Come, Holy Spirit: Confirmation Retreat

By: Vania Dienzo

A few months ago, a brother in Youth Apostles reached out to the Women Youth Apostles to see if we had any availability to help at the various confirmation retreats and workcamps in the upcoming spring and summer months. With my sister Tiffany’s encouragement, I signed up to be a cabin leader for the first All Saints Girls Confirmation Retreat March 24-25, hoping to get better ideas on activities and structure for my own confirmation students as a catechist. I had never been on this particular retreat before or even had a retreat for my own Confirmation formation so I didn’t know exactly what to expect that weekend. Although I was anxious going into it, I am now very grateful I was able to attend the retreat and to serve alongside four of my Women Youth Apostle sisters.

It had been a while since I’d done relational ministry outside of my own parish in Maryland so I was nervous to meet new middle school teens, have 10 of those teens in my particular care and in my small group, and to also give one of the retreat talks. God showed me that I really didn’t need to be nervous! Though my group wasn’t very open at the start, as we progressed through the meals and activities the girls would share more and we could talk more and more easily over the short period of time we had on retreat.

A small group of girls participate in a scavenger hunt activity

Unsurprisingly, the Holy Spirit was a major theme in the retreat! One of the main activities is a scavenger hunt, where teens rotate through various stations, each representing a gift of the Holy Spirit the 8th graders could expect to receive in a new way at Confirmation. I led the station on Knowledge. I could tell the girls already knew so much about the life of Jesus and were open to learning more about the Faith through our discussion. When it came to time for my talk on Saturday afternoon titled “Our Sin and God’s Mercy”,  I still was nervous,  but  right before my talk I prayed to the Holy Spirit to remember my notes so I could share with the girls about one of my my favorite parables about the Father’s mercy, The Prodigal Son, and my own experiences. When I talked, I only needed to check my notes a few times. I could see the girls were listening intently and one of the girls even volunteered bravely for a short demo. I would consider all this the work of the Holy Spirit stirring up my own gifts!

Vania gives her talk, “Our Sin & God’s Mercy” to the 8th grade girls

 

The rest of the retreat was inspiring and moving, even from my perspective as a leader. To hear more questions on sin, see all the retreatants go to the sacrament of Reconciliation willingly and then kneel in Adoration was beautiful. It was also a great joy to pray a rosary with students leading decades and talk about our Blessed Mother on the Feast of the Annunciation.

Another moving part for me was when Rob, the All Saints Director of Youth Ministry, talked to the entire group about community and being involved in different ministries in high school. He led some of the girls through a trust exercise, and I began to tear up when they successfully executed it because it was scary but awesome! I was even more impacted when the high school assistant leaders shared their experiences in CLC (a Catholic Life Community that two of my sisters lead with two other adult leaders), Theater Ministry, Youth Group, etc. They were all wonderful examples of the fruit our ministries can bear and how community is important in our faith lives.

Rob Tessier speaks to the girls about the importance of community in living our faith

 

Overall, the retreat was a great experience led by the Holy Spirit.  It was beautiful to witness young girls learn, pray and interact with each other in our beautiful Catholic Faith. It was also amazing to serve alongside my Women Youth Apostle sisters who are all so naturally great in leading, speaking and getting to know the girls. I felt very blessed by God to be there with  all of them. This retreat definitely reminded me of how much I love our Faith and how much I love sharing it with young people. As a first time confirmation Catechist at my parish, I have more ideas now on how next year’s retreat and class activities can be like. I would recommend catechists and youth ministry volunteers stretch themselves to try out retreats like this one, to discover their gifts and to see how the Holy Spirit might use these to reach the hearts of young people.

Building a Community of Love

By: Krysti Patient

The first weekend of December, Girls’ Catholic Life Communities from 5 different parishes in the diocese traveled out to West Virginia to go on their annual retreat. Four sisters of Women Youth Apostles were among the adult moderators there to lead and accompany the girls on this grace-filled weekend which fell in with the diocesan youth ministry theme for this year “I will love”.

I had the great privilege of giving the last talk of the retreat to the CLC girls on Sunday morning. All weekend the girls had been hearing about different aspects of Love, beginning with God’s love for us, and moving to our love for others, a sacrificial Christ-like love, and a love for God himself in the Spiritual Life through deep prayer. The last piece of the puzzle, my talk on “building a community of love” served to show the girls how all of this was meant to be lived out in community, and in particular, the Catholic Life Community they have each been called to.

No room for fear

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photo by Catie LeBouton

I have always found that fear has no place in community. I gave the girls a personal example of my first experience with a faith community while at college, and how my first challenge as a new member of that community was to rid myself of any and all fears. That meant no fear of embarrassment, no fear of rejection, no fear of comparison.  These are big obstacles to young people, and these are conquered only by the power of the Holy Spirit working in community. A community is a place of belonging, a place of love. Scripture tells us “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love” (1 John 4:18)

The power of going on retreat is pretty amazing. I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of watching young people cast away their fears one by one as they immerse themselves into community, replacing those insecurities and hesitations with bold love and acceptance, growing more perfectly in love for themselves, their Lord, and for one another.

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photo by Catie LeBouton

Given to one another

I started my talk with the universal call to holiness and community in The Church that Christ himself established for the purpose of carrying on his saving work of love. This was for the girls to know the true normalcy for each one of us to find our place in The Church and to build that Community here on earth. I believe that in the course of the retreat, as they cast away fear and put on love, part of that beauty and really building that community there for the weekend (and beyond) is also in casting away what we think we know, what sin and doubt and fear have taught us- that it is not normal to long for Heaven. Not normal that we should love our God. Not normal that we should strive for holiness. Not so! In CLC, and on retreat especially, we get to watch these teen girls slowly regain or grow in their ability to see truth, which is that we were made for love, made for God, and made for Heaven- how then, could these longings not be normal?

In Girls’ Catholic Life Community, high school girls make commitments to one another. Community is a place of belonging, and though there are adult moderators to lead and guide, the teens do not belong to the moderators or the moderators to the teens—rather, each member of the community belongs to one another. So many young Catholics grow up in The Church and parish community, but in reaching adulthood fall away. Modern societal messages tell our young people that they need not commit themselves to anything or anyone. CLC provides these teen girls the chance to seek the truths of their faith and to take ownership of it. There are varying levels of membership promises to provide the girls the chance to commit themselves to their faith and to do so with their peers in common. In this communion with one another as sisters of CLC, they live out their commitments in openness, honesty, prayer, and in frequent receiving of the Sacraments.

The girls that feel a call to CLC have a desire to go deeper. They have sensed that there is a greater longing of their unsatisfied hearts and they have sought to know more, to love more. They have sensed their power and their purpose- to be saints, to help one another in this mission, and to love one another towards heaven.

Ultimate Outing/RALLY 2016 – I Will Love

By: Krysti Patient

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This past weekend, 6:00AM Saturday morning, I drove out to “The Ultimate Outing”, with All Saints and Holy Trinity Catholic Churches. The Ultimate Outing begins with a retreat and ends at Diocesan RALLY. Like perhaps most working adults, my initial expectations were leaning towards a more negative perspective- I was going to be up early, go to bed late, and in the meantime be totally energized, friendly and relational with 40+ teenagers who would undoubtedly be representing the whole spectrum of willingness to participate in the retreat. I knew it wouldn’t be terrible! I simply braced myself to experience all of the challenging parts I’ve become familiar with at youth ministry events and retreats chock-full of talks, small groups and activities. After a particularly busy week (well, month) at the office, I thought, “there won’t be enough coffee in the world to sustain me this weekend!”

rope-swing-krysti-lisbethThankfully, the Holy Spirit is an excellent caffeinator. I had forgotten that the last retreat I went on with teens was a Confirmation retreat-which I remembered fondly, but perhaps was more aware of the mandatory nature of that particular weekend. As a result, I was surprised right off the bat to find many of the teens I encountered at The Ultimate Outing were very open to whatever the weekend held in store. Even if some weren’t totally jumping up and down with excitement, there was a really beautiful surrender that wasn’t a “giving up” but rather a “giving in.”

From the beginning of retreat we introduced journaling as a form of prayer, and encouraged them to journal in places of quiet throughout the retreat, before coming back together in their small groups to share what God was revealing to them all. Throughout the retreat, I was pleased to find that every teen I spoke to was filling their small journal in those quiet moments of prayer. There was even a teen in my small group-who I had thought was fairly disengaged because she would doodle or write in her journal while the rest of the group shared-that later shared with me that journaling was the only way she found that would let her focus and really listen to what others, and also to what God, was saying. She told me she didn’t know journaling was a real form of prayer, or that anyone else prayed the way she did. I could tell this was a big deal for her.

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Later, in Eucharistic Adoration, several more teens who I may have mentally flagged early on as more difficult to reach, seemed to have the most impactful experience of the group when before Christ in the monstrance. Almost every single teen received the Sacrament of Reconciliation that evening. I wrote in my own journal my thanksgiving to Jesus for the gift of their vulnerability, “These young people are braver than most adults I know. Your kingdom truly does belong to such as these.”

kevin-bohli-rally-welcome-messageThat Sunday morning, we had one last talk and journaling exercise before packing up and heading out to Bishop O’Connell High School for RALLY. When gathered together to hear the welcome message, we received an introduction to this year’s youth ministry theme, and a keynote message from speaker Sean Forrest. The youth ministry theme comes from one of The Church’s newest saints-Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “I will love” is a mission statement, a call to make a firm resolution based on Jesus’ sacrificial love. As he spoke about his first experience serving the poor in Haiti, one line from Sean’s keynote stood out. He said, “I was more exhausted than I ever remember having been. That was because I gave all of myself, in love, to those who needed it.”

“And so today, when we have gathered here together, let us carry in our hearts one strong resolution: I will love. I will be a carrier of God’s love. For that is what Jesus came to teach us: how to love one another.” – Saint Teresa of Calcutta in her address to the United Nations on October 26, 1985

Two workshops, inflatables, Sunday Mass with Bishop Loverde, bacon pizza, and a photo booth photoshoot later, RALLY concluded with a concert and Eucharistic Adoration. I watched my teens gather now with hundreds of other young Catholics to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and could see that the retrerally-eucharistic-processionat the day before helped them prepare for a beautiful encounter with their Lord. Most of my teens asked me if we could position ourselves as close to where Jesus would be as possible. In watching each of them give their undivided attention to Our Lord-their love for Him was tangible.

The final time in adoration was everything I needed to see that any extra effort or sacrifice on my own part from the weekend was worth it. I was exhausted, more than I had been in a while. In that moment, I too was glad “because I gave all of myself in love to those who needed it.” This is the true power of this year’s theme, this mission statement “I will love.”

Jesus came to teach us this and He is teaching me this still each day…how to love. There are a lot of things that make loving others difficult. However, if all I had to lose was a little sleep or a little of my time, I will give it all again in a heartbeat for one fraction of that moment with young people in Eucharistic Adoration-the teens knowing they are loved by Christ and watching them respond in love.

Double Duty

Reflection on WorkCamp and Jr. High WorkCamp by Amelia Gil-Figueroa:

            “With humility and joy may we model Mary’s radical yes in all aspects of our lives.”

As I reflect on these past two weeks, I can think of no better way to describe how God is teaching and molding me into a more perfect imitation of His love, than to repeat this line from our community prayer. I have had the blessing of serving the youth of our diocese at both High School Workcamp (HSW) and the combined Jr. High Workcamp (JHW) of five parishes (St. Leo the Great, St. Mark, St. Veronica, St. Paul Chung and St. Mary of Sorrows). As a Homebase Team member for HSW and then as a crew leader for JHW I was privileged to work alongside some amazing and God-fearing people who were ready and willing  to say ‘yes’ to just about anything in order to serve the Lord and His Church.

As those who have previously served on the Homebase Team know, it is nothing short of long hours, lots of work and tired feet. And yet, if you ask any one of us, we’ll tell you that we can’t wait until next year. It’s not that we’re gluttons for punishment, but rather we get to see first-hand how the Lord touches the hearts and minds of so many young people and how their service makes a difference in their lives and the lives of the residents they help. We serve that they may serve. This year, I served once again as a member of the “Coffee Crew”. Having served on this “Crew” before, I was not new to the demands of the coffee world; but our Lord, who knows me better than I know myself, knows that I need to learn how better to be humble and how much more to trust in Him. One of these teaching moments came when one morning, the coffee for the entire camp did not brew. Though I did my best to find a solution, it was the help and suggestions of a friend and fellow “Coffee Crew” member that truly resolved the issue. All the coffee was brewed, placed all along the hallway wherever there was a working outlet. Now I like to be the problem-solver, to say that I did it. Of course, we can do nothing without the grace of Our Lord, I know that. But when it comes to tasks and works, it’s difficult for me to see the correlation between the earthly and the spiritual. It wasn’t until I had no control of the situation, that I realized that even the mundane morning routine of brewing coffee was teaching me to trust in Our Lord.

The minor (slightly major) coffee disaster was preceded by another incredible teaching moment. So many times I get comfortable in the way that I serve. I make coffee, I run errands, I do the ordinary small tasks. God doesn’t like comfortable; He likes to pull me out of my comfort zone. On one night during the camp, the teens are offered an incredible night of mercy with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the opportunity to go to confession. Teens are also given the opportunity to speak and pray with someone about anything that may be on their hearts. After completing a previous task, I was asked to be one such ‘Prayer Partner’. While I said yes, I remember thinking “in what way am I even remotely qualified to do this?” The simple answer, I probably wasn’t. But it was for some reason that I was asked, and if God meant for me to be there, who was I to question Him. I only spoke with two young ladies, but I will never forget their intentions. I only pray that it was not I who spoke, but the Holy Spirit, and that in speaking with me, they were able to find peace.

One of the biggest blessings was serving alongside my brothers and sisters in community, but more so was serving with my actual (read: biological) brother at JHW. Being able to share this ministry with him was truly wonderful, and one that I believe has brought us closer as siblings, and closer to our Lord. This was my first time as crew leader – I remember participating when I was in Junior High, but I never thought that one day I would be the adult crew leader. Here is another example of how our Lord is bringing me out of my comfort zone: my crew consisted of four junior high boys. I grew up with brothers and amongst all our family friend groups, I was the only girl, so I was not a fish-out-of-water, per se. But my ministry for the past year has been with high school girls and before that, I led bible studies for college freshman women. I was not afraid to be leading this group of young men, but I’m not sure I was completely prepared. Nothing extreme happened, in fact, they were all generally well-behaved and hard-working. I guess I was not prepared for the amount of energy spent and the amount of questions asked, mixed in with a few complaints. The Lord was teaching me to humbly accept that I don’t always know what to do but to do my best to do it with patience and joy.

One thing that I learned from my mother (and that is echoed in our prayer) is that whatever the Lord calls you to do “be joyful. Don’t walk around morose, or with a blank expression on your face. Always, be joyful.” Things may not go according to plan, you may be tired, you may have absolutely no idea what you’re doing or how you’re qualified to be doing it, but do all things with joy. The beauty of these past two weeks has been serving alongside so many people that do just that, they serve with joy. With humility and joy.

 

Homebase Team

2015 All Girls’ CLC Retreat

By: Kathy Sullivan, Full Member of Women Youth Apostles

2015 All Girls’ CLC Retreat

Each year for the past 7 years I have had the most wonderful Blessing of joining all of the Catholic Life Community (CLC) moderators from the Arlington Diocese on a All Girls’ CLC Retreat.  Each year we take approximately 25-35 young high school women away for a weekend to enjoy time with Community and the Lord.  And every year I’m reminded of how much I have to gain in my relationship with the Lord.

The girls attending the retreat range in age from 14-18 and are all active members of their church’s Youth Ministry and CLC.  For some of them this may be their first retreat since the Confirmation Retreat they attended in 8th grade, so they are really excited to be in communion with the Lord and each other.

This year we had 25 young women and 9 Moderators spend a weekend of “Refuge” in Concord Retreat Center, WV.  The weather was awesome and this allowed us to do more things outside but by far the best parts of the weekend were spent in small group time, Adoration, Confession, Craft Time and of course Mass.  We were Blessed to have Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament for 24 hours (thank you Fr. Tom Yehl) and even were able to have adoration over night!
Fr. Tom blessing the Refuge stones.

Each time I am with these beautiful women I am reminded about how wonderful community is and the joy it brings.  I was able to spend most of the weekend with one of my brothers in community, Fr. Tom, and one of my sisters in community, Amelia Gil.  What a joy to be able to do ministry side-by-side with your Community.  Also, the girls on retreat are able to see first-hand what it is like to be in Community with other women of their own age.  The giggling and pure happiness that comes from being together in one house is really LOUD but AWESOME!

At the end of the weekend each year I remember why I feel called to this ministry.  HOPE and JOY!  Hope that these women will have the love of Christ each second, minute, hour and day of the rest of their lives and Joy that they have experienced in their CLC Community will continue into their adulthood.
CLC Moderators

If you have any questions about Catholic Life Community (CLC) or would like information on which parishes in the Diocese offer it, email us at womenyouthapostles@gmail.com.

The Young Church & Mercy (On RALLY and The Little Saint of Great Mercy)

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By: Krysti Patient, Full Member of Women Youth Apostles

It’s almost been a week since 1,000 teens and adults took over the Marymount University campus for the Arlington Diocese RALLY 2015. It never ceases to amaze me that despite chillier weather without hope of rising above 54 degrees, that light and warmth radiates wherever there are young people enjoying each other in the community of the young church. Myself and several other volunteers for the Arlington Diocese Office of Youth Ministry spent much of Saturday night and all of Sunday from dawn until almost midnight (always major points for finishing in the PM) building the stage, posting signage for workshops and bathrooms, running games, directing teens and adults, selling band merchandise, and more. It was a long weekend that still managed to conclude in the blink of an eye.

I’m gathering my thoughts and jotting down notes this Thursday evening afterwards. In my personal prayer, God always speaks to me in coincidence- via daily readings or the liturgy for Morning Prayer that day, or in the simple circumstances of my life. I can’t help but smile here because this is the first moment I’ve been able to take to reflect on the events of RALLY, and I am doing so on the feast day of Pope St. John Paul II, at St. Veronica’s Catholic Church in Chantilly, praying in front of the Major Relics of St. Maria Goretti.

RAWhat is God saying to me in these coincidences? First, we all know that one of Pope John Paul II’s greatest loves was the young people. He empowered youth throughout the world to make holiness a part of their lives. This passion of one of our newest saints is the same flame coursing through events like RALLY each year in our diocese. And the young people loved Pope John Paul II back. I can’t help but feel the love our teens have for our very own Bishop Loverde. Bishop is celebrating 50 years of priesthood and could very well be retiring soon. At the end of Mass at RALLY, youth presented Bishop Loverde with a gift and giant card which many teens had signed for his golden jubilee. The cheering that erupts for our shepherd from these teens is always so very heart warming. And what was his response to this outpouring of love on Sunday? “I love you.” Both Bishop and JPII desired sainthood for the young people of their flock and made it known to them that it was not only possible, but what they were made for!

St. John Paul II said to the youth at World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, “Just as salt gives flavor to food and light illumines the darkness, so too holiness gives full meaning to life and makes it reflect God’s glory. How many saints, especially young saints, can we count in the Church’s history! In their love for God their heroic virtues shone before the world, and so they became models of life which the Church has held up for imitation by all… Through the intercession of this great host of witnesses, may God make you too, dear young people, the saints of the third millennium!”

One of the youngest modern saints and patroness of youth in The Church is 12 year old St. Maria Goretti. If you don’t know her story, she was a young Italian girl born in October of 1890. She lost her father at a young age and had to mature quickly to help take care of her siblings while her mother earned a living. The family received help from another family, the Serenelli’s. Alessandro Serenelli was 22 and began making sexual advances toward Maria. One day, while her family was away, he threatened to kill her with a 10-inch knife if she did not give him her virginity. She refused, and he stabbed her 14 times. Before she died, she did the unthinkable- she forgave Alessandro, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli.. and I want him with me in heaven forever.” It is no surprise that St. Maria is known as “The Little Saint of Great Mercy”!

In fact, the USA Tour of the Major Relics of St. Maria Goretti is in honor the Year of Mercy. The diocesan theme for the year’s ministry is “Show Know Mercy”. Once we know mercy, we must show it to others. That is a two-fold command, the call to holiness–to understand and to accept God’s mercy in our lives, to know his love, and then to show it to others. What better example than that of little Maria? Years after Alessandro was settled in a prison cell, Maria appeared to him. She didn’t say a single word, but handed him 14 lilies one by one, one for each of the wounds he inflicted on her. She had forgiven him, and now he knew that. Her mercy opened the door to salvation for Alessandro, but he still had to accept that mercy and walk through the door himself. The next day he requested the Sacrament of Reconcilation, repented, and even evangelized his fellow inmates. Eventually he was released from prison, sought out Maria’s mother and received her forgiveness as well. Eventually, he even became a Franciscan lay brother. He died in his old age, and got to see little Maria be canonized a saint. There are many who are calling for his canonization now, too. Such is the transformative power of mercy!

I think both Maria and Alessandro are happy coincidences God planted in my contemplation. Maria is the young saint I absolutely believe some of the teens who gather at RALLY and other events are hoping to imitate. Alessandro represents the hope we all have for redemption, and an example of true humility. RALLY Keynote Paul J. Kim kicked off the day’s events with a beautiful message, “I don’t care what you’ve done! We’ve all done sinful things. This is my challenge: Come home. Where is home? To The Church, to the mercy of the Father; the mercy of your God.” No one would have blamed St. Maria Goretti if she condemned Alessandro for the ugly things he did to her, but because she chose mercy, thousands of Catholics today know her story and are inspired by her witness. Because Alessandro chose to know that mercy, chose to come home, love conquered evil. Satan lost a soul.

A video played on a loop at St. Veronica’s behind St. Maria’s relics that recounted her story. At one small seemingly insignificant part of the video, some elderly religious sisters are kneeling at the site of Maria’s martyrdom. I can only marvel at these aged women, who have quite literally given their lives over to Christ in their vocations, praying intensely for the intercession of a 12 year old girl. The witness of young people is a beautiful, powerful thing. Multiply that to around 800 teenagers just beginning to know God’s presence and mercy in their lives and generating an energy that is the Holy Spirit at work in young hearts. On Sunday, I zipped around from place to place all day helping the youth office update their social media with pictures and quotes from the day. My job was to be practically invisible, and had the blessing of truly enjoying and witnessing that energy. As I watched the teens buzzing with excitement from the keynote, or coming out of a workshop, I couldn’t help but recall just 3 years ago when I too was buzzing in the midst of the zeal of my own conversion. As I watched young people jump into the ring for another round of Gaga Ball, or wait patiently in line for confession, I couldn’t help but remember just under 2 years ago coming into the church at this very chapel at Marymount, still a relatively young person myself.

image2This is why God loves children. Young people have an incredible energy that channels the Holy Spirit and breathes life into The Church. I know it breathes life into my own faith. I really think there are young people who want to be saints, and that is everything. The Young Church is a great gift to me personally, helping me to remember what it was like to come to know Jesus while inspiring me by their witness. I never had a faith or a community in high school the way these teens do, and it is so very good the way they are embracing it and answering the call to holiness with hope and openness. I think many teens answered Paul J. Kim’s challenge Sunday with enthusiasm, to come home.

“Jesus’ attitude is striking: we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to Him with a contrite heart. “Great is God’s mercy,” says the Psalm. “

— Pope Francis, Angelus on March 17, 2013 

A Papal Pilgrimage Reflection

By: Fatima Perez, Full Member of Women Youth Apostles and Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at Bishop Ireton High School

After months of preparation in the campus ministry office of Bishop Ireton High School, the weekend many of us have been anticipating had finally arrived. While a number of our students had the opportunity to attend different ticketed Papal events in our nation’s capital, most of which were arranged weeks and even days prior, we have been preparing a group for a pilgrimage to Philadelphia for months. Thanks to the efforts of the Arlington Diocesan Office of Youth Ministry, we were blessed to bring a total of 42 people from Bishop Ireton to join in their arranged pilgrimage to Philadelphia for the concluding events of the World Meeting of Families and to see the Holy Father, Pope Francis. All grade levels were represented and we also had faculty and parent chaperones take part in this special journey.

The weekend was filled with many special moments as you can imagine. Being in the presence of the Holy Father was one thing, but being in the presence of the Holy Father and vast crowds that share the same faith was another. For anyone that has experienced an international Catholic event knows how unified the crowds can be – from chants and cheers to prayers to songs – it was easy to sense the joy and enthusiasm of the Church. You could also sense how on fire the Church was, that no matter who you are, what your story is or what you do, the weekend allowed people to remember that they are a part of something beyond themselves. It was also inspiring to see so many people from all over the world in all stages or states of life – teens, priests, brothers, nuns, young children, babies, seminarians, and grandparents. There were so many members of the family represented!

One of the things we made very clear to our students prior to our trip was that this wasn’t just any trip, but a pilgrimage. We shared that while on this journey, there would be plenty of opportunities to give up the daily comforts that we are used to and instead walk a few extra miles a day, sleep in a small cabin with no heat for two nights, stand in line to use the bathroom or to board an overly crowded train—these are only a few examples. Despite the discomforts, these were all golden opportunities to offer up those who were in need of prayers—for our loved ones back home, families everywhere, for the Church, for the suffering. So while we were certainly met with some challenges along the way, we were also met with many graces.

Watching the Festival of Families on a jumbotron, on Benjamin Franklin Parkway

On Saturday night after attending the Festival of Families in the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, we made it back on our bus near Lincoln Financial Field after what seemed like a very long journey. Once we all boarded on the bus, the driver came to discover that the bus would not move due to mechanical issues. As time went on, we watched more and more buses leave the bus lot, one after the other. After an hour, four tries, and a few prayers later, the bus still wouldn’t move and we were just about the only ones left. Everyone in our group was exhausted at this point, of course, but there were no complaints. In fact, when we told everyone to get some rest because the next day would be another long one, the bus grew silent and they all got any rest they could. It was really special to see the teens really dive into the spirit of pilgrimage in this way especially with how tired they were. Finally at half past midnight, we were picked up by another bus from our Diocesan group and made it back to our camp site by 1:30 in the morning.

The line we were in to get past security.

Another challenge worth sharing was the long line to get through security for the Closing Mass with Pope Francis. At a certain point while in line, there was no movement at all; we were at complete standstill. Mass was scheduled to start at 4 and it was almost 2. With the amount of people in front of us, we made the unanimous decision to get out of line and head into another part of the city that had a jumbotron screen broadcasting the Mass. We figured we would just participate in that way because there was a slim to none chance of us getting through before the start of Mass. While Fr. Bresnahan was giving the group the game plan on a side street, an NBC10 cameraman and journalist found us and even asked to interview us about our pilgrimage, what our plans were for the Mass (since they saw us get out of the line), and overall how excited we were to be a part of this experience. Despite not being close enough to get in, it’s safe to say that we still had high spirits not minding the fact that we would be much, much further away.

After walking for a bit more, we ended up right next to City Hall and found a big enough space for our group to settle into for Mass. Luckily I brought my Magnificat with me so I passed it around so the teens could follow along the readings, especially if it was read in a different language. We also got to sing the Mass parts in Latin because of the Magnificat as well, which was awesome!

There were two especially moving moments for me during the Mass. The first was at the moment of Consecration. It was a powerful scene–pilgrims knelt and watched the Holy Father elevate the host and chalice, while locals simultaneously weaved in and around us. In that moment I realized that the work we have cut out for us as missionaries of the Gospel is right in front of us, literally; to be strengthened the Eucharist, our food for the journey, and the people that God is calling us to bring the Good News to. That was such a simple, yet profound moment that I just could not stop reflecting on.

Another moment occcured a few minutes later. My heart swelled with great joy as my Pieta prayer book was passed around to each person in our group. It was being passed from one person to the next so that they could individually recite a Spiritual Communion since we were unable to receive Christ sacramentally as there were no Communion stations outside of the secured area. Again, it was such a simple, yet profound sight to see.

I’ve been blessed to attend pilgrimages throughout my adult faith life, but I really felt like this one was extra special because it was right at home. We were blessed to have the Successor of Peter visit us on American soil and leave imprinted in our hearts the message of mercy, the vitality of our Catholic faith, our call to share the Good News, and the sacredness of family. And it was extra sweet for me, personally, not only because I got to experience such a great pilgrimage with my students, but also because the pilgrimage affirmed me as a new wife and a soon-to-be mother.

From the time spent in prayer with students to cheerfully greeting the Holy Father in his popemobile to playing games to dancing on the streets, the love of Christ was truly made manifest in not just the presence of his Vicar on earth, but in each of the pilgrims that journeyed alongside us. Praise God for such a fruitful pilgrimage!

Our Father will not be outdone in generosity and he continues to scatter seeds. He scatters the seeds of his presence in our world, for “love consists in this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us” first (1 Jn 4:10). That love gives us the profound certainty that we are sought by God; he waits for us. It is this confidence which makes disciples encourage, support and nurture the good things happening all around them. God wants all his children to take part in the feast of the Gospel. – Pope Francis, Homily during the Closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia