World Youth Day pilgrimage an opportunity for discernment, conversion, archbishop says
By Nissa LaPoint
Photo by James Baca/DCR
In anticipation of that heart-pounding, adrenaline-rushing and rare opportunity to wave at the pope among a multitude of faithful Catholics, 20-year-old Michelle Brunelli is already packing her bags for a trip to World Youth Day.
This year in Madrid it will be a family affair.
“I want my sister and cousin to come so they can experience the same thing,” said Brunelli, of Aurora, who attended World Youth Day and saw Pope Benedict XVI in Australia in 2008.
Brunelli and other World Youth Day attendees talked about their plans and hopes after the 6:30 p.m. Send-Off Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver July 31. Main celebrant of the Mass was Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Mass concelebrants were fellow capuchin priests Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, and Father John Lager of Denver.
Archbishop Chaput addressed the youths in his homily and gave them a special blessing.
“Our prayer for you,” he told the youths sitting at the front of the church, “is that the Lord will use this pilgrimage as a way to draw you closer to himself and that you might understand that true citizenship is with him in heaven.”
It’s estimated that more than 500 people among 15 groups from the Archdiocese of Denver will attend World Youth Day starting Aug. 15, which may be a record number, according to Chris Stefanick, director of the Denver Archdiocese’s Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry Office.
“These World Youth Days are the largest gatherings on earth,” Stefanick said. “You’ve got the universal experience of the Church and humanity. There’s no other experience you could have like this.”
One group, the Neocatechumenal Way, a Vatican approved parish-based catechumenate, will lead 152 youths and chaperones—the largest group from the archdiocese—on a pilgrimage through Ireland, France and Spain before going to World Youth Day, said Rose Mary McLeod, 70, responsible with her husband Don for the group in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
“It’s so good to see the miracles that God does with these kids that makes it all worth it,” McLeod said about those who attend World Youth Day. “We’re excited for them. They’re going to love it.”
For more than a year Taylor Ventura, 16, of Aurora, said she has anticipated this pilgrimage with her group from Church of the Risen Christ and All Saints Church since they began a fundraiser in April 2010. She hopes that her first time at World Youth Day will set an example for others.
“I want to grow closer to God and get a better idea of my vocation,” Ventura said. “I think the whole world needs evangelization and love.”
It’ll be the first time 17-year-olds Jenna Randolph and Dylan Gordon of Centennial will travel outside of the United States and attend World Youth Day. Although they said they are somewhat worried of becoming lost among the crowds in Madrid, both girls showed their excitement for their 18-day pilgrimage with little jumps for joy and wide smiles.
“I hope to get deeper into my faith,” Gordon said.
After speaking about the Gospel reading for the Mass, Archbishop Chaput told the youths that it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between a vacation and a pilgrimage. Vacations are about avoiding discomfort, escaping our ordinary lives and having a good time, he said. Pilgrimages, he explained, are a time to think of others rather than yourself.
“A pilgrimage with millions of other people is hardly a time of comfort,” Archbishop Chaput said. “It’s important to offer up our discomfort in a non-complaining way.”
He urged the youths to remember that their trips are a time to become better people and discern their particular vocation.
“When you’re on a pilgrimage,” he said, “the Lord calls you to embrace life more completely and to be honest. Most of us want to do what we want to do, but we should do what God wants us to do. It’s a time of conversion and change.”
After Mass youths gathered in Mary’s Garden outside the cathedral for fellowship and parting words before meeting again on their pilgrimage.
“I look forward to growing in brotherhood with them,” said Aaron Beckman, 15, of Denver.
As a chaperone and Taylor Ventura’s mother, Aimee Standler, 38, said she knows the youths will benefit from deeper friendship with each other, and, she hopes, a real sense of the global nature and magnitude of the Church.
“I took a vow to raise my daughter Catholic, and I want her to see how big the faith is,” Standler said.
Among a long list of hopes and desires for the trip, 18-year-old Jacob Donaldson of Littleton said he’s most anxious to be among other Catholics.
“I’m excited to see the pope and see people who share the same faith,” Donaldson said.