Michaela Blackwell is a 1st year medical student at the University of Cardiff. Michaela was part of the 2011-12 volunteer team at Soli House, a retreat centre for 14-18 year olds in the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
I was very unfortunate back in the summer of 2011 not to go to WYD in Madrid, and the decision not to go is one that I will always regret! However back at home, I was eagerly waiting to hear the great teaching and advice Pope Benedict would give to the youth of the world, and when I was finally able to hear, I was not disappointed.
“Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.”
Pope Benedict XVI, World Youth Day 2011, Madrid
I was about to embark on a year working in youth ministry at Soli House, a Catholic Youth Retreat Centre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. A decision that many people had criticised me on, especially when it came to applying to university and choosing to defer my entry, despite the fee increase. It was a new challenge, something I’d never done before, and something I was uncertain that I would be able to do. Society around me had always been pressuring me to be like my peers, and spend my time doing what the WORLD wants me to do, not what GOD wants me to do. And so to hear Pope Benedict say to the youth of the Catholic Church that we need not be afraid, because we have a particular reason to be part of this moment in time. Wow! I knew that I was being called to live a life that was ‘counter cultural’, one that many people shunned me for. However, it was for God that I was living this life, and for Him that I was to spend a year of my life dedicated to spreading the Gospel to young people in the Birmingham Archdiocese. And what a fantastic year it was. Strengthened by the encouragement of the Holy Father, I was able to search deeper within myself, and discover my true person, who I was meant to be as a Child of God, and how to live as a Child of God in our secular world today.
Since finishing Soli House I’ve now moved on to university, where the student culture, of getting drunk, causing havoc and a lack of self-respect, dominates the student ethos. Once again I find myself looking back at the advice Pope Benedict gave the youth at WYD and reminding myself not to conform to this world, and despite my struggles settling in, that actually I’m here, in this particular place for a reason, to let God’s name resound to all. That’s been my aim in these first few months at university, and through striving to live a life worthy of Christ, I’ve had many people ask me why it is I am always cheerful, or where do I get all my energy from. I praise God for these people, as they allow me to fulfil the task Pope Benedict has set me,
“We need to speak with courage and humility of the universal significance of Christ as the Saviour of humanity and the source of hope for our lives.”
Pope Benedict XVI
To most students, the Catholic Church is an establishment full of rules that restrict you from having fun, but through positive experiences with the Catholic youth of today and through ‘generation Benedict’ we can strive to show our peers how Christ, and His teachings that have been preserved in the Catholic Church allow us to be truly free. So through the trials of university living, of life as a young Catholic today, I with you, my brothers and sisters, may continue to accept the challenge the Holy Father has set us all, and strive always to share with society, the love of Jesus Christ.