Some 180 young adults and teens from the archdiocese will soon be leaving to join an expected 2 million pilgrims in Krakow, Poland, for World Youth Day.
The pilgrims, hailing from 187 countries across the globe, will be in the Polish city for the weeklong celebration July 26-31. Pope Francis will join them for a vigil and closing Mass—one that has been much discussed because of the long, nine-mile trek to the site.
To help pilgrims prepare spiritually, the Archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry held a sending-forth Mass and blessing, which was offered July 14 at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie. A representative group of about 30 attended the evening Mass where they received an archdiocesan yellow T-shirt to wear during World Youth Day.
Among the youths present was a seasoned World Youth Day pilgrim, Jazmelyn Duran, 22, of St. Anthony of Padua parish in the Bronx. “This is going to be my second time. I want to relive that experience,” she said.
She attended World Youth Day with Pope Benedict XVI in Sydney, Australia, in 2008.
“Once you go and see all the other cultures, and hear every language, every accent praying together and singing songs, even if you can’t understand the words, it’s just amazing.” Going again is something she is very much looking forward to.
“I feel like it’s a trip every youth should take. It gets you closer to your faith,” she said.
Another parishioner from St. Anthony of Padua, Evellard Delgado, 23, is on the other end of the spectrum. “I have never been on a pilgrimage,” he said.
“But I heard the word transformation used to describe World Youth Day,” he said. “I want to learn new things and be with people who are like-minded.”
Kevin Richards, 30, of St. Teresa’s parish in Briarcliff Manor, sat in the chapel before Mass began. “Originally, I was signed up as a chaperone, but the group was cancelled,” he told CNY. “I was thinking I wasn’t going to be able to go.”
Thankfully, he was still able to register. “I wanted to make the pilgrimage, to find out what my vocation is, to be able to be where the pope is, to be open to whatever God has planned,” he said.
“This is like an encounter with the Universal Church. I want to go and see and get a better sense of my own place in it.”
The celebrant and homilist was Father Joseph Espaillat, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua and spiritual director of the youth office.
During his homily, he urged those who would be walking on the pilgrimage to “let us be one with each other and let us experience what the Church means by pilgrimage.” At the end of the Mass, Father Espaillat blessed the pilgrims and the group prayed the World Youth Day prayer of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The theme for World Youth Day is “ Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” The theme is a fitting one for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which extends until the Solemnity of Christ the King, Nov. 20.
Other pilgrims traveling to World Youth Day include four Pierre Toussaint Scholars. One is Bailey Lawson, 19, a parishioner at St. Charles Borromeo in Harlem, who said she has been spiritually and mentally preparing for the pilgrimage.
“With everything going on in the world I’m a little more on edge,” she said. “I’ve been praying a lot. They have a World Youth Day Prayer. Just to get my mind in the right place, I pray that.” She also has been reading “City of Saints” by St. Pope John Paul II.
She told CNY that she has been doing research on Poland and the history, culture and traditions there. “I’m really looking forward to meeting different people from around the world who have a common spirituality in that we are all Catholic,” she said.
The Salesian Youth Movement will be sending a group of 92 pilgrims. Guilherme Lopes, 25, is the Salesian Youth Movement coordinator for the Eastern Province of the United States, based in New Rochelle, and one of the pilgrims.
“Since World Youth Day is like the ‘Super Bowl’ of the Catholic faith, it is helpful to have the shared experience that other people are struggling like we are here,” he said.
Noting recent terrorist attacks in the United States and around the globe, he said, “I also think people who are still going to Europe during this time of terror are showing that fear will not deter them from practicing their faith.”