|The gothic St. Mary’s Basilica anchors the main square in Krakow, Poland, where World Youth Day events will take place. Below right is the official logo for World Youth Day 2016. The logo and official World Youth Day prayer focus on the theme chosen by Pope Francis from the Gospel of Matthew: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” CNS photoc/Nancy Wiechec|
St. Cecilia Academy student Taylor Roach is looking forward to “seeing so many different cultures come together for one cause.”
St. Rose of Lima parishioner Jenni Preuett wants to “feel the Holy Spirit” alongside millions of fellow Catholics from around the world, (as well as taste some authentic “pierogis,” the traditional food of her Polish ancestors).
Joe Grossheim of St. Catherine of Siena Church can’t wait to witness the “mind-blowing, eye-opening” experience the youth of his Columbia, Tennessee, parish will have as part of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland later this month.
During the last week of July, pilgrims from the Diocese of Nashville will join millions more traveling to Poland for World Youth Day, the Catholic Church’s largest bi-annual gathering of young people. They will include Dominican sisters, students, parents, youth leaders and more.
“This is about experiencing the universal Catholic Church, being part of the global Church,” said Bill Staley, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Nashville. “I hope it really sticks with them for the rest of their life and brings them closer to Christ.”
The Church universal
Staley and Brandon Quigley, assistant director of youth ministry for the diocese, will be leading a group of 30 young people to World Youth Day. The largest contingent is from St. Catherine of Siena Church in Columbia; a donor from the parish is sponsoring 10 parishioners to attend World Youth Day.
“This will be a very good thing,” said St. Catherine pastor Father Davis Chackaleckel, M.S.F.S., who will be attending his first World Youth Day, and will serve as the group’s chaplain. “I believe they will come back strong.”
The St. Catherine donors, who requested not to be acknowledged publicly, are generous in supporting Catholic causes, Father Chackaleckel said. “They support opportunities to grow in the faith,” he said. After receiving word of the donation, Father Chackaleckel helped select 10 “very active” young people to join the World Youth Day trip.
Taking a group to World Youth Day “is the goal for every youth minister,” said Grossheim, St. Catherine youth coordinator. “Our parish has never done anything like this,” he said, and when the parish donors made it possible, “I jumped on the opportunity.”
In the South, and particularly in more rural communities like Columbia, “kids feel like the minority,” Grossheim said. “This will be a great opportunity for them to see the global Church.”
While Grossheim has never been to World Youth Day, he has traveled to Rome and experienced the sense of pride that comes from being so close to the heart of the Church. “I’m really looking forward to sharing that experience with the kids,” he said, witnessing the youth of St. Catherine and the diocese sharing Mass with Pope Francis and an estimated 2 million other Catholics from around the world.
For Preuett, of St. Rose Church in Murfreesboro, the trip to World Youth Day will be an opportunity to finally visit her mother’s homeland, experience the culture of Poland, and grow in her faith. Preuett, who teaches religious education and helps older students prepare to receive the sacraments, said that World Youth Day is an opportunity “to share my faith with so many others.”
Preuett has attended the diocesan Catholic Women of Faith conference and other gatherings in the past and feeds off the group energy of the faithful. “I’m most looking forward to feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit and watching so many others feel it.”
Preuett was a child when St. John Paul II became pope, and “I’ve always been drawn to him,” she said, as well as other Polish saints like St. Faustina Kowalska. “To go and walk on land where they have walked will be awesome,” she said.
Staley agreed that visiting Poland will be an opportunity to learn more about the Polish saints who can be “mentors in the faith.”
On pilgrimage to meet the Lord
A group of 18 students and chaperones from St. Cecilia Academy will also be traveling to Krakow for World Youth Day. They have planned their own itinerary separate from the diocesan group, which has been in the works for about 18 months.
The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia first presented the World Youth Day trip idea at an all-school assembly in December 2014 and student Taylor Roach was the first to sign up. “I’ve been planning and getting excited for it ever since,” she said, saving money from lifeguarding and babysitting gigs to help with expenses.
Over the last year and a half, St. Cecilia students have been preparing for the trip by working out travel logistics and praying together. They have sampled Polish food, had some crash-course language lessons and been on retreat together.
“I’m very excited to see all the different cultures,” said Roach, who will be traveling out of the country for the first time on this trip.
Roach, active with the CYO at St. Henry Church and the SEARCH youth retreat program, was clear that making the pilgrimage to World Youth Day was a personal decision, not one her parents made for her. “I’ll be keeping a journal to remind myself that I’m going because I want to become closer to God,” she said. “It’s not just a vacation.”
The St. Cecilia group will also be maintaining their blog, https://scapoland.wordpress.com/, during the World Youth Day trip.
Because World Youth Day is a pilgrimage, involving long walks, tight quarters and possibly little sleep, “I know I won’t be comfortable the whole time,” Roach said. “I’ll try to keep everything in perspective.”
St. Cecilia principal Sister Anne Catherine, O.P., will be making her fourth World Youth Day trip with the group. She previously attended World Youth Days in Denver, Toronto and Madrid.
“When I went to Denver, that was such a pivotal moment for me,” she said. She didn’t yet know she had a vocation to religious life at that time, “but some seeds were planted.”
One other Dominican Sister will be traveling with the St. Cecilia group; other Nashville-based Dominican sisters will be traveling in small groups with the schools where they teach or with other diocesan youth groups. A group of about a dozen Dominican Sisters who recently made first vows are currently in Europe, tracing the steps of St. Dominic and the spread of the order in honor of the Dominican order’s 800th anniversary. They will attend World Youth Day at the end of their travels.
Sister Anne Catherine wants the St. Cecilia students to experience that same sense of connection with the global Church that she felt at World Youth Days past. “My desire is for the students to see that the Church is alive and young and has the answers for the questions they have about life.”
She hopes the students deepen their relationships with one another while also connecting with people from around the world. Most important, she said, is that they “meet the Lord face to face in a deeper way.”