How can I sum my experience at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland this past week? Perhaps a British author said it best: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
I must confess that I generally avoid big papal events. My last (and only) World Youth Day was in 2000 with St. John Paul II in Rome. I regret not having the chance to see something with Pope Benedict (who knew he would resign before I got the chance to?). So when I got the invitation a few months ago to help out at World Meeting of Families, I was excited to be at an event with Pope Francis. Also, being a performer meant I had a “backstage pass” and could get closer to him than most (the above pic was from my iPhone—at one point he was about 50 ft. away from me).
For me, it was incredible not just to see the pope but also to see him in Ireland, a land where all my great-grandparents hailed from. Ireland is sacred ground to me, and I didn’t think it a coincidence that I got an invitation shortly after my dad passed away. It was a pilgrimage to a place that meant a lot to my family.
There is two things I love about doing ministry: the people I do ministry to, and the people I do ministry with. “The best of times” was certainly spending time with the missionaries with YOUCAT, the “youth catechism” that was endorsed by Pope Benedict. (They have just released “YOUCAT for Kids”, a catechism for families, which is really beautifully done and I’d encourage any families out there to check out.) They were from Brazil, Indonesia, Germany, and Lebanon. Many of them were active in youth ministry in Ireland, particularly in Belfast. Their passion, their perseverance, and their heart for sharing Christ to young was inspiring and convicting. The situations they shared with me made even some of the toughest places in the US seem tame.
“The worst of times” was the constant presence of the sexual scandal that put a pall over everything. Every reporter asked the same two questions: “What do you think about Pope Francis?” and “What about the sex scandal?” Moments after I’m elated to be a football throw away from the pope (and I can’t throw a football that far), my phone is blowing up about the ex-nuncio’s letter telling the pope he should resign. I have to admit, it really took the wind out of me.
I’m not big into conspiracy theories, and I don’t know what to do with all of this conflicting information. Scrolling through my news feed on my iPhone, there is story after story (and opinion after opinion) on how the Church is corrupt, the Church is dying (or dead), and why would anyone want to be Catholic anymore?
For me, it boils down to simple questions. Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead or not? Did He institute the Church or not? Is the Holy Spirit still in the Church or not? Catholicism is not about guys with pointy hats telling people what to do. That’s the world’s perception. And while one shouldn’t diminish the Petrine part of the Church, nor should one isolate it, as has been occurring in the press these days. For whatever reason, Jesus has always invited sinful people to do holy work—this is the history of the Church and will continue to be until the day He comes again. That statement excuses nothing but explains a lot.
I love and pray for the hierarchy of the Church, but it is only one part of the body. This week I got to see many of the “other parts”: lay missionaries sharing the Gospel, families coming to celebrate the faith together, artists using their gifts to glorify God, and pilgrims from around the world gathering together in prayer. “The best of times.”
Of course, when one part of the body suffers, the whole body does. As a Catholic, I feel the pain of a scandal that I’ve had nothing to do with—I would say that goes for a vast, vast majority of Catholics. I pray for healing for the victims, I pray for justice to be rendered to those who were involved, and to be honest I pray it would all be over. I don’t want to read about another scandal, another abuse, another victim, another cover-up. I’m not suggesting people should stop reporting the truth, I’m just praying for a time when there would be nothing like this to report. “The worst of times.”
So as I’m flying away from the emerald isle, what can I make of this week? I got to go to a mass with the Pope. I got to work with amazing men and women who have given their lives so that young people can know the hope and joy of Jesus Christ. I got to lead worship in front of the Eucharist. All wonderful, amazing things that I’m grateful to God for.
One thing I didn’t get to do, which I had hoped, was to visit Armagh where my Dad’s family was from. The Lord is saving that pilgrimage for another time. My good friend Joe, who lives in Belfast, got me a small present from there: a key chain with the Rice family crest. As I turned it over, I saw that on the back it had the Rice family motto: FIDES NON TIMET.
Faith, not fear.
It was a message from my dad.
Things look bleak. Things are tough. How should I respond? FIDES NON TIMET. Faith, not fear.
I think that’s a pretty good message for us all.