incredible large moments were the Living Stations of the Cross and the overnight vigil and Mass with the Pope.  The Stations were indescribable.  Over the course of 3 hours, actors re-enacted the Passion narrative using the landmarks of Sydney as their backdrop.  To see the Opera House transformed into Pilate's palace and Jesus transported with his cross on a simple flat float were stunning images that I am still processing.  What spoke most to me was the casting of an Aboriginal man, in traditional garb, as Simon the Cyrene.  After beginning to learn more of what the Aboriginal peoples of Australia suffered, the image of this man helping Jesus to bear the Cross was one of the most moving moments of the two weeks.  

The overnight vigil was incredibly cold, down to 46 degrees overnight, but was a beautiful witness to the universality of faith among young people.  Our small group from the U.S. was surrounded by Germans, Tongalese, a large group from the United Arab Emirates, and an enormous group from California.  All of us were willing to brave the chilly temperatures, occasional issue with malfunctioning toilets, and canned tuna to pray together at night and close the WYD event with the massive Papal Mass on Sunday morning.

The small moments were the things that no news agency would wish to cover, but which made the trip more meaningful.  Watching group members care for individuals struggling with the confusion, teens pausing to pray instead of sight-seeing, finding old friends in the midst of thousands of strangers, these were the moments that helped to ground the experience for me in a complex reality.

What is difficult is the reactions of the teens.  WYD is primarily geared towards those 18 and older.  By taking a significant number of 16 & 17 year-olds, the dynamics change.  I obviously cannot have young people roaming long after midnight through a foreign city.  This means curtailing our evening activities.  With a diverse group of people, there is a complicated matrix of needs and wants to work with that rarely coincide with each other.  Inevitably, people have disappointed expectations or are pushed beyond what they had imagined the trip to be.  Young adults are more ready, developmentally, to face these challenges and make decisions accordingly.  In the case of teens, they often will become antagonistic, shut themselves off, or begin the time honored tradition of complaining.  I struggle greatly with this.  I want to take teens, but I question the wisdom. 

I had teens complain the trip wasn't religious enough.  Others that it was too religious.  Some wanted more freedom, while others  I knew required structure.  Balancing all of this is an impossible act.  Of course the nay-sayers are the most vocal, which makes it more difficult.  With my present exhaustion I am a bit more negative myself.  Time will give perspective.

Until then, I will continue attempting to reorient myself to this time zone and enjoying the quiet.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Needs of the Many, Needs of the Few

Within ministry, the choice between the needs of the many and the few often is a difficult one to make.  The hardest moments are when the needs of the many, those you minister to and with, come in stark contrast with the needs of the few, yourself and those you love.  

This morning was the normal frantic routine of final packing of toiletries, rechargeable batteries, and the ever misplaced glasses case.  Then, just as I hung up after calling my mother, my cell phone rang while still in my hand.  I was thrilled to see it was my closest friend, one who just moved out of state and I miss dearly.  A bit surprised to see her calling so early, I just chalked it up to her wish to talk a bit before I leave.  I only wish that was the case.  Instead I learned her father had just passed away.  Knowing this moment was coming due to a long illness, I long ago made the decision that as soon as I got this call I would pack a bag, grab my maps, call in to work and head down to help her.  After all, her kids treat me like an aunt, I know what those first days after a death are like, and it was just the only thing I could see myself doing.  Contrary to those plans, all I can do in these few hours before I leave the country seems too small.  I made a few calls, got a friend to take care of sending flowers in my name, plan to have Mass intentions set when I get into the office.  

It is these moments when my duties and call to youth ministry divide my heart and challenge my will that I find myself most disheartened.  I know that the pilgrimage I am leaving on will be a wonderful experience for all involved.  I know that my friend understands and would not wish at all for me to cancel my trip.  I know that I will see her just a few days after returning.  I know what I need to do, but it most definitely is not what I want to do.

So I will close, turn off this laptop, pack it in my backpack.  I will pray yet again for my friend, her family, and even for myself.  I will load my car, head to work, then to the airport.  But with all that I have packed, a bit of my heart will be torn off and left with my friend and her family.

Monday, July 7, 2008


All the helpful comments of, "You are brave" or "Better you than me!" have officially hit the pit of my stomach.  Within 24 hours I will be on my way to World Youth Day.  Over two years of planning, thousands in fundraising, and countless hours of preparatory meetings and administrative frustrations culminate in this two week pilgrimage.

Alas, all the 'helpful' support of friends and co-workers who express their amazement or general relief that I and not them take on this trip has resulted in adding to the already high level of stress and nerves I am experiencing.  Of course the shorter than expected hair cut is not quite helping.  Yes, I am at that point in the life of a youth minister where it seems God's sense of humor, or maybe irony, appears to be plaguing me.

Overly dramatic? Probably. But short hair, stress, and the frustrations with the visas are adding up to give me cause to live off of Tums and coffee.  Not good.  At least there are some treats from Whole Food's salad and deli area for super.

Due to the pilgrimage, posting will be sporadic (still).  I do hope to share some of the thoughts and reflections of the trip.  Escaping for a few minutes at the end of the night to the silence and space of the blogosphere will be a comfort!