Ninth- through 12th-grade students are invited to a stateside, diocesan version of World Youth Day Feb. 8-10 at Bishop Dwenger High School, Fort Wayne. Topically mirroring World Youth Day in Panama, this program replaces and continues the work of the Ignited retreat of the past.
With the same general genre of worship, the local World Youth Day celebration is less expensive than a trip to Panama for the international festivities. John Pratt, director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend said it will give attendees the chance to see God’s love shared with them through the Church at the local level. “World Youth Day,” he said, “is meant to be celebrated by the whole Church.”
Celebrating Mass with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, participating in adoration and a prayer vigil and engaging with speakers are some of the tools event planners are organizing to convey the theme, which is based on Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to Your Word.”
“If a retreat like this doesn’t help young people draw closer to Christ and the sacraments, it misses the point,” Pratt said. “It is meant to be celebrated by everyone. The world needs them [high school students] and the Church needs them. … The world is a more beautiful place with them.”
Having attended World Youth Day in Poland, Pratt said that at the time, he was not sure every minute of the trip was fun. After reflection and prayer, though, the biblical promise of God opening the door to those who knock proved true for him. “God did amazing things in my life,” he said. “It can be more joy than you thought possible.”
Pratt said one possible outcome of a young person attending the diocesan World Youth Day retreat is that it will inspire him or her to participate in the international event in the future. This year, retreat participants will have the opportunity to interact with the high school students who will have just returned from the Panama gathering. Symbols for the local World Youth Day retreat — a cross and Marian icon — will be presented to the group at an opening event by the international attendees.
The weekend’s initial gathering will pave the way for a lineup of speakers and activities. Sister Gaudia Skass, OLM, currently serves at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., and will speak two times during the retreat. Her presentations will have a global perspective, as she was a presenter at the World Youth Day gathering in Krakow, Poland, in 2016.
Another attendee of past World Youth Days, Father Thomas Shoemaker, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo, Fort Wayne, will be a presenter at the retreat.
“It is easy for us to focus on our small circle of Catholics, with the ministries and challenges in our small circle,” Father Shoemaker said. “In a Church that spans the globe and has been vital for 20 centuries, World Youth Day provides an opportunity to see a much bigger picture of the Church and to pray with the pope and with young people from a wide range of cultures, languages and homelands. This was a wonderful initiative of Pope John Paul II, and I am delighted that Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have continued it.”
Held in Rome in 1984 and 1985, the gathering of young people that would become World Youth Day was initiated by St. John Paul II. “The whole Church, in union with the Successor of Peter, must be more and more committed, globally, to youth and young adults — and to their anxieties and concerns and to their openness, hopes, and expectations,” he said, according to information from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The raw potential of high school students is invigorating to another of the event’s speakers, Dr. Timothy O’Malley, director of education at the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life. “High school students, who have been baptized in Jesus Christ, are priests, prophets and royal figures meant to transform the cosmos,” he said. “These students don’t have to wait! They can begin right now, sanctifying the world through a life of prayer, performing the works of mercy and living as disciples of Jesus Christ. This discipleship doesn’t mean that we leave behind what makes us human, what brings us joy. Instead, it is through our humanity that Christ will transform us.”
Continuing the topic of transformation, Msgr. William Schooler, pastor of St. Pius X Parish, Granger, will discuss vocational discernment. He hopes to instill in the group a conviction that God is calling each of them to live their baptismal vocation in some way. “They need to be open to the mysterious and unexpected ways that God calls.”
Those who supported life from its conception by attending the national March for Life can receive a $20 discount to attend the World Youth Day retreat via a coupon code, thereby reducing the fee of $70 per student and $25 per adult. The price includes meals and gender-divided, sleeping bag-friendly accommodations at Bishop Dwenger. The Knights of Columbus will provide some food for the weekend, with other meals and a plentiful supply of snacks lined up by event organizers. Special dietary needs can be accommodated, and group rates are available for five or more.
Should finances hinder anyone’s desire to attend the retreat, Pratt requests notification via email at [email protected] so that a scholarship arrangement can be made.
‘Don’t miss this chance’
Father Matthew Kuczora, CSC, will be one of the featured speakers at Diocesan World Youth Day. He will speak on the topic of discerning one’s vocation.
What message do you hope to share with Diocesan World Youth Day attendees?
“I loved high school, but it’s tough … There is so much pressure to make friends, get good grades, earn money, be in sports and clubs, etc. There’s so much that it doesn’t leave time to think about who you really are. At least that was my experience. I’m really proud of the students who are taking some time this weekend to think about that — about who they really are deep down and what’s important to them. I never really did that until college, and even then, it wasn’t until I just couldn’t ignore it any more. I hope that the students who join us can enjoy some time without pressures, without distractions, without expectations to be perfect … and then just listen to their hearts, think about what they love and truly know that they are loved.
That’s really it at the core: listening to your heart and finding God there. In that we learn who we really are and start to see where we might go.
How might the story of finding your vocation be encouraging to students and parents?
I’m from right down the road in Marion. I think my story, my background is very similar to yours. We’re all unique and have different vocations, but whatever advice or insights I can share aren’t from far away or because of some particular gifts that aren’t right here at home.
Also, especially for the parents: I got a full-ride scholarship to college and majored in accounting. You might want that for your son or daughter, and I know plenty of people who find great meaning in a road like that. However, that in itself didn’t truly give me joy or show me God’s plan for my life. Today, as both a priest and someone working in ministry, let me assure you that my colleagues and I — lay, religious and ordained — make ends meet financially and have the added benefit of unbeatable joy from what we do.
I’d also like to share that my primary ministry now is with very talented college students. I see so many, too many, who are not striving for what they love and do not deeply know that they are loved, but instead are driven by anxiety, fear and ultimately hollow goals. It doesn’t turn out well. Parents, aren’t you consumed by similar fears? The uncertainty of the economy, ever-rising tuition, the difficulty of getting into who can join us, I just hope you’ll see examples of how when you’re doing what you love and what God is calling you to … all the rest falls in place. These amazing children of yours, they’ll do well by doing good, by walking with God and allowing Him to lead the way.
What is your desired takeaway from the event?
I’m excited to see the Church of northeastern Indiana alive, young and full of energy. I’m sure I’ll get just as much from meeting and talking with the future of our Church as what I’ll be able to offer.
Why do you think attendance at World Youth Day is important?
As a high schooler, I wasn’t able to attend a World Youth Day, abroad or stateside. However, I did go to the National Catholic Youth Conference, which was similar. It was amazing to see so many people my age who wanted to learn more about their faith, who wanted to defend the poor and protect the weak because of the love they feel in their hearts. There was great music, beautiful liturgies, interesting speakers and more. It just made me see how much bigger, richer and deeper Catholicism really is.
I love my small, hometown Hoosier parish and actually just had the opportunity to preside at the Christmas Vigil Mass there this year. It gave me roots and a foundation, but events like World Youth Day give us dreams and wings to launch our faith by experiencing how wonderfully strong, vibrant and supportive our global Catholic family is.
Any last thoughts?
Don’t miss this chance to participate in a global experience. Young Catholics from around the world will be celebrating our faith together this entire month. Being a part of that is something special and unique. It also helps us see how the Eucharist we celebrate each week, and really every day, does the same thing. Our faith unites us and strengthens us times one billion Catholics worldwide and a whole communion of saints. Definitely, don’t miss this chance to add your prayers and joy and heart!
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