Priests, young adults from our diocese have experience of a lifetime at World Youth Day

‘I will remember the people I met and the places I saw for the rest of my life’
Priests, young adults from our diocese have experience of a lifetime at World Youth Day

“Be not afraid,” Pope Francis told young Catholics Sunday at the closing Mass of World Youth Day (WYD) 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal, echoing the well-known call of his predecessor and the founder of the international youth gathering, St. John Paul II.

“Dear young people, I would like to look into the eyes of each one of you and tell you: Be not afraid, be not afraid,” he said Aug. 6 on a sunny morning in what organizers dubbed the “Field of Grace.”

“I tell you something very beautiful: It is no longer me, it is Jesus Himself who is looking at you in this moment, He is looking at you,” the pope continued. “He knows you, He knows the heart of each one of you, He knows the life of each one of you, He knows the joys, He knows the sadness, the successes and the failures.”

Pope Francis celebrated Mass on the Feast of the Transfiguration for an estimated 1.5 million people, where young people and their leaders had camped out overnight following a prayer vigil. Approximately 10,000 priests and 700 bishops concelebrated.

Amongst that crowd were several Catholics from the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. That included Father Steven Arisman, Father Dominic Rankin, Father Zach Samples, Sam Doellman, Hope Glidewell, Nathaniel Ed, and Emily Kite. Their 14-day trip was an experience the group says they will always remember and one that inspired them in profound ways. 

“The importance of World Youth Day is that it provides us with an opportunity to understand the universality of our Church and of our faith,” Father Samples said. “Looking out over the sea of 1.5 million people at the closing Papal Mass, you could see flags from every corner of globe. 1.5 million Catholics gathered to celebrate Mass with the successor of St. Peter is an incredibly moving experience of faith — to see so many young people gathered together to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and with His Church filled me with hope, peace, and joy.”

“Being my first time out of the country, I was amazed in seeing the sheer number of people from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds all gathered together,” Sam Doellman of Quincy said. “As different as we all seem on the surface, it’s only when we truly stop and get to know another that we see how similar we are. This was only enhanced through the shared values of our Catholic faith. Throughout our time in Portugal, God continuously reminded me of His deep love for me. I was reminded of this through the generosity of strangers, the growth of new and old friendships, and time spent in prayer, to name a few. I was honored to hold the prayers of so many with me throughout the pilgrimage and to share my experiences with others through updates on my social media. Allowing people from back home to experience this powerful pilgrimage with me from my updates was a joy and reminder that we are all in this journey of faith together. I look forward to bringing that joy experienced on World Youth Day home with me to my faith communities!”

Arriving in Libson on July 26, the group spent several days in the Diocese of Leiria-Fatima doing various activities, site sightseeing, and spiritual enrichment in that area. On July 31, the group returned to Lisbon for the opening ceremonies and Mass of World Youth Day on Aug. 1. Throughout that week, the group did a walking tour of Lisbon, attended several catechesis and festival events, participated in a prayer vigil, and attended more Masses.

“It is hard to describe with words just how much this World Youth Day experience has meant to me,” Emily Kite of Quincy said. “Since being home, one word has continued to ring in my mind — grateful. I am grateful for the opportunity to travel and explore a new culture. I am grateful to have met so many new people and grateful for the opportunity to foster both new and old friendships. Most importantly, however, I am grateful to be part of a Church that is truly universal and alive. It is very encouraging to see such a massive outpouring of joy, love, and faith from youth all around the world. We witnessed first-hand that the young Church is not only alive, but is on fire for Christ. This experience has rejuvenated my hope for the future of the Church and given me courage to continue to live out my faith in my everyday life.”

After World Youth Day, the group continued their pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal. At Fatima in 1917, Our Lady, the mother of God, appeared to three children: siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto and their cousin Lúcia dos Santos. This Church approved apparition is regarded as one of the most important, as Mary’s message reminds us that our future is in being with God in heaven forever, and that we are active and responsible partners in creating that future for ourselves and helping others to do the same. The group also took a day to visit Nazare, Batalha, and Alcobaca in Portugal and concluded their trip with a day at the beach.

“One of the major takeaways from my experience in Portugal is the reality that Christ dwells in His Mystical Body,” Hope Glidewell of Quincy said. “A common experience among the 1.5 million pilgrims is that we were all pretty vulnerable. Traveling to a foreign country, hiking in record heat, and living minimally in hostels and on gym floors reveals the reality that we need to rely on each other. If someone needed help, there was never a question about sharing resources, a helping hand, or simply an acknowledgment of solidarity. It did not matter if a person was with your group or from your country, you just helped and learned to receive help. It truly was an experience of Christ working through and in others and myself. The second takeaway I have is in regard to the architecture. When I travel to Washington, D.C., and look over the landscape, it all feels cultivated in a grandiose way to impress, hiding an ugly reality underneath. When I looked over the landscape in Portugal, it felt authentic. I think the difference is that D.C. was built in honor of men and is set up to impress. Europe (for all its current issues), was built in honor of God and is set up for worship.” 

“It was amazing seeing more than one million other young Catholics come together for Christ, crammed into a city that already has a population of a half million,” Nathaniel Ed of Springfield said. “We were crammed into public transportation like sardines, barely able to breathe, but it’s all part of the pilgrim experience. There’s so much that happened, and the days blur together. The most impactful part of the trip for me was praying at Fatima, in the chapel built on the very spot where Mary appeared to the children. It’s truly life-changing to be in such a significant place. We also got to see Pope Francis as he drove by, standing a mere 15 feet from him. Meeting people from a variety of different cultures was a strong reminder of the universality of Christ’s Church. It was fun just coming up to random people, asking where they come from, and learning more about them. Our new Australian friend, Aidan, even let me try some of his Vegemite. Overall, it was phenomenal, and I will remember the people I met and the places I saw for the rest of my life.”