WYD deepens faith of pilgrims

The Gulde family and other St Margaret Mary staff and parishioners prepare to leave for World Youth Day in Lisbon. (GLENDA MEEKINS)

ORLANDO  |   It was a hectic morning at the Gulde house. Mary, her husband, Anthony, and their five children made final additions to suitcases, anxious about the trip to Portugal and the days ahead. On the agenda — a visit to Fatima and then six days in Lisbon for World Youth Day Aug. 1-6.

This would be Mary’s second World Youth Day. Her first visit was when she was 25 years old. “It was a gamechanger for me,” said the St. Mary Magdalen parishioner. “I saw the universal church at a level I’d never seen before.”

Now, with children ages 15 to 24, she shared her hope and prayer “for that grace for them. The grace I received in seeing the Church in its universality on a grand scale.” The trip would not disappoint.

Offering learning sessions, Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, speakers, an all-night vigil and a final Mass with Pope Francis, they shared their experiences alongside 1.5 million others.

The Guldes did not set out on this pilgrimage alone. They joined another 37 parishioners from seven parishes in the Diocese of Orlando. Meeting several times over the previous months, Father Ángel García of Holy Cross Parish in Orlando invited participants to an evening of Eucharistic Adoration, bringing the Eucharistic Revival into focus.

John Molloy, director of faith formation for the diocese likened WYD to a retreat. “Taking a step outside of your ‘normal’ can allow a young person to be more receptive to God’s action and invitation for them,” he said. “The discomforts experienced on a pilgrimage like World Youth Day can become lenses to discover within oneself where greater dependence on God may be possible.”

For Rebecca and her brother Jacob, it was the Mother Teresa of Calcutta exhibit that challenged and moved them toward a counter-intuitive view of discomfort and suffering. “(Mother Teresa) stressed the joy that can be felt in suffering – not only to share in Jesus’ suffering on the way to Calvary but the opportunity to be a representative to Jesus for others,” she said.

Noting the impact of an encounter with other young Catholics from around the globe Molloy added, young people “can get a better and more uplifting sense that the Catholic Church is not dying but is alive and well; that there is hope, that they are a part of the hope of the Church present and active now.”

This was true for Mary’s son Luke, age 22, who felt inspired “to see the scale of how many people who believe” in the Church, putting into perspective “the number of Church missionaries who are on the earth today.” He came home with a goal to increase his prayer life and bring Christ to others.

For Luke’s brother, Adam, age 18, it was Bishop Robert Barron’s urging to “find your mission and live your mission” that was incredibly impactful. He hopes to bring God’s message of love and salvation to others at college and in his study groups.

For others it was the music. “I connect with God through song – so praying with music through Adoration with active singing really made a difference,” said pilgrim Tyler Walter. “I have never felt more present in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.” He returned with a desire to be more open about his faith. He acknowledged, “There have been times when I have hesitated – I kept quiet – and I want to, as respectfully as I can, share what I believe.”

As pilgrims walked the six miles leading to the vigil sight – the night before the celebration of Mass with Pope Francis – flags proudly swayed and joyous voices lifted like incense to heaven. For Father García, the vigil was a highlight.

More than one million people camped on uncomfortable, rocky ground. “Everyone was talking, others singing, but as soon as Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, there was silence,” he said. “Every single person knelt, and we all prayed. Even though we all speak different languages, at that moment we were all one and spoke the language of love for Jesus as we knelt before Him.”

Encountering Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration in a way unlike ever before, 27-year-old Naimi Salazar of Holy Cross explained, “He entered into my heart and I was able to feel the fire of His love—it is Him, truly Him present in the Eucharist. If there was ever any doubt in my heart, now that doubt is 100% gone; now I know He loves me, He takes care of me, and He is ready to enter into my life, all I have to do is say yes.”

“The Church is larger than one thinks, but is also one,” Father García said. “The Church is the Body of Christ, and we are the members, no matter the age, language, cultural background; we are sons and daughters of the same God. And like Pope Francis reminded us: ‘There is space in the Church for everyone.’ The Church is our home.”

World Youth Day 2023

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, August 11, 2023