Did it change you? This is the question I have been asked most since I returned from Rio.
Did World Youth Day change you? How are you going to go and make disciples of all nations?
Barely having made it back home, collapsing from jetlag and general tiredness, it is not a question I had a ready answer to. My instant response has been vague, and I can see the inquirer is less than satisfied with my rejoiner.
The last person to ask me this, however, did me the favour of reminding me I had already come up with a solution.
Having made my way back to the Media Centre after the Vigil, sleeping bag in my hand and backpack complete with toothbrush and blanket, I managed to find a spot in the press conference room to sleep. For an hour and a half. Yes that’s right an hour and a half. It was no surprise then that when I was woken up at 6am I wasn’t fully functioning.
The morning was a blur. I was due to stay in the centre and work through the Mass, tweeting live. The Media Centre was in lock down from 7am, as the Pope used the helipad behind the centre to arrive before each event. Starving and feeling brain dead I sipped hesitantly at the coffee put in front of me.
That’s when it all became a bit strange. A friend of mine, Carlos, came running into the café area, grabbed me by the arm, without explanation and pulled me towards the other end of the centre. Running behind me the two boys I was spending my breakfast with looked bemused.
I was left confused, as Carlos said something quickly in Spanish and disappeared. Next thing a new man was grabbing my arm – my arm was grabbed a lot that morning, it was like playing tug-of-war. The man was talking about an interview with EWTN and attempting to put a yellow wristband on me.
I have never been so obliging. I let him lead me through a side door, where I took a moment to work out where we were.
Then it hit me. Oh. To my right was the helipad, to my left the camera crew ready to capture the Holy Father as he stepped off the helicopter.
Confusion seemed to be my default setting that morning, so I went with the flow. I was told to step on the ledge next to the fence and wait for the Pope. Carlos appeared again (this man was like a ninja sneaking around) beaming. The boys and I were told since we were about to be interviewed for the American coverage of WYD, we had to wait in the camera area, which to our great luck was en route to the stage for the Pope. We were a few feet from him.
Mere seconds later we heard the choppers blades, and saw the helicopter land not far from where we were. We heard the popemobile start up. Next thing I knew the camera car passed then there he was, right in front of me. For the second time. I spend the night traipsing around Copacabana beach in a bid to get as close as possible to the stage and the Pope, then I am thrown into a situation not of my own making with the Pope right in front of me!
But what has this got to do with the mission, go and make disciples of all nations? Well, everything.
I was led up the stairs to the EWTN area and got ready to be miked up. Inspired by my chance encounter I wasn’t nervous at all. I found myself laughing with the hosts, and telling them all about my WYD experience. Then came the question.
“It sounds like you’ve had a great experience, but the Pope has asked us all to go and make disciples of all nations, what are you going to do when you get home?” I paused, my brain whirring away. Here it was that dreaded question.
Then it came to, divine inspiration! “Three things,” I said.
One, share my story and encourage people to come to WYD. Two, renewed in faith I feel more able to answer any challenges to the Church, something that is sorely needed in the UK at the moment. And the last thing? Bring WYD home.
I don’t mean bring the WYD spirit home, I mean actually bring WYD home. We, England, want WYD. It has never been clearer than during my time in Rio that England is ready to welcome the millions of pilgrims, just as Rio did. It was with confidence that I said: “We Want World Youth Day in London.”
My answer was met with chuckles from the presenters, I am not sure how serious they thought I was being. They wished me luck convincing everyone at home. But from the reaction I have got since I have returned from Rio, you know what? I don’t think everyone needs that much convincing.
So the work begins, and I eagerly await the moment when at the end of the WYD Mass, the Pope announces ‘London 2022’ as the next WYD. I hope to see you there.