Ah, World Youth Day. I still remember the first — and last — time I attended World Youth Day, when the Pope came to the Philippines in 1995. I was still Roman Catholic at the time, an active choir member at Mary The Queen. Our parish was host to several international delegates, the largest group of which, if I remember right, were from Canada.
On the night of the vigil, the MTQ group was positioned near the back of Quirino Grandstand, about as far from the stage as you could get without falling off the platform to Roxas Blvd. Different parishes and groups of delegates were assigned specific locations, marked by bamboo cordons. That night, as the Pope prepared to make his address to the youth (I could just barely see him from there), hundreds of faithful Filipinos began crowding into the area, all hoping to catch a glimpse of John Paul II.
By about 10pm, things got ugly. People had broken through many of the bamboo barriers at the rear of the open area, and more unsavory elements in the crowd were threatening to “evict” our international delegates, because they wanted their turn to see the Pope now. Eviction would have been unnecessary, though, as the crowd was expanding by sheer force of numbers, and we were told by our group leader to form a human barrier to keep the crowd from overrunning our section.
Have you ever been in a mob? A sweaty, disorderly, uncontrollable mob; a literal crush of people, through which sudden movement can generate waves of chaos, of men pushing and yelling, of ladies fainting? It was that kind of mob. Standing there that night — with arms linked in the sweltering heat, jostled every which way while we recited decades of the rosary to pacify the unruly masses, who screamed to see the Pope while not even listening to the words he was saying from the stage, or even to the words of the rosary which came forth from their own lips — I suppose I had an epiphany of sorts.
The next morning, the crowd was simply too large. We abandoned Quirino Grandstand and missed the Pope’s Mass, opting to view it on TV instead, from the relative comfort of our homes.
A month later, I decided to embrace what I knew as born-again Christianity, and leave Catholicism as I knew it behind me. Most of you evangelicals probably know the “drill” — Repent of sins, Accept Jesus into heart as personal Lord and Savior, Justification by faith alone, then you’re officially Saved. I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer from a Four Spiritual Laws tract
Though it would be grossly unfair of me to judge the Catholic faith solely by that event, I do acknowledge that my World Youth Day experience was, ironically, a significant factor in my conversion away from Roman Catholicism. Still, I’ve had no cause for regret, and I’m happy for the way my faith has grown since then. Yes, I know I’m anathema, and no, I don’t feel like getting into yet another Protestant-Catholic discussion.
(Darn it, the links for the Pope’s messages to the youth on this page seem to be pointing to the wrong documents. Well, how’s that for Infallibility? :)
Update, April 2005: Welcome, Googlers. A word of commiseration: though the Pope’s own visit to the Philippines was the catalyst for my departure from Roman Catholicism, I still deeply respected John Paul II as a staunch defender of faith, life, and tradition, and my prayers are with you and the entire church in this time of sadness and loss. My testimony of faith, if you wish to know.