Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Warsaw, hosted a reunion June 26 for pilgrims who attended World Youth Day in Panama in January. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who traveled with them last winter, celebrated Mass in both English and Spanish, the official language of Panama.
“I hope that your experience in Panama has borne much great fruit, in your lives as disciples of Jesus,” he said in his homily. “Jesus said, near the end of the Sermon on the Mount in today’s Gospel, ‘By their fruits you will know them.’”
“I think we can also apply this criterion of good fruits to our own lives as disciples and to our prayer lives,” he continued. “We only know whether or not we are progressing in the Christian life and growing in holiness if we are growing in the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When we see these fruits in our lives, we know that we are following the Spirit, and that our soul is living in God’s grace,” he said. “Our soul becomes a good tree, which is known by its fruits.”
He told the pilgrims how to discern whether their prayer was genuine and authentic.
“St. Teresa of Avila explained that we cannot judge the quality of our prayer by our feelings. Sometimes when we pray we can be pretty dry, and we do not feel much consolation. Other times, we can feel very much consolation. But we shouldn’t judge the quality of our prayer by these feelings. The real task is the fruit of our prayer. Are we growing in the virtues? Do we see the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then our prayer is genuine, that is, the Holy Spirit is at work in us.”
Bishop Rhoades concluded by saying, “May the Holy Spirit guide and inspire us, that we may grow in discipleship! And may the most beautiful tree in the garden of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, intercede for us!”
Following Mass, the pilgrims gathered in the parish basement to share memories of their experience in Panama and what fruits it has produced in their lives.
“One of the biggest things that World Youth Day did for me is affirm my decision to minor in global perspectives in college,” shared pilgrim Dane Litchfield, who led part of the Stations of the Cross at World Youth Day — a role that placed him only a few feet from the Holy Father.
“It was crazy looking out on all of World Youth Day,” he said. “After he [Pope Francis] left the stage, all the lectors from all these Latin American countries and the U.S. were there. We joined shoulders and we just rocked back and forth to the music. We stood in solidarity with Christ, looking out upon the universal Church — this physical community of saints. That really stuck with me.”
Father Matthew Coonan, who also accompanied the group to Panama, gave an emotional account of his spiritual journey since returning from the pilgrimage.
“Firstly, remember that God loves you,” he said. “Think of how much we long just to be together, and with those who we are close to that we love.” He continued by speaking about the pilgrims’ first stateside reunion at Bishop Dwenger High School, Fort Wayne, in February. “When I finally went to Dwenger, that was huge for me — my heart was exploding within me,” he recalled. “If we have this love for each other, how much more does God love us? I’ve been so overcome in these last five months, just pondering how much the Blessed Virgin Mary, how much the saints, love us, intercede for us, long to receive us in heaven. That’s our call; to be together; to be in communion. That’s what we were created for.”
When pilgrims finished sharing, diocesan Director of Youth Ministry John Pratt revealed the theme for World Youth Day 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal: “Mary arose and went with haste.” Pratt also noted that there would be two more diocesan youth conferences in the years leading up to 2022. The themes for these local pilgrimages will be “Young man, I say to you, arise” and “Stand up. I appoint you as a witness of what you have seen,” respectively.
As the pilgrims said goodbye, they wished each other well in growing the fruits planted in Panama.
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