January 9, 2019 // Local

Pilgrims make spiritual preparations for Panama

With less than three weeks until they board an international flight to Panama, several World Youth Day pilgrims continue making preparations for their journey. The goal of a gathering Jan. 3 at St. Jude Parish, Fort Wayne, was fellowship and making cord rosaries to be able to exchange with other pilgrims from around the world, a favorite tradition of the international assembly of youth and young adults.

St. Charles Borromeo youth minister Stacey Huneck stated that the students’ preparations actually began many months ago, as she and St. Jude youth minister Vickie Lortie took turns hosting events once a month to help the teens prepare. “At the beginning, we asked each student to choose one of the World Youth Day saints, to ask that saint’s intercession for their pilgrimage and to get to know that saint as they prepare for their journey.”

Jenn Litchfield teaches fellow pilgrim how to make a cord rosary to exchange with other pilgrims in Panama. — Photos by Stephanie A. Patka

Huneck and Lortie both stressed that the pilgrimage will be more than a trip or vacation, and helped the students by praying together and guiding them to ask questions such as: How is God affecting my life in this journey? How is this journey affecting me and giving me an opportunity to encounter God in a more profound way?

“Spiritual preparation and prayer are so important because at some points, the pilgrimage can be really grueling and yet, these students have a chance to see, that like this journey to Panama, our whole lives are a journey to grow closer to God,” stated Huneck. “Prayer is really an essential component of a pilgrimage.”

Utilizing the theme of WYD, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend provided pilgrims with patriotic bracelets to exchnage with other pilgrims.

In the background, the students’ voices were enthusiastic and joyful amidst the knotting of red, white and blue cords as rosaries began to form.

Huneck continued: “A theme that really emerged from our conversations was about discernment: what it is, what does it look like in the life of a teenager, how to incorporate prayer into the life of discernment and how our holy Father has encouraged us to discern our own vocations. My hope is that we can help these teens discover that discernment isn’t a one-time deal. You discern choices every day and have to think about what God is calling you to do every day, not just for large events like World Youth Day.”

Not all the teens present for making rosaries plan to attend World Youth Day. Even though he will not be in Panama at the end of January, Josh Schipper has been participating in World Youth Day preparations and fundraisers alongside his friends, to help them prepare for the event in Panama — including help to make the video for the bake sale fundraising event at St. Charles Borromeo.

“I want my friends to have a really good time at WYD and have a good transformative conversion while they are there. Even though I’m not going, I am able to listen to them as they talk through things that they are going through, and I pray for them as they prepare,” Schipper said. “It’s transformative for me because I get to see people go do something that they have been preparing day and night to do. It’s really cool to help them achieve their goals.”

A parishioner of St. Mary of the Assumption in Avilla, Jenn Litchfield will be attending her first World Youth Day in Panama and has found her spiritual preparation in the hearts of those she has invited to prepare for the journey with her.

“My fire for faith has always come from watching my older siblings growing up and seeing them really being able to be fulfilled in Christ. It’s been the biggest thing for me,” Litchfield said. “Wanting to go to Panama is just that, partly wanting to travel and also because I love encountering other people and especially encountering other people through Christ.”

Utilizing the theme of WYD, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend provided pilgrims with patriotic bracelets to exchnage with other pilgrims.

Litchfield stated that her spiritual preparation has included praying with the saints of World Youth Day, adoration and Mass a few times a week. “I did take up a daily rosary in preparation,” she smiled. “It fit perfectly in the time that it takes me to drive to school.” Litchfield is also preparing for her encounter with the universal Church and is starting with the church right at home. “I dropped off a small journal at my old elementary school that will travel around to each class. They can write in all their prayer intentions so that I will be able to carry it around with me and pray for them while I’m in Panama. After I get back, I’m excited to be able to go back and share my witness with them about the pilgrimage, so that in some small way the students will be able to encounter the universal Church too.”

Veteran World Youth Day traveler Father David Huneck noted that this time around will be different for him, since he is now a priest. He attended World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, when he was a seminarian.

“Last time, I was a co-pilgrim, this time it will be like going with my family. I know more of the students through my parish and Bishop Dwenger, and I’m excited to go on this pilgrimage with my spiritual children.

“I’m looking forward to experience the totality of Catholicism. My little corner of the world is St. Jude: Day to day, weekend to weekend, that’s how I experience Catholicism. But there are people in other parts of the world that experience the same faith just from a different culture. My prayer for students is that they can encounter the Lord in a very real way and see the universal nature of the Church.”

That universality of the Church is something Litchfield Is looking forward to encountering as well. “The Church is so much bigger than I think that it is. As people, sometimes we might be on the same side, but will argue about why certain things are the way that they are. But in the end, we arrive at the same conclusion. The fact of the matter is that our journeys in life are all going to be different, but the conclusion for us all should be heaven.”

“When I’m in Panama, I’m not going to be able to understand many people at all and they might be acting completely different than what I’m used to, because it’s a different culture,” she continued. “But I don’t have to worry about the differences, because we are all trying for heaven, so it helps me not to be so judgmental and try to be close to them as a universal body of Christ.”

Stay tuned to www.todayscatholic.org for updates from the pilgrims as they journey to and from World Youth Day in Panama. #wydfwsb

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