Joshua Schipper
Video/Digital Content/Graphic Design Producer
January 2, 2024 // Diocese

World Youth Day Attendees Reunite, Share Fruits of Pilgrimage

Joshua Schipper
Video/Digital Content/Graphic Design Producer

Numerous pilgrims from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend who participated in World Youth Day in Portugal gathered for a reunion on Gaudete Sunday at St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Columbia City. Nearly five months had passed since their return to the United States, and many shared about the fruits they reaped during their experience.

Bishop Rhoades celebrated Mass, and, during his homily, he touched on several themes in the context of the Advent season, including the theme of the most recent World Youth Day: Mary Arose and Went with Haste.

Photos by Joshua Schipper
Bishop Rhoades speaks during a reunion Mass and gathering for World Youth Day pilgrims on Sunday, December 17, in Columbia City.

Bishop Rhoades said Mary went with haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth, then pregnant with John the Baptist, who leaped with joy in his mother’s womb at the presence of the Savior in Mary’s womb. Bishop Rhoades connected this to the meaning of Gaudete Sunday, as gaudete in Latin means “rejoice.”

After Mass, Bishop Rhoades joined the pilgrims for lunch as they recalled the highlights of their epic journey.

Jocelyn Alcala, Associate Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the diocese, asked if any of the pilgrims wanted to share some of the graces they have seen bloom within the past five months. Pilgrim Ally Brown told the many gathered about what led to her signing up for World Youth Day.

Ally Brown speaks during a reunion Mass and gathering for World Youth Day pilgrims on Sunday, December 17, in Columbia City.

Brown had recently moved to South Bend from Ohio and joined St. Pius X Parish in Granger. She noticed in the bulletin that the diocese was taking a group to Portugal for World Youth Day and, having enjoyed the pilgrimage to Poland, she decided to sign up. She noted, however, that the tourism aspect of her pilgrimage to Poland had stood out to her more than the spiritual aspects.

She recalled praying to the Lord, “OK, my intention with you is to know you better, just show me who you are, and help me to know you better.”

She said that her group welcomed her in, and that she made a particular connection with Father Terry Coonan, Pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Fort Wayne, noting that they both attended the University of Dayton.

“I just started to know that the Lord was working and showing me how much He loves me, regardless of not putting all the pieces together yet.”

Brown still expected some “big moment” of personal revelation or consolation, perhaps at Fatima, but she did not receive it. She soon realized that she was resisting how God was calling her to Himself.

“I was resisting, kind of white-knuckling, saying, ‘I want to pray like this, I’m going to pray the Rosary, I’m going to do this, we’re going to feel this way.’”

She said that she felt God tell her no; instead, she said she felt Him calling her to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament at one of the “Rise Up” sessions. Behind the monstrance stood a depiction of the Last Supper.

“Just looking at the beautiful image in that side chapel of the Last Supper and how He loves each of the apostles so perfectly despite their flaws, I knew in that moment that He loves me just like that – perfectly, in a way that only He could.”

Brown remembers, in that moment, that the feeling “washed over” her; from that moment and through the rest of World Youth Day, “it was so much more of an eye-opening experience for me and encountering so many people. Just walking around and seeing how God loves everyone so perfectly, so individually, and just realizing that should change how I approach everything in the rest of life.”

Pilgrim Madison Kindler told the many gathered about her initial hesitation to attend World Youth Day. After praying about it, however, she felt called to go regardless of her personal reluctance and a feeling that she was not “independent enough” to go on a pilgrimage of this caliber.

“There was something that was just itching at me to go.”

After a retreat in Huntington and more prayer, she traveled to Europe with nearly 300 other diocesan pilgrims. She recalled that while the first several days of the pilgrimage proved fruitful, an experience in Eucharistic adoration during a catechesis session stood out to her.

Kindler said she felt God asking her to look above the tabernacle where she saw the painting of the Last Supper. Her eyes were drawn to John.

“And as I was sitting there praying, I started to hear a melody that I’ve never heard before in my head.”

Kindler, who has a background in music, said she began hearing lyrics in her head revolving around John, which led her to write a song about the apostle and her takeaways from World Youth Day.

Since returning from Lisbon, she said a theme she has been trying to live by is, “Let go, and let God,” meaning to cast aside one’s own will and anxieties and trust in God’s plan.

Alec DeVries, another pilgrim, shared his testimony via email. He said one of the most unexpected takeaways from the pilgrimage was that he made friends with the members of his small group.

“This was very unexpected, but now that we have returned, it has been a joy to continuously spend time with them post-World Youth Day. I am so glad this seed was planted, because it has been a joy to have fellow believers support each other in our faith walk post-World Youth Day.”

DeVries added that he had also prayed for discernment at World Youth Day, particularly about marriage. Having received spiritual confirmation about this during World Youth Day, DeVries and his fiancée plan to marry next summer.

At each table, pilgrims shared their experiences with one another. Pilgrims at one table shared stories about sleeping in a field with 1.2 million fellow Catholics, and how they had to track down scarce food once arriving at the campsite. Others shared the joys of meeting Catholics from other countries, reflecting on the universality of the Church.

The next international World Youth Day celebration will take place in Seoul, South Korea, in 2027.

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