If there's anything more inspiring than World Youth Day, I'd be hard pressed to come up with it. That is because few things are as uplifting as thousands--make that hundreds of thousands of young people on fire with the love of Christ. It's a beautiful thing to see sheep from all over the world gather with the Shepherd of the Universal Church. It's even more beautiful to see them basking in Catholic identity.
There's no getting around it. Something happens inside you when you're in the same room as the pope, even if that "room" is a field large enough for 2 million people. It happened to me as a protestant on Boston Common on Oct. 1, 1979. It happened when our oldest two daughters travelled to World Youth Day in Rome, when we took seven kids to the Jubilee for Families, and again at Yankee Stadium just a few years ago at Mass with Benedict XVI. To encounter the papacy is to feel the ropes of Peter's nets in your hands.
Last December, I started work on a project that brought me back to that very same experience of Church. It involved spending three months compiling and editing the words of 19 popes into a series of 96 page prayer books designed for young Catholics.
I proposed these books because I knew firsthand how very powerful the words of the Holy Father can be. But I also knew how difficult it is to receive the full depth of those words in a crowd, or in sentences complicated enough to give Cicero a run for his money. With the permission of Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican's Publishing House, I was able to adjust the vocabulary and formal sentence structure of papal thoughts and prayers to make them -- and the popes who wrote them -- accessible to youth.
I knew that the words I would choose and edit would be inspiring. But I did not expect to discover so much treasure in them for myself. What touched me most was the timelessness and continuity of our faith as it has been expressed by popes across the centuries. Words about the Eucharist written by Pope Urban IV in the 13th century sound like they could have been spoken yesterday. St. Pius X's prayer to St. Joseph for success in work is as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago.
But I was also struck by the great variety and depth of the Holy Fathers whose words I gathered. The missionary spirit of Blessed John XXIII is tangible in everything he wrote and said. Pope Pius XII's love for the Blessed Virgin Mary is as personal as it is visible. The courage of popes who led and served the Church in difficult times, like Leo XII, St. Pius V, and Benedict XV, is astounding. These Servants of the Servants of God enacted countless reforms, promulgated devotions, founded academies, commissioned art, collected books, and preserved archeological treasures. All these testify to the many gifts of the one Spirit that gives life to the Church. But greater than anything else is the lengths to which they were willing to go to proclaim and defend the faith.
I began work on these youth prayer books to provide meaningful gifts for Catholic kids who may not ever have the opportunity to see a pope in person. But in that mystical economy of grace so characteristic of our God, these books have become a real gift to me. What a pleasure it is to belong to the Body of Christ! What a joy it is to see the Good Shepherd in the words of those who serve him as Holy Father to us all!
Look for "Praying with the Holy Father," "Honoring Mary with the Holy Father," and "Adoring Jesus with the Holy Father'' online or at your favorite bookstore.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.