Highly anticipatory teenagers, young adults, priests, religious sisters, parents and chaperones met with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades in Pierceton on Dec. 10 in preparation for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend’s pilgrimage to Panama for World Youth Day in January. The group, filled with energetic excitement, shared a meal together and then discussed their preparations and plans for the trip.
Sophomore Emanual Alaniz and junior Sophia Rodriquez first heard about the pilgrimage through the St. Adalbert Parish, South Bend, youth group, led by Father Ryan Pietrocarlo, CSC. He will attend the international event. Rodriquez said what made her want to go on the pilgrimage was not necessarily that it was in Panama, but the fact that she would be attending with hundreds of thousands of her Catholic peers. “Honestly, everything makes me want to go on this trip. It’s about the entire event,” she said.
Alaniz agreed. “I’m kind of nervous, really excited, and I know that this is an experience that I will never forget, so I’m hoping to make the most of the entire trip.”
Both students have been preparing for the pilgrimage with prayer, by praying with their families and staying active in their parishes and youth groups.
Diocesan staff distributed travel information, packing lists and important checklists of things to do before the pilgrims leave the morning of Jan. 20 from Chicago. Bishop Rhoades shared with them important preparatory steps that would form them spiritually for the journey, as well. He encouraged them to say the World Youth Day prayer, and to learn the World Youth Day song so that they could sing it in both English and Spanish. “Say the words of the prayer slowly, so that you can really reflect on their meaning,” he suggested.
Bishop Rhoades noted that the designated saints of World Youth Day were excellent companions for the journey, and asked the pilgrims to learn about their life stories in order to reflect and be inspired by how the holy men and women were able to lead others to Christ. “I highly recommend that you keep a prayer journal with you before and during your pilgrimage to Panama,” he said. “In this journal, you can write down the prayer intentions of those people who have asked for your prayers, intentions for your family and even for yourself and your vocation. There are many graces that flow from going on a trip such as this.”
“I love the theme for this World Youth Day,” he continued. “‘Behold. I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your Word.’ This is Mary’s ‘yes,’ her fiat. They are the greatest words of faith because she trusted and believed. Mary’s perfect example of openness to God’s will is an example to all of us.”
The pilgrims had the opportunity to ask questions of others who had attended previous World Youth Day events. All of this year’s WYD participants were encouraged to keep in mind that while they would be exposed to very interesting and beautiful sites, this was not a sightseeing tour. Rather, it would be an opportunity to deepen their faith and devotion by learning about other cultures, their histories and how those histories are rooted in a deep devotion of faith.
On this pilgrimage in particular, Bishop Rhoades added, there will be numerous opportunities to talk to their peers from other countries.
“This can be a lifelong memory of a beautiful spiritual experience, if you approach it asking God to help you grow closer to Him. You have the chance to experience what it means to be Catholic among the universal Church.”
Father Terrence Coonan Jr. from St. Therese, Little Flower Parish in South Bend, closed the meeting with a prayer and encouraged the pilgrims to travel light. “Open yourselves up. If your hands are full, you have no opportunity to take the gifts that God wants to give you.”
Opportunities will be made available to those who are not traveling to World Youth Day to be spiritually formed along with the pilgrims. Resources including the World Youth Day patron saints, special lectio divina prayers, songs and additional prayers can be found in Today’s Catholic, at www.todayscatholic.com and on the Today’s Catholic app, available on Google Play and the App Store.
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