I start with diversity because with all of the countries that were represented in the celebrations, it was the concept most explicitly represented. I once learned from Fr. Joseph Michini, S.J., that a critical aspect of the Jesuit approach to life is to appreciate more than merely to tolerate differences, and to cherish diversity. The designs of the Magis program and of World Youth Day encouraged this idea because we were constantly exposed to people of cultures that differed from our own. There were well over 50 nations represented in the Magis program, consisting of around 2,000 pilgrims between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. We constantly ate, joked, danced (a lot), and prayed with people from all walks of life. We Hoyas befriended Spaniards, Italians, Brazilians, Argentines, Mexicans, French, Jordanians, Koreans, Ghanaians, Canadians, and Germans, among others. When we were divided into small groups for a week to explore various parts of Brazil and participate in prayer, service projects, and celebrations, we were in mixed delegations.
The diversity that I witnessed during World Youth Day broadened and deepened my understanding of what it truly means to be Roman Catholic. To give some background, “Roman,” of course, originates from the manner in which our faith, the Church of Christ, was incorporated into and spread throughout the Roman Empire. “Catholic,” originates from the Roman word catholicus (Greek katholikos), which means universal. I highlight these definitions of the components of the name which we call ourselves because while we so often only use the term “Catholic” when we refer to our faith, we as Roman Catholics, especially in the United States and Europe, tend to have a mindset that is much more “Roman” than “Catholic.” For example, we often use “Rome” and “the Church” interchangeably, which doesn’t highlight how culturally diverse the members of the Church are, as shown by an event such as World Youth Day. While the Bishop of Rome is the main attraction at World Youth Day, the greatest phenomenon is the universality, the catholic aspect of our faith, manifested in the diversity that exists among Catholics in the world. What I saw in World Youth Day was a faith tradition, founded by Christ, transcending all languages, cultures, ages, and experiences known to mankind. Millions of people were gathered on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro because of a love for God and a desire to experience God in a universal way. With over 1.2 billion followers , there isn’t another faith that is more diverse than our Roman Catholic tradition, and that is because its core message transcends all cultures: “To love the Lord your God with all your mind, body, and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself.” This message transcends all cultures because in every faithful heart, there exists the desire for God, the love for God, and also because humans are a species whose members by instinct are social and must work well in conjunction with one another in order to succeed.
With this appreciation for diversity in regards to the Catholic faith, one must not forget that much of the diversity of the body of Christ has been the result of the actual blood, sweat, and tears of Jesuits who have revealed Christ to a multitude of cultures throughout the world for centuries. I conversed with many Jesuits about the ways in which their forbearers have influenced the Church and the World. An event like World Youth Day would not have been possible were it not for the Jesuits, given that they as a society have shown a desire to spread the word of God to all the ends of the Earth. In fact, many countries, such as Brazil, can trace their Catholicism directly back to the efforts of the Society of Jesus. By embracing all cultures, Jesuits have been on the front lines of the efforts to grow and diversify the Church and create an environment in which World Youth Day is possible. The Jesuits have taken an approach of revealing and explaining Christ to all peoples by appealing to that universal desire for the Magis, the “Greater,” God. More than merely allowing for diverse cultures to exist with Catholicism, they have emphasized the importance of practicing Catholicism, the practice of following the Great Commandment, in the context all cultures.
The Great Commandment, whose message transcends diversity, whose message has been carried to the ends of the Earth by the Society of Jesus, can be summarized in one word – love.
Love is my greatest takeaway from the Magis Program and from World Youth Day. Almost all of the homilies that were given during the masses that we attended could be summarized by this verse from the fourth chapter of 1 John: “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Love and God are one, and those who seek love seek God; and those who seek God, seek love. In essence, whether we were aware of it at the time or not, that’s what we as pilgrims were doing during our experience in Brazil.
The Church is the body of Christ, and Christ is God, and God is love. In Brazil we truly were in the presence of God. It was beautiful to see millions of people on beautiful beaches and under glorious sunsets seeking God. Their diversity represented the universal aspect of our faith, appropriate since our Church is the body of Christ who is God and who is also universal. Since God is universal, his love is also universal, and the Jesuits have been at the front lines of revealing that universal love to the entire world.
This experience has broadened and deepened my understanding of my faith and of my life. Pope Francis and our bishops have called for the “New Evangelization,” an effort to personally reveal the love of Christ within our own communities, especially those who may be experiencing faith-related crises. In order to do so, we have to learn as Catholics how to do it in the Jesuit style of explaining God, and revealing God in the context of the modern realities of the fast-paced, high tech, social, interconnected, and ever-changing society in which we live today. We must seek to emphasize and obey the Great Commandment in a way that transcends all of our differences, whether they fall along ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, ideological, socio-economic, or religious lines. Above all, we must do this with the mindset that when we express God to others through our efforts to evangelize we are expressing love to them, and love for them. Conversely, when we express love to others, we express God to them. Therefore, expressing love to all people, regardless of their differences, and in recognition of the fact that as humans, we are all made in God’s image and likeness, is an evangelization in and of itself. The most fulfilling life belongs to the person whose daily actions demonstrate and are geared towards a genuine desire to follow the Great Commandment, to love God and every individual human made in his image and likeness.