A Merciful Pilgrimage

A World Youth Day Reflection by: Vania Dienzo

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For the last few years, I’ve been trying to plan my vacation time with either a mission trip or a pilgrimage. 2016 was a pilgrimage year and I had the opportunity to attend World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland. I’ve wanted to attend this large Church event since Sydney 2008 and I was blessed to be able to go! As excited as I’ve been since signing up to attend with the Archdiocese of Washington back in 2014, July 2016 came around and I didn’t feel spiritually prepared for the pilgrimage. Sure, I knew it’s currently the Jubilee Year of Mercy and frequented confession, but I haven’t reflected more on Christ’s mercy, on what the pilgrimage would mean for me or prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet enough. Realizing this, the week before leaving for the trip, I prayed that God be with me, protect me and open my heart to whatever he wants of me at World Youth Day.

This year’s theme was “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). God’s mercy truly was present throughout the week and it spread throughout the hearts of attendees and residents of Krakow. I’ll share a few of the numerous examples of how I encountered mercy and learned what it is to be merciful.

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St. Mary’s Basilica in Market Square

My group was blessed to have one of our Auxiliary Bishops of our Archdiocese, Bishop Martin Holley, travel with us. If we didn’t have a WYD event Mass, he celebrated Mass for us at a church or in the hotel. I wasn’t able to go to confession before leaving for the trip in the midst of wrapping up things at work, traffic and packing for the trip, therefore I refrained from receiving communion. After Sunday Mass with the entire group, I asked Bishop Holley if he had the time before tomorrow’s Mass together to hear my confession because I didn’t want to wait any longer to receive the Eucharist. At the time, our group was at a lounge in Krakow’s Market Square relaxing before our dinner reservations. When I asked, he happily agreed to do it right then on the side of the lounge. I didn’t expect him to do that right away because we were relaxing and he could have easily scheduled a later time. After he heard my confession, I felt God forgive me in His mercy and remind me that I’m in Krakow for a reason. The grace I received from that encounter changed my exhaustion from the long walking tour day to joy. I’m still grateful Bishop Holley was willing to share that encounter with me because it helped me throughout the rest of the week in preparation for more.

On Wednesday, official World Youth Day events had begun the evening before and everything became more overwhelming . We were at Tauron Arena known as the Mercy Centre for the week for the English Catechesis and gatherings for English speaking countries. There were thousands of people in the arena for Mass and talks, then more movement of thousands of people during the breakout sessions throughout the arena. For the second session, my friend and I wanted to attend the “Biology of the Theology of the Body” talk but by the time we got down to the conference room, it reached max capacity and it was closed off to more participants. God had different plans for us for that next hour and a half.

This gave us the opportunity to go into their large Adoration Chapel, pray in front of Christ and listen to a talk by a Sister from the same congregation of Saint Faustina-The Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. I found this moment to be so profound and beautiful.The room was full of hundreds of people but everyone was in quiet in prayer, most sitting and kneeling on the ground. This time allowed me to pray for the intentions of my family and friends they requested before leaving on this pilgrimage. The talk on Divine Mercy reminded us to practice being merciful in deed, word and prayer and we must strive to live mercifully even in tough times. We must trust in Christ and know that mercy is the response of God to evil in the world. God was so good to let me spend that time right there when I had other plans that morning. For not thinking my heart was prepared enough for this pilgrimage, I had the time to open my heart here. He knew what I needed. Jezu, Ufam tobie. Jesus, I trust in You.

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Adoration Chapel in the Mercy Centre in Tauron Arena

This pilgrimage was most definitely a journey. We drove to local cities by in the comfort of a coach bus such as Wadowice to see Saint Pope John Paul II’s hometown, Oświęcim to see walk through Auschwitz-Birkenau and Częstochowa to see the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa. Yet, in Krakow, we walked several miles everyday to get to our destinations and couldn’t always rely on trams and buses running. Honestly, I did not expect to walk as much as I did. I totaled approximately 70 miles by the end of the pilgrimage and averaged about 20,000 steps per day, way beyond my normal totals. I made the mistake of not bringing the best shoes to walk in with proper arch support. My feet were in pain every day. Everytime we walked to our section in Blonia Park, I rushed to pull out my parachute blanket and have a seat. The most challenging day walking was Friday afternoon to get to Campus Misericordiae, a meadow/field area 8 miles from City center and 6 miles from Tauron Arena where our group started. We walked in 81 degrees fahrenheit with a few breaks and drank large amounts of water to stay hydrated. There were also a million other pilgrims on their way there. Our group prayed a rosary, offered our suffering for those in purgatory and prayed for those we saw on the side who were getting medical attention. Finally, after 4.5 hours, we made it to our section in Campus Misericordiae. We later found out that we were supposed to receive the food packages on the way , so when some of our leaders checked, they already ran out. Thankfully we received free WYD lunches somewhere else. We had a few hours to rest and eat before Pope Francis would arrive to the campus lead us in Adoration.

The sun began to set and Pope Francis was with us. He said this to the pilgrims:

“My friends, Jesus is the Lord of risk, of the eternal “more”. Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease. Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths. To blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love and wells up in your hearts with every act of mercy. To take the path of the “craziness” of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbours who feel abandoned. To take the path of our God, who encourages us to be politicians, thinkers, social activists. The God who asks us to devise an economy inspired by solidarity. In all the settings in which you find yourselves, God’s love invites you bring the Good News, making of your own lives a gift to him and to others.”

He summed up our reason for attending WYD. We are called to go out into the world, to be that gift of Christ’s mercy and love to others! This challenged me to reflect on what I can do beyond my comfort zone of youth ministry and catechesis and stop being the lazy person I am. As Christ was exposed in the Blessed Sacrament and everyone – more than a million pilgrims- lit candles, I forgot how much my feet ached and how exhausted I was. I looked around me and was astonished at the beauty of all the people present here for Jesus in our Catholic faith, to keep watch for the closing Mass the next morning.

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Campus Misericordiae lit with candles

All the walking and sweat was well worth the pilgrimage. I hope to attend another year, God willing! The beauty of the universal and Catholic Church was apparent throughout the week in the streets and parks filled with pilgrims from all over the world, carrying their flags, exchanging hugs and high fives chanting country names and cheering for God and Pope Francis in multiple languages. Witnessing this, I am so hopeful for our Church that is constantly attacked and accused of not being merciful and compassionate. Our Church is full of young people who want to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. It strengthened my commitment as a Women Youth Apostle to “do the work of Your Kingdom here on earth” and to “proclaim Your truth and Your sacrificial love.” With the intercession of our Blessed Mother, the Mother of Mercy, and all the Polish Saints we were venerated in Poland, I pray I can be more of a merciful person back home, in my parish, community, work and wherever I go.

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Closing Mass at Campus Misericordiae

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

Seed, Scattered, Sown

End of the school year reflection by Fatima Perez:

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We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. – Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw

As a high school campus minister, this time of the year is always bittersweet. We send a fourth of our student body off to college – kids that we’ve grown with since their very first day of school, kids that we’ve seen develop in character, kids who we have witnessed open their heart to God, to their faith. Today during a very refreshing conversation with a senior, I was reminded yet again of God’s faithfulness and the instrumental work that takes place when we empty ourselves of our own desires or agendas and truly allow His Master plan to come to fruition in His time and in His way.

It’s such a great privilege to journey alongside young men and women while on a retreat but even so on a daily basis while on campus – being present to them in between classes in the halls, during lunches, or simply in my office when they stop by to talk or hang out. Any moments of contact with them in passing or during a weekend’s worth of time on retreat, God truly uses those moments to plant His seeds and I know will continue to do so.

The senior I had the earlier conversation with shared how she was in awe of how the Lord has been working in her own life and even in her boyfriend’s life – and how for a year she had been praying for him to come to know Christ. Even in those prayers she would offer herself as God’s instrument for his life if that’s what God wanted from her. I got teary eyed upon hearing this then I silently said to God at that moment – again, Lord, You’ve outdone Yourself. You are moving. Here You have a daughter who has come to know and love You, and daily makes the decision to pursue You because the hunger she knows that the world can’t satisfy can be found in You. Her prayers for her boyfriend (unbeknownst to him) and the way she lives her life were the seeds that piqued his curiosity of God, of faith. The peace and joy emulated in her life and in his friends’ lives, he wanted. This past spring retreat, which he was encouraged to attend and did, piqued that curiosity even more, which eventually led him to pursue God of his own accord.

So naturally after hearing her story, these keywords came to mind – seeds, soil, patience, time, elements – all leading to eventual growth, a new springtime. Our beautiful faith is meant to be shared, not locked away, but with others. The peace and joy this young man witnessed from his girlfriend and even from his peers around him led him to want to know Who the source of their joy was. A seed was sown on rich soil.

This afternoon I helped out with graduation practice at the Shrine. (God’s timing is so perfect that it makes me laugh sometimes.) I’ve been there countless times at this point in my life and I may know the locations of a particular side chapels or which saints are depicted in specific domes. Today, however, I came across something I forgot was there because it’s not like a major work of art comprised of mosaics, but something small. It was a minor detail, but the significance of it – huge.

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You see the inscription on the ambo? That’s it. The seed is the word of God.

The Parable of the Sower Explained

This is the meaning of the parable. The seed is the word of God.

Those on the path are the ones who have heard, but the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts that they may not believe and be saved.

Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, but they have no root; they believe only for a time and fall away in time of trial.

As for the seed that fell among thorns, they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along, they are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life, and they fail to produce mature fruit.

But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.

– Luke 8:11-15 (NAB)

The Lord’s Word is what attracts, stirs something in the soul to awaken – it’s what gives one wonder, joy, peace, hope, consolation, meaning, direction. Because the seed fell on rich soil within the heart of my student, it has borne fruit and I pray will continue to.

While spring may have come and gone, and come again but only for a few days because it feels like summer has arrived, God’s Word can still and always be planted. But on rich soil? That’s up to me and you.

Finally, from the perspective of a campus minister who won’t be able to watch them grow as they leave for the next chapter of their journey, it is my daily prayer to know that the seeds planted indeed hold promise, for God is always faithful.

Welcoming the Quiet, Preparing for Christ

A First Week of Advent reflection by Krysti Patient:

I’ve always had a problem with silence, with quieting myself.  I am a natural extrovert, a social butterfly. I feed off others’ energy and I’m a champion talker.  It’s no wonder it took me so long to meet my Lord, to know Him and to trust Him, amidst all the noise.  It took a lot of practice but I can look back on my conversion and the gift of my faith and see that all of the most beautiful moments between God and I have been in the quiet.

Even now however, I often struggle to imitate Jesus in the way he would often go off alone, away from the disciples, to pray. Silence AND solitude- two of my least favorite things! I’m the kind of person who when faced with the opportunity to do so, or to spend time with others, I’ll choose the latter and make some excuse as to why this was all the more charitable- building relationships and all that, you know.

My spiritual director often challenges me just before Advent to ponder what it is I would like to bring to Jesus on His birthday.  This simple concept, to gift something of myself to Christ at His annual coming on Christmas, is one I rather like, because when it comes to the season of Advent or Lent I often think in terms of the challenges and sacrifices I will make. Though these practices are a beautiful example of self-control and self-denial, my spiritual director’s take on these actions brings the focus where it should be- to make myself a gift to my God, who is all deserving of my time and of my love.

My reflections this Advent brought me to ponder this gift. What would make my Jesus happiest this year? What should I bring Him?  How do I prepare?  At Sunday Mass for this first week in Advent, the priest spoke of those three times Christ comes to us- In Christmas, His “first” coming each year; at the end of days, when He will come again; and each and every day when He desires to come into our hearts, to make His home within us, and each day in the Mass in the most Blessed Sacrament. I thought about how this gift of mine might as well help me to invite Him into my own heart.

A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but he Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound…” 1 Kings 19:1-2

Christ is the tiny whispering sound. To hear Him, we must create the proper disposition within ourselves, a place of silence in our hearts to be attentive to the gentle whisper.

For Jesus’ birthday, I hope to give Him more of myself. I hope to give Him time and create room in my heart for Him to speak.  This Advent, I am challenging myself to reduce the noise that surrounds me and to come to the quiet.

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.

In Thanksgiving for a Home

By: Amelia Gil-Figueroa, Candidate

Reflection originally written on the Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle (21-9-2015)

“You are strangers and aliens no longer. No, you are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God. You form a building which rises on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is fitted together and takes shape as a holy temple in the Lord; in him you are being built into this temple, to become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.”

– Ephesians 2:19-20, Reading from Morning Prayer

While those who know me may not agree, I am quite shy and insecure. Add on some natural indecisiveness and a sometimes overbearing aim to please and you get an interesting cocktail of social awkwardness/anxiety. While I tend to get along well with my peers, I have never felt as if I truly fit; like an outsider who is accepted out of common courtesy, or a person who said something funny, smart, or cool once thus giving them merit to be part of the group. I would always tell my mom, “I don’t know if I consider them very good friends. I can’t really be myself around them.”

Ever since I was little, my mother (i.e. my confidante) instilled in me the sense that my faith was my own. Though she taught me the basics, she reminded me that my relationship with the Lord is my own, that this relationship will develop and grow, and that I cannot compare my relationship with the Lord to anyone else’s (especially hers). I have always taken that to heart and in high school, and then even more so in college, I started truly making my faith not just something I professed, but something that I lived. This led me to find and become a member of the Women Youth Apostles.

Over the past two years as candidate in this community, I have learned so much about our Church, laughed and cried with sisters, been challenged and encouraged, and have grown in my faith. With the support of the community I have been pushed out of my comfort zone many times and have been given beautiful opportunities to encounter Christ in others, to sit in His presence, and meet Him in the sacraments. I have learned, and many times need to be reminded, to give the Lord all that I have – my insecurities, fears, awkwardness – and give new purpose to my aim to please: I must always strive to please the Lord in all my works.

You may be thinking “what does any of this have to do with the quote from Ephesians?” When I first entered community, we were blessed to have a community house not far from our brother Youth Apostles. We held sharing meetings, socials, dinners, and there I met with my sponsor. Unfortunately, there came a time when circumstances did not allow for us to have a house. While I didn’t live there myself, I loved going there, and I truly felt the loss of a home. A home is not merely a building; and while the sisters who lived there had to find a roof over their heads, we as a community were all affected, having no place of our own to meet and worship.

IMG_1341Recently in July, we were able to find a new house. Four sisters currently live there, and never has a house been more joyfully and excitedly talked about than this one.  While Paul in his letter to the Ephesians is referring to the fact that, though Gentiles, they are now part of the body of Christ, this reading reminded me of the joy that came with finding a home for our community. We as Women Youth Apostles “form a building which rises on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” How true it was reading that we “are strangers and aliens no longer”, that we are “fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God”.  Reading this on the feast of St. Matthew the Apostle, I found that this passage illustrated the purpose of the home: “to be a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.” But it also echoed the longings of my own heart: that in being a member of the Women Youth Apostles, I have found a community to call my home; a community that leads me to the Lord, and in doing so leads me to truly be and know more of myself.

Like the apostles, we all come from different backgrounds and have different personalities and ways of communicating with our Lord. But “through Him the whole structure is fitted together and takes shape as a holy temple in the Lord”. “With Christ Jesus himself as the capstone”, all the differences disappear, and we come together to work the vineyard of the Lord, bring the youth of our diocese into closer communion with Christ. On the outside, our house may seem like any other house, with people coming and going in a natural ebb and flow. But to us, it is a house blessed by God as a place to belong. For me, both the house and the community are just that: a place to belong, a place to call home.

Formation Night at the WoYA House

Read more about our Community House here.

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 

5 Things I (re)Learned From Our Open House

By: Tiffany Lambert, House Director

This past Saturday we had over 50 people stop by the community house for an Open House & Cookout. It was great to catch up with friends and get to know some new faces. Now that a couple days have passed, we’ve managed to get all of our chairs back inside, lawn games in the garage, and borrowed tables back to their original homes. During that time I’ve also had the chance to look back on the evening and here are five things I learned (or relearned) from our Open House.

Community members and friends gathered in the back yard.

5. I am my mother’s daughter. This might be the first time I’ve ever admitted this but it is truer than I’ve ever knew. Recently my sister got married, and with an outdoor reception planned my mom was worrying about the weather nonstop. After the wedding she even admitted that about a month prior to the wedding she started waking up in the middle of the night every night to check the forecast! Prior to the Open House, I too found myself repeatedly looking at the forecast. I wasn’t waking up in the middle of the night, but it was a stressor.

Well much like the night of my sister’s wedding, the weather last Saturday was beautiful. There were some glitches with both events – we had to postpone the Open House a week because of rain and my sister’s wedding was the night of the supermoon which caused the tide to come up so high it flooded part of the dance floor. The trolley my parents hired to shuttle guests from the reception site to the parking lot even got stuck!

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My parents with the trolley the morning after my sister’s wedding reception.

But the evening of the wedding was still a beautiful, fun celebration for my sister and her husband, everyone enjoyed being outside for much of the Open House, and all the worrying leading up to either of these events didn’t change a thing.

In Matthew 6:27 Jesus asks “Can any of you by worrying…?” – I cut the question off there because insert whatever you like, it’s just an illusion of control. And the answer is “Nope, by worrying I can’t actually do anything.

With that said, although both of us could learn to not worry, planning a wedding and reception is a much bigger deal than an open house, so Mom in the future I’ll try to cut you a little more slack.

4. God is faithful, even in the little things. As all the plans were coming together for food, it seemed like we were going to be short on desserts. This isn’t the end of the world. And if we really needed to, we were going to run to the store during the event. But when planning to welcome people over it’s nice to know there’s plenty of everything.

The morning of the Open House, neighbors from across the street came over to introduce themselves, thank us for the invitation, and bring us a beautiful chocolate pie even though they couldn’t join us later. As they were leaving I remember thinking “Lord, thank you for this small reminder that You are looking out for us, even in the littlest of things.” In the end, between the freshly baked cookies, pumpkin cheesecake, brownies, chocolate pie, and two small cakes another friend brought from a local bakery, there was plenty of dessert to go around. And I have to think the Lord delights in showing us His loving care, even in the littlest of ways.

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The unexpected chocolate pie from our neighbor’s across the street and two cakes from a friend.

3. Kids are the life of the party. Sure, we’re a community dedicated to youth ministry, so we enjoy having young people around. But I think many of us enjoy youth ministry precisely because young people know how to laugh and have fun. I’m not sure exactly what the neighbors thought as they watched Fr. Jack do laps in the backyard because some of the kids wanted to play tag, but something must have communicated a sense of joy because they also asked to join us next time we have Mass at the house.

One of the biggest blessings of a community with a plurality of states in life (married, single, and consecrated) is spending time with brothers and sisters in community and their families. Just look at Paulie (on the right) breakdancing and try not to smile:

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We had coloring books and crayons in the solarium for the kids. There was also sidewalk chalk which you can see on the Facebook album.

2. We have some great neighbors. When planning the Open House, we decided to invite our neighbors as well. Going door to door to introduce yourself to everyone on the street can be nerve-wracking, even for someone as extroverted as me. But I’m glad that we did, not just because of the chocolate pie or because our next door neighbor offered to watch the grill letting me talk to people for a bit or because they also let us borrow their corn hole set, but because it was a moment to build bridges in the local community, get to know new people, and to be open to how God may work through these new relationships.

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Two friends enjoying the cornhole set that our next door neighbors let us borrow (they really are the best).

1. We are grateful for our sisters and brothers in community, friends and family! To everyone who made it to the Open House & Cookout – thank you for spending part of your weekend with us! We loved having you over and look forward to many more visits in the future. And for everyone who couldn’t make it because of schedules or distance – you were missed but we hope to see you soon!

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Clarissa Maciel (housemate) and three of our brothers in Youth Apostles (Ben Jacobeen, Peter Clem, and Jim Harbour).

More photos of the Open House & Cookout are in this album on our Facebook page.

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

The Day Kolbe Francis Met Pope Francis

This is a reflection by Kelly on a special encounter her youngest child had with Pope Francis during his recent visit to the United States. It was originally posted on Encourage & Teach, the blog of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.

By: Kelly Power, Directress

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Kolbe is taken up to the Holy Father by Vatican security during the Papal parade.

On September 23, 2015, I experienced one of the most incredible days of my life as a mother and was reminded in a profound way that my child belongs to Our Lord. Witnessing my son’s encounter with the Holy Father left me speechless. But as I have had time to process and pray through this holy and beautiful moment, I have been able to find some words to describe the feelings, thoughts, and reflections that I experienced.

Funny enough, we made the decision to attend the Papal parade less than 24 hours before the event. Wow, am I glad we did. I eventually decided to go, not so much to see him, but mostly to show my love and support of him and quite simply to make sure he felt loved by us, his flock and Church.

Navigating the large crowds with a little one isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but with the help of my wonderful best friend, the day began quite smoothly. We drove in, parked and walked for a short time to our spot at the gate. That morning, two of my sisters in the Women Youth Apostles community also made a last minute decision to attend and were able to find us on the Ellipse.

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Three members of our community waiting just outside the White House for Pope Francis to arrive.

On the way down and while waiting for the parade to begin, we joked about Kolbe being taken to the Pope, but I do not believe any of us really believed that it would happen. That was how we came to our spot; a lovely couple motioned us over to sit next to them because we had a baby and they thought there might be a chance that the Pope would stop.

After parking our car and walking to the Ellipse, we encountered protesters who warned us of worshipping a false God, but what they do not realize is that is not the case. As a Catholic, my love and incredible respect for our Holy Father is not because I believe that he himself is a God. Rather, the way he lives points so much to Christ Himself. When the Holy Father is near, in his gentleness, his joy, his love of all people no matter their faith, age, or condition, it is the love of Christ that I am feeling.

As we stood and waited for the Holy Father to drive by there was so much joy and excitement, which continued to grow as the time went by. As the motorcycles and cars came, both my friend and I began to feel butterflies in our hearts from the excitement of simply getting a glimpse of the Holy Father. Luckily, Kolbe had time to play, eat, and nap right up until the parade began. As Pope Francis approached us you could almost tangibly touch the holiness and caring that his presence he brings. We all could not help but smile and cheer, hoping we could express to our “Papa” the love we have for him.

As he got nearer to us, a security guard (I later found out Pier is the head of the Vatican security) scooped Kolbe Francis out of my arms and brought him to Pope Francis. In that moment, watching my son be carried to the Holy Father and then seeing him smile at Kolbe, it felt almost quiet, even amist the cheering crowd. Then as he kissed and blessed him, making a small cross on his forehead it almost seemed like slow motion.

After he was back in my arms, all I could do was smile, laugh, and kiss my sweet boy who had no idea was had just happened. I thought to myself, “One day we may be telling Kolbe he was kissed by a saint.”

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Members of the crowd quickly gather around for pictures and to offer congratulations once Kolbe is back in Kelly’s arms.

In the moments to follow, I was shocked at the response of the crowd around us asking to touch Kolbe. A security guard even kissed him on the head. People asked to take pictures with him and of him. As a mom, I felt slightly protective, but also wanted to share the joy and the moment with everyone I could. I had no idea just how wide spread this photo and moment would be. As we walked home we overheard someone say, “Isn’t that the baby we just saw on CNN?” And, Facebook exploded with photos and videos of the moment, some reaching over 1 million views. I received calls about Kolbe’s moment with Pope Francis from many news stations. That day was so much to take in and manage that I barely had time to process what happened.

It was not until Mass the following morning that I begin to think of this verse:

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1).

Why did this moment bring such emotion and joy to me? It is not that something has changed Kolbe or that he will all the sudden be a different baby or lead a different life – he still whines and fusses and did not sit still for Mass this morning. I think this verse, however, is exactly the answer.

The moment that Kolbe had with our Holy Father is what Jesus Christ wants for each one of us as HIS people. He wants to take hold of us, love us, and bless us with the Father’s incredible and overflowing love. This picture and moment capture Christ’s desire for each one of us as children of God. This is what brings tears to people eyes. Pope Francis is one of the greatest examples of Christ’s love I have ever witnessed, as so many of our popes are. Whenever he encounters one of us, God’s presence and tender love is felt and seen by all. That is why you cannot help but respond with gratefulness and joy to have witnessed such a powerful presence of Our Lord.

This holy moment is even more special because Kolbe Francis is actually named after Saint Maximillian Kolbe and Pope Francis. As an infant, he got off to a rough start in large part to his small size of 4 pounds, 8 ounces. So out of all my children, this affirmation of God’s care for my sweet boy was an amazing gift.

My uncle put it well when he said:

“Maybe the Pope is blessing our whole family through Kolbe Francis.”

I believe he has blessed us indeed…our family, our friends, our community, and all who are able to share this joyous moment with us. We all are humbled and grateful for the gift God has given to us through our Holy Father Pope Francis.


Kelly is the Directress of Women Youth Apostles and a mother of three children.

Kolbe was one of two babies from the Diocese of Arlington that were kissed and blessed by Pope Francis during his visit to Washington, D.C. Click here to read about the other family.