Presented in cooperation with Greg Schlueter and JP2Journey.com: The JP2 Generation Tells Its Story, remembering World Youth Day 2002 and the impact of Pope John II.
Part Seven, Theresa Bey
On the seventh day of World Youth Day 2002 we walked from our sleeping areas to Downsview Park, where Pope John Paul II would celebrate the Mass with us the next day. I do not remember how many miles we walked that day. I do not remember how hot it was. In fact, I do not remember most of the people that walked that journey with me. I had turned seventeen only two weeks prior, and while I did not realize it at the time, this walk was symbolic of how far I had come from being sixteen.
Sixteen was a hard year for me. For the first time many things fought for my attention other than faith. I fell in love for the first time. School, sports, and plays vied for me. I suddenly found myself in the midst of a booming social life I had not had previously. I often sacrificed youth nights for other endeavors, towards the end of the school year my youth minister even joked that he had not seen me in many months. However, I was still dedicated to my faith. When I was confirmed I chose St. Zoe of Pamphilia as my Confirmation saint because zoe is Greek for “spiritual life,” or “God’s life”. A few weeks prior to World Youth Day I found myself in a job I hated, working odd hours, and gaining little fulfillment. I had also lost my zest for the faith and did not want to go to World Youth Day. I was in a sad state.
Mothers are truly geniuses, and mine insisted that I go to World Youth Day or pay her and all my donators back the money they had given me to pay for my trip. So I went. That week changed my life. On the seventh day when I walked, despite heat, asthma, and my disdain for drinking water at any temperature other than ice cold, I knew a change had taken place within me. Just as I was walking from the old place to the new place, I was walking away from my old ways and putting on the faith, making the choice for the faith and for Christ. I would not return home the same.
I remember snippets of the walk — my youth minister carrying his djembe, kindly neighbors turning on their hoses and sprinklers to cool us off, being thrown lunch out of the back of a truck by my friend Maria. And I remember finally arriving at Downsview Park, setting up camp, exploring with my friends, making new friends, standing in line for the bathrooms, bewilderment at an all-night vigil celebration, and being next to my friend and falling asleep in my sleeping bag while in the middle of a sentence.
When I returned from World Youth Day, I quit my job because it was not allowing me the time or focus to pray. I began reading the Gospels and reflecting on them. I changed the course and focus of my life. Soon after, I was asked to be a part of my parish’s youth council and then asked to join the diocesan youth council, as well. And I was put to the test. But I remembered Pope John Paul II’s zeal for the young people and his faith in us, and so I persevered. I decided to attend college and study Theology and to minister to people (I ended up with a Bachelor of Arts with majors in Theology, Catechetics/Youth Ministry, and English). But most of all, I decided to keep walking.
It has not always been a clear, smooth path in my days since World Youth Day. The darkest came on March 30, 2008 when my mother died. She had always been my support, my stronghold; she knew me better than any other person and was able to push me to pursue my goals and dreams, including the Catholic faith, in a way that no one else could. She is my best friend. The loss of her to me, at 22, was devastating. But on that night that she died, I was able to praise God and thank Him for the time that I had with her, for the journey we shared on this earth (she also attended World Youth Day with me), and for the new journey she and I would be embarking on. I thanked Him for her and for allowing her to share in part of my journey with me. And I kept on walking.
I keep on walking — each new step changes me, brings me closer to God and eternity, and even when the path is dark or I stumble, I keep going. I have since graduated college, moved from Pennsylvania to California, been homeless, lived in four places in a year and a half, been a youth minister, and am now a religion teacher at a Catholic high school. I have gone from being a single, motherless, twenty-something young woman to an engaged woman preparing for marriage to a holy man who travels my road beside me and who allows me to travel beside him. I am not the same person I was even a day ago, and my journey continues. A popular phrase used at many youth events in my home diocese was “the journey is for eternity.” It truly is. I keep walking — for my mom, for my fiancé, for myself, for God… each day approaching holiness, goodness, and eternity ever more closely. I keep walking, yesterday, today, tomorrow, and every day after that until I enter heaven — and even then I will keep walking, for eternity is the grandest journey of all.
Theresa Bey is originally from Conneaut Lake, PA. She currently resides in Riverside, CA and teaches Morality and Theology of the Body at a Catholic high school. In her spare time, she writes and runs her own online jewelry business. She is engaged to Jess and they are to be married this August.