Youths from around the world are making plans to converge on Krakow, Poland, in July of 2016 to experience the universal Catholic Church in all its glory at the weeklong World Youth Day (WYD) event. Pope Francis has announced the theme for the 31st World Youth Day as “Blessed are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.” (Matthew 5:7).
World Youth Day was introduced in 1985 by then Pope John Paul II who desired that a celebration of youth be at the diocesan level each year as well as a weeklong international event every two to three years.
The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has sent its youth on several WYD pilgrimages across the world over the years and 2016 will be no different. Registration for World Youth Day 2016 began July 26, in the diocese. The total cost for the pilgrimage is estimated at $4,000. The pilgrimage cost includes the registration fee for WYD, round trip airfare, transportation to and from the airport, motor coach transportation between cities in Poland, hotel accommodations, breakfast daily at the hotel and all meals on days seven through 11. And though WYD 2016 is not a diocesan-wide fund raising event, some parishes around the diocese are working to ensure their youths have the opportunity to grow in faith on this spiritual pilgrimage.
One parish, St. Michael the Archangel in Waterloo has been diligent with their youth. Jenny Buchs, youth minister there, sees the WYD pilgrimage as a once in a lifetime opportunity. “We recognize that our youth are the future religious and laypeople of the Church. We are delighted that they have this opportunity to connect with the universal Church, visit historic and spiritual sites and hear Pope Francis speak. We want to make it financially possible for our youth and college students to continue their faith journey outside our close-knit parish,” she says.
St. Michael youth pilgrims have been saving money in anticipation of their trip and are grateful for the assistance of their parish. St. Michael has held a rosary and religious jewelry sale recently and plans to host fundraiser over the next year “to ease the cost burden for our pilgrims.”
Father Dave Carkenord, St. Michael pastor, has announced that a special collection for the pilgrims will also be taken up and other groups within the parish plan to help raise funds as well.
Pilgrims of past WYD events reminisce about their meaningful experiences and agree that they found new lives in Christ through their pilgrimage and are now living their faith courageously.
Kelly Ley, now director of religious education at Our Lady of Good Hope Parish, Fort Wayne, attended the eighth WYD in Denver as a freshman in high school in 1993. Traveling with her sister and dad as chaperone, Ley experienced the universal Church. “It’s easy for people to get stuck in ‘this is my Church, my Mass’ mentality and think that anything different is wrong. Obviously there are norms that must be followed, but we need to remember that Catholic means ‘universal’ and this trip helped solidify that. … It was definitely one of the many life experiences that helped me in my choice to work for the Church,” she says, adding, “I would like to tell the youth that this is a very unique opportunity and you will get out of it what you put into it. Be open on the trip to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, prepare yourself spiritually ahead of time, and enjoy all of the experiences, even the trial-some ones, because they’ll make for great stories later!”
In 2005, then 18-year-old Aaron Seng made a WYD pilgrimage to Cologne, Germany, the 20th on record. His spiritual preparation at home and at St. Matthew Cathedral Parish led him to the event that he says was “a tremendously fruitful time for me personally.” He holds dear his memories of “seeing the pope in person, traveling internationally with thousands of like-minded Catholics, and celebrating Mass with a million other pilgrims.”
These words offered to the youths by Pope Benedict XVI still resonate with Seng: “Dear young people, the Church needs genuine witnesses for the New Evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity.” Seng is currently the director of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
Daniel Niezer and Flower Ortega both parishioners of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Fort Wayne attended WYD in Madrid, Spain in 2011. It was the final World Youth Day that would be led by Pope Benedict XVI. Their preparation began a year in advance of their pilgrimage and had them learning about Spain and historical information with a parish group that made their experience “10 times more meaningful,” says Ortega.
Seeing the pope had a profound effect on Niezer, who has been led, in part by his WYD experience, to a vocation to the Priesthood. He admits, “At the time, I didn’t think I would be that excited to see Pope Benedict, but when he passed us and I looked at his joy-filled face, an inexplicable joy and happiness overcame me. I had not only seen Pope Benedict, but the effects of that experience left me with a great sense of peace and joy. Perhaps for the first time, I felt that being Catholic was the greatest and surest was to find authentic joy and freedom.” He credits his pilgrimage to WYD as the “first major step in my path of discipleship.”
What is his advice to those who might be considering the 2016 pilgrimage? “I just want the youth to know that it is important to get outside of your comfort zone in your life. … World Youth Day gave me a freedom for loving life in all of its beautiful forms despite any personal struggles that I carry with me. It is an experience of a lifetime.” Niezer is currently a diocesan seminarian in his senior year of philosophy.
Ortega feels her experience of WYD has influenced her faith and vocation. “While I am still discerning my vocation, I feel that the seeds and habits that were planted at WYD have helped me over the last few years and provided a solid grounding for me to grow upon,” she says, adding, “I wish that every young person could experience a WYD. … The value of WYD is immeasurable and we will never truly know just how great of an impact it has had (and will continue to have) on the entire world.” Ortega is employed at Our Sunday Visitor as advertising traffic project coordinator.
For more information on World Youth Day 2016 contact Natalie Kohrman, WYD coordinator at 260-399-1420 or [email protected].
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