1,300 Young Adults in Washington Area Gather for Local World Youth Day Celebration

Sunday, July 31, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – World Youth Day is a global gathering of youth hosted by the Catholic Church. It typically occurs every three years, each time in a different country. The host city for World Youth Day 2016 is Kraków, Poland, the home country of Saint John Paul II, canonized in 2014, who initiated the first World Youth Day during his pontificate in 1985. Hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world are now gathered in Kraków with Pope Francis, and on Saturday 1,300 local young adults gathered for “Kraków in the Capital,” a state-side celebration here in Washington. The archdiocese partnered with Washington-area Catholic entities and the regional (arch)dioceses to host the day-long pilgrimage to allow individuals the opportunity to encounter Christ.

The day-long event featured opportunities for pilgrims to pray, and to hear from bishops and national speakers. Sessions were available for those who are deaf and for persons with intellectual disabilities. An exhibit hall provided opportunities to learn more about religious vocations and local and national Catholic organizations. To provide a taste of the cultural experience occurring abroad, the festival includedPolish dance (including polka lessons led by a Polish dance group from Baltimore), music and food.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington became a digital pilgrim when he held a Skype and Facebook conversation to connect with the archdiocese’s pilgrims who travelled to Poland. At dusk Cardinal Wuerl presided over Stations of the Cross, a commonly practiced Catholic devotion with fourteen prayers and reflections that focus on specific events of Christ’s last day. Following the conclusion of the Stations of the Cross, Cardinal Wuerl celebrated a vigil Mass at the basilica.

As the cardinal began his homily, he recognized Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the new apostolic nuncio to the United States, and expressed his gratitude that Pope Francis’ personal representative was there to bring the Holy Father’s presence and closeness to everyone gathered. He then reflected on the pope’s visit to Washington ten months ago and his message of how we must not only renew our openness to God’s presence in our lives but to share that joyful Good News with others. “What our Holy Father brought to Washington, he brings to Kraków and vicariously – as we reflect on his words – they come alive again for us here,” said the cardinal. “The Holy Father’s message first and foremost to everyone he encountered is Jesus Christ and his Gospel, which calls us to see one another as brothers and sisters, all of us children of God. Cardinal Wuerl noted that when Francis met with American bishops during his U.S. visit, he told them, “‘To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the Cross embraced the whole of mankind.’”

The cardinal continued, “What the Holy Father proclaimed throughout his time here and what he will undoubtedly be announcing again in Kraków, is that we are supposed to show God’s love and mercy to everyone. This is not a new teaching, but it rings fresh all over again as people hear it and are drawn to it.” Referencing Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortations, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) and Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), the cardinal said: “We are called as disciples to go out, to encounter, to accompany and in doing that we evangelize as we bring people closer to Christ.”

“It takes confidence and courage for people of any age to invite others to experience the love and mercy of Christ,” the cardinal said, especially for young people because our culture often says there is no place for God, for the Gospel message of Jesus. “A barrage of images and voices tell us that what is important in life is pleasure, money and prestige. Even many older people feel helpless to resist this push to forget about God.” But, the cardinal encouraged, “never underestimate the power of your witness.”

“The evangelizing disciple is called first to renew his or her faith. This takes place as we learn more about our faith and open our hearts in prayer to encounter more deeply the Lord Jesus. Brothers and sisters, in renewing your faith, be confident in it. You stand in the truth and you should always know that the Words of Jesus are the Words of Everlasting Life. It is for that reason that you are called also to share it.”

“But we cannot look to Poland and to World Youth Day without also envisioning the extraordinary figure of one of Pope Francis’ predecessors – Saint John Paul II,” said the cardinal. “How fitting it is that Saint John Paul II is considered the patron of World Youth Day, which he began and brought to nearly every continent of the world.” The cardinal shared memories of the concluding 1993 World Youth Day Mass at Cherry Creek State Park during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Denver. The park was filled with a half million young people and despite the exhaustion of the long walk and overnight vigil, there was excitement about being in the presence of the Holy Father, who seemed reluctant to conclude his talk; the audience, equally reluctant to let him finish and leave, kept cheering him. “The Pope seemed so much at ease while at the same time strongly encouraging all of the youth to live their faith. They in turn appeared eager to hear what he had to say and joyful in the recognition that the Pope was speaking to them,” recalled the cardinal. “It was in the context of those remarks that he reminded all of the young people, ‘Never be ashamed of your faith.’ He then paused and said, ‘What I wanted to say was be proud of your faith. Always be proud of your faith.’”

“In a world where social pressure pulls in a different direction, it was necessary then just as it is today for all of us to hear that we should be confident of our faith, stand firm in the truth and always be proud of our faith,” said the cardinal. “Dear brothers and sisters, let us simply renew our own conviction that we are disciples of Jesus, that his Words are the Words of Everlasting Life, and that we are prepared to go out, to encounter, to accompany, to share so that we can always demonstrate in word and in deed, what we say and how we act that we are Jesus’ followers and that to be so we are very proud.”

After the Mass an outdoor concert was held on the Catholic University campus. Pilgrims also had the opportunity to camp overnight on the property of the Dominican House of Studies, across the street from the Catholic University campus.

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The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 620,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and 94 Catholic schools, located in Washington, D.C., and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

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