Rachel Kidd, age 25, from Dundee in Scotland. Rachel works for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. She did a year with the Emmanuel School of Mission in Rome, and is the Scottish co-ordinator for Night Fever.
When I was first asked to write a blog post about how Pope Benedict has influenced my own faith journey, I honestly didn’t think I would have much to write, not because I don’t love the Holy Father in the same way that so many young Catholics do, but because I’d probably never actually reflected on how much of an influence he has had on my journey with Jesus Christ.
It didn’t take me long to find the first moment that Pope Benedict appeared on the scene in my life. At 18 years old, I made a pilgrimage that would be change my life completely. In the summer of 2005, I set off with a group of young people from my diocese to attend World Youth Day in Cologne. This event was a pilgrimage filled with incredible graces, I have met so many young people whose faith journey either started or came alive in a new way during these 12 days in Germany. I think that there was something special about that event, as Pope John Paul II handed over to his successor the event that he had launched, I can only imagine the prayers that were being sent down from heaven. The great transition from one incredible Holy Father to another.
When I arrived at World Youth Day, it’s safe to say I was not your average pilgrim and let’s just say that’s an understatement. I only decided to go to Germany because I fancied a holiday with some young people and for the first several days of the pilgrimage, that is how I treated it. Most people questioned why I was there, this was a mystery to all of us including me to be honest, but not to God of course – He knew exactly what was about to commence. I soon came to realise that if you give God even the smallest opening into your heart, He can change everything. I’ll never forget the moment I was standing by the Rhine River, surrounded by thousands of young people, for hours….and hours, wondering what on earth I was doing there. We were of course waiting for Pope Benedict to come down the river on his boat and I really wasn’t very interested at all, however, nothing could have prepared me for my own reaction to seeing him. I got my mobile phone out to video the scene and as soon as he appeared, like a dot in the distance I might add, something from deep within my being burst and I started screaming with joy. I seriously shocked myself and all those around me, bearing in mind I’d been moaning to these people for the five hours before this moment. I can’t explain what happened in that instant , but as I looked at Pope Benedict I knew I was looking at someone of great importance, an importance that went beyond anything I could understand at the time and most likely, more than I understand even now. This man who we were waiting for, was someone anointed by God, a Shepherd chosen by the Holy Spirit to lead the people of God. Even though my head and heart were somewhere else, at that moment my soul recognised the truth of who he was. This pilgrimage was the beginning of my journey, this encounter was a prelude to the encounter I went on to have during Adoration with Jesus Christ Himself.
Over the next five years God took me on an incredible journey, during which I fell in love with Him and His Holy Church, but it wasn’t until I lived in Rome for a year that I really saw the beauty of the Church. If I am honest, I had lost a lot of hope in the Church because of my experience of the Church on a local level. It wasn’t until I lived in the Heart of the Church that my hope was renewed and I saw the Church is truly alive in the Holy Spirit. God blessed me with the opportunity to spend nine months at the Emmanuel School of Mission in Rome and I can honestly say it was the best year of my life. This is a course open to young people aged 20-35, it is a school which provides faith formation through prayer, community life, teaching and mission. Together with 19 other young people from 12 different countries, I journeyed deep into the beautiful teaching of the Holy Catholic Church, only a stones throw from where our Holy Father himself lived. Even writing this now reminds me what an amazing blessing this was. So many times during this year I came close to Pope Benedict and every time I was struck by his faith, his holiness and his strength of mind and spirit. I came to understand more and more that I was part of a Church that was built upon an unshakeable rock and this Holy Father was a perfect example of this truth of our Faith. I honestly felt a security like I’d never experienced before, belonging to a Church that has remained faithful to the teaching of Jesus Christ throughout the centuries.
Pope Benedict has been the Shepherd of the People of God from the beginning of my own and many other young people’s faith journeys. He has continually drawn us deeper in our relationship with Jesus Christ, fed us with the truths of the faith, opened us up to the beauty of that which we believe and called us to stand firm against the tide, together with him and the whole Church. I feel privileged to have been a young person of ‘Generation Benedict’ and I thank God for this holy and humble man, who has faithfully served Him and each of us with a strength which only God can give. Looking at how the Holy Spirit has guided the Church during his pontificate, I think we can all have great hope that the next Holy Father will continue to lead the People of God with strength through whatever trials will come, trusting in the promise of Jesus Christ – “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Mat 16:18)