The World's Biggest Sleepover

By Ben Swick

This past summer, I spent ten days in Poland with my diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for World Youth Day. There were many powerful experiences throughout the pilgrimage, but perhaps the most powerful were the messages Pope Francis spoke to us about life and love. In order to fully understand this experience, you need to be placed in the setting. Imagine a sleepover. Times it by 2 million people of all colors and backgrounds, put them in a massive field, and place Pope Francis on a platform in the middle to give a papal address.   

       Pope Francis opened his speech talking about the troubles in the world, from the violence in the Middle East, to the times of “peace” in other countries who only see this terror from a TV screen. Many youth from Syria and other countries in conflict spoke about their hardships and troubles. They told the rest of us how their countries and families are being torn apart. It is hard to comprehend exactly what is going on in these countries when we only see it on the evening news or on our cell phones. We had the opportunity to meet these people and hear their stories. It is very powerful to hear first hand accounts of what is happening across the globe. When speaking about these topics of violence and hatred, Pope Francis said, “Once and for all, may we realize that nothing justifies shedding the blood of a brother or sister; that nothing is more precious than the person next to us.” Our holy father continued by saying, “This is no time for denouncing anyone or fighting. We do not want to tear down. We have no desire to conquer hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence, terror with more terror. We are here today because the Lord has called us together. Our response to a world at war has a name: its name is fraternity, its name is brotherhood, its name is communion, its name is family. We celebrate the fact that coming from different cultures, we have come together to pray.” This was such a powerful message to all of us there. Looking at the people around us, we were from all different races, colors, and backgrounds. We are all called to join together with all people of every nation.

Right after Pope Francis spoke these words, we all joined hand in hand to pray for our world. All 2 million young people demonstrated peace and love by holding hands and praying together. It was a beautiful thing that I will remember for the rest of my life. We showed that not only could people of all races come together as one and get along, but also befriend each other and interact in a positive way. We had one of the world’s largest sleepovers with 2 million people from 187 different countries along with the pope. That’s pretty special if you ask me.

I think this is also a valuable lesson for all of us in the United States today. We have our own troubles here at home. Across the world, our troubles seem so small compared to those who are being murdered and persecuted, and families who are being destroyed. One takeaway I had on this pilgrimage is that we can live in peace with people from anywhere in the world. If we celebrate our differences instead of persecuting them, we will see that we are all more alike than we are unalike. I had conversations with people my age from all over the world. They ranged from Malaysia to Canada to Spain to Ireland and so on. The one common theme I found is that we are all very similar. Sure the language barrier is hard, but once we get past that, we see that we really do have similar goals and values in life. Catholicism is a very peaceful religion, and I witnessed this first hand with these interactions. Pope Francis is right, now is not the time for more violence and hatred. Now is the time to come together as one, celebrate our differences, and look toward the end goal. We must fight for the right to life, not just for ourselves, but especially for the poor and vulnerable members of society.

 Edited by: Tori Schoen and Barb Miller
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