Affectionately dubbed the “World Youth Day (WYD) vocation”, Fr Joshua Miechels’ experience at WYD Toronto in 2002 put him on a path that would eventually lead to his ordination as a Catholic priest of the Emmanuel Community in 2015.
While his is just one story among the two million expected in Kraków on 25 July, Fr Josh is a living example of WYD’s power for re-version, the returning of the heart to its original fervour.
He was ordained to the priesthood on 31 October, 2015, by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.
As a child, Fr Josh was impressed by the heroic lives of saints John Paul II, Maximilian Kolbe and Francis of Assisi.
Wanting to “give his life for Christ” the twelve-year-old Josh decided that he was going to become a priest. His classmates did not share his enthusiasm.
“When I told people I was going to be become a priest, everyone made fun of me,” he said. This cold response made him conclude that the priesthood was not for him and by the time he finished high school, Fr Josh said he was “pretty much a pagan”.
By early adulthood he was an atheist and it looked as though his story would end there.
In Brideshead Revisited, the novelist Evelyn Waugh describes how his characters are attached to God as if by an invisible golden thread. Although the characters wander far away from Him, at the very moment where all hope seems lost God (spoiler alert) “twitched upon the thread” bringing them back to Him.
This similar image runs through Fr Josh’s story, he explains: “God always had it in hand and he would never let me go too far”.
“It’s hard to explain but I had a conversion experience. I realised God existed and that He existed whether I believed in him or not.”
To his “horror”, he also discovered that he had a real love for people, especially people in need. He began to volunteer with the Salvos and attended Bible study at a local Baptist church.
He then enrolled in social work at Sydney University. He was encouraged by the university chaplaincy team to go on pilgrimage to WYD in Toronto, 2002.
“Encouraged is not the word,” he laughs “I’d say I was pushed to go there”.
It was not easy, and Fr Josh had to sell his car to attend. It was there that Fr Josh experienced a re-version.
“For the first time in my life, as far as the eye could see, there were young people. That changed my way of seeing. I saw that being Catholic was a real option for young people, and that it was a good option.”
Toronto was the last WYD attended by St John Paul II, and drew a crowd of 800,000 people.
Fr Josh experienced the truth that faith is not an isolated experience, and the witness of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered together in belief strengthened his own faith.
This article was originally published in The Catholic Weekly, to read the full version click here.