Love Beyond Comfort: A Reflection on The Camino de Santiago and Engagement

By: Vania Dienzo

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Spain to with my boyfriend Nate to hike El Camino de Santiago. We were invited by our friend, a priest from the Archdiocese of Newark, back in February to attend with a group led by another priest. When Nate told me about the invitation, I wanted to sign up immediately. Embarking on the five week long journey from France to Santiago de Compostela had been on my bucket list since seeing the movie The Way with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez a few years ago, but five days seemed much more practical in this point in my life. I knew God was giving us this opportunity to go and so we signed up and looked forward to going on a pilgrimage together.

map of routesFor those unfamiliar with the pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago (also known as the Way of St. James) consists of many routes starting in France, Spain and Portugal and dates back to the Middles Ages when pilgrims traveled from Jerusalem and Rome. The pilgrims end in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where St. James the Apostle’s remains are buried. Hundreds of thousands of people a year make their way from different starting points to venerate St. James. We would begin our pilgrimage from Sarria, about 70 miles east of Santiago, to fulfill the minimum 100 kilometers (roughly 62 miles) of walking on foot needed to obtain the certificate, or “Compostela.” We knew this would be an intense journey physically, emotionally and spiritually so we prepared for it as best as we could months leading up to it.

In preparation we did research online on what to expect and gear to get, which Nate is really good at doing when it comes to things like this. We walked several miles on the weekends that we could since April leading up to the pilgrimage. We also prayed the rosary on those hikes. Additionally we watched The Way again and a documentary called “Footsteps” about a group of men taking the five week Camino. In retrospect, even if I had walked and prayed more several months before, I don’t believe I would have been completely prepared for all the emotion and strength required for the pilgrimage.

I came on the pilgrimage to pray for others and pray about my vocation and my relationship with Nate. I knew this pilgrimage would allow me much time to pray in challenging way. A literal example would be on our first day, praying the rosary at the very first Camino de Santiago marker while hiking up a huge and unexpected hill; that was a very challenging prayer to start off with. Other moments of prayer were in the churches we visited, walking through the fields and farms, taking in the beautiful view at the top of hills or focusing to finish.

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While walking I thought about how St. James got through much longer than this with much less than we have. He took Jesus’ Great Commission to spread the Gospel to great lengths. This encouraged me to continue as a catechist at my parish. I have to do my part in planning and taking courses to prepare my future students with their discernment to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. If St. James traveled all the way to Spain to teach the faith, I can teach it in my home parish.

Every day was very difficult. Each day my feet and ankles were in pain, and that pain and soreness carried over into the next day. I kept repeating to myself to offer that pain and temporary suffering to God as prayer for those I promised to pray for. There were moments I was worried I would not be able to walk any further since Nate and I were far behind our group due to my slow pace. There were many frustrating moments, too. We were pushed to our limits and forced to listen to our bodies. Nevertheless, God carried us all through that and got us to our destination by the end of each day.

In addition to God and prayer, the people in our group helped me throughout this journey. The group was very patient in waiting for each other and looking after one another on the Camino. We had people share supplies and their knowledge, which God knew we would need each other for. At a certain point during our second day, a pilgrim became dehydrated. It was a scary situation but thankfully there were individuals in the medical field present. All throughout the pilgrimage, there was a beautiful showing of true concern for each other.

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In our sharing group time, I got to hear others profound thoughts, perspectives and struggles. I also got hear reasons for starting the Camino. Learning about each other over hiking and eating reminded me how God is working in each one of us. Our spiritual director, Father Mino, was amazing throughout. He got to know us by making time to talk to us as we walked. He shared his wisdom and didn’t just save it for homilies. I appreciate that time he made for each of us. God brought this entire group together to share in this experience.

The fifth day on the camino was the least difficult day. It was about a seven mile hike from our hotel to Santiago de Compostela. We ran into pilgrims we met throughout the week that traveled various distances. We could see the emotion in everyone’s faces knowing that they’ve made it to Santiago as a pilgrim led and protected by God. Finally making it to the main square, Praza do Obradoiro, outside of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela was a joyous occasion. It was a long difficult journey for us and for other pilgrims, days and weeks longer. We finally made it. It believe it’s a tiny taste of what the kingdom of Heaven is like!

I didn’t cry immediately after reaching the main square like I thought I would, but I did when something some what unexpected happened shortly after. I say somewhat because I had an inkling, but wasn’t definitely expecting it. After our group threw our bags into a taxi to take to the hotel and we began to make our way into the cathedral of the Pilgrim Mass at Noon, Nate grabbed my attention. I could tell he was happy we made it.

He asked, “Are you glad we went on Camino together?” Of course I was!

Then he said, “Suffering. We suffered a lot on this journey together. Would you like to suffer with me the rest of your life?” With that, he knelt down to ask “will you marry me?” I said, “Of course I will!” and began to cry.

I was overjoyed that we just completed a difficult pilgrimage together. Suffering was a recurring theme in our walk and group reflections. I knew God placed Nate in my life to get through it all. These past two years in a relationship with him have been amazing but not without its many lessons. I’m certain God put us together to better each other and I trust God to lead us in our own camino to Heaven in our vocation, no matter what crazy terrain the journey may bring. This moment made the Pilgrim Mass all the more wonderful!

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Since coming back from Spain, I often look back on how difficult it all was yet I’m so grateful for the experience. This was hands down one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life so far. God is so faithful! He got us all through it. He reintroduced new friends into our lives and we now share this amazing experience. He got us through the unexpected travel woes and unexpected hills. He showed us His beauty in His creation in the countryside. Through the physical and spiritual struggles and joys of the Camino, He gave us a taste of what He promises in Heaven. Our Camino didn’t end when we got to the Cathedral – we just ended one stage and began another. There are still unknowns in our lives to come, but through prayer and trust in God, we’ll complete the journey and join Him in heaven. St. James, pray for us!

¡Buen camino!

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“I Thirst”

Today on Good Friday (4.14.2017) Youth Apostles hosted Food for the Soul, a monthly gathering for friends and benefactors. The talk was on The Seven Last Words of Christ and Tiffany Lambert, one of our members, was asked to present one of the reflections.

The Church has always understood that Sacred Scripture, being inspired by God, has layers and depth in meaning. Looking at one aspect often won’t fully capture everything that is going on or everything God intends to communicate. And God’s Word is living and active, His mercies are new every morning, so what He intends for me to know today as I encounter His Word can be fresh and personal depending on the different circumstances of that particular day.

Very early in the Church’s beginnings, a method for penetrating the depths of God’s Word proved to be fruitful, so I offer this reflection following the same method which peels away four layers to Sacred Scripture.

The first layer looks at the literal meaning of the words: “I thirst.” Here we think about what is physically happening to Jesus, what He experenced in His humanity. What happened to this person, a very real person who existed in history?

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There are two lines from different scenes we encounter in Lent that have always struck me as the most obvious comments. The first comes from the Temptation in the Desert which basically says “Jesus fasted for 40 days and afterwards he was hungry.” No kidding! You should see me when a meal is delayed 40 minutes. And the second is this line from the Crucifixion, “I thirst.”

For some people, just taking time to quietly imagine what Jesus physically endured can be very fruitful prayer.

So we can take time to reflect on some of the sufferings that would have contributed to His thirst prior to this expression of His need for drink – the lack of sleep, the overwhelming loss of blood, the heat of the midday sun, breathing in dust, the burning gasps for air.

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The second layer looks at how Jesus was fulfilling an aspect of the Old Covenant through His words and actions. There is a theory that connects this line “I thirst” directly with the Eucharist.

We know that the night before His crucifixion, Jesus shared a Passover meal with the Apostles. As the Passover meal unfolds there are four different cups of wine offered and shared. Before drinking the fourth cup, which is the highest point of the meal, there are 5 five psalms that are sung. Interestingly it seems that Jesus, as He was presiding at this Passover, did not offer the last cup.

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Toward the end of the Last Supper He tell the Apostles “Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). So He explains that He won’t be drinking the last cup to complete the Passover and then it says they went singing psalms into the night.Brooklyn_Museum_-_I_Thirst_The_Vinegar_Given_to_Jesus_(J'ai_soif._Le_vinaigre_donné_à_Jésus)_-_James_Tissot

Fast-forward to the carrying His Cross – remember how Jesus is offered wine and rejects it? His mission was not yet complete so He did not drink. Now at the very end, at the culmination of His life and mission, the Passover meal He began the night before, which became our Eucharist, Jesus completes as He states “I thirst.”

In the third layer we consider our response to these great mysteries presented to us in Scripture. Maybe after considering the great physical sufferings of Our Lord, we are renewed in our commitment to penance and sacrifice. Maybe there is a comfort or attachment we have been holding on to, but we are now inspired to let go, knowing nothing on earth is worth preferring to the love of Our Lord.

Or maybe we see how in the very last moment of His life, Jesus taught us the non-negotiable connection between liturgy and life, ritual and real love.

We may renewed in our commitment to His sacramental presence in the Eucharist and resolved to extend our participation in the Eucharist into a more sacrificial life.

The fourth layer, a little like the fourth cup of the Passover, is the culmination. It’s the highest point of our prayerful reading of Scripture because it shows us how God’s plan revealed in Scripture will ultimately be fulfilled in heaven.

The Greek word for “I thirst”, “dipso”, can also mean “to ardently desire.”

We know from St. Augustine and Aristotle, just about every song on the radio, and the sometimes emptiness of our own experiences that we are, in the words of Fr. Thomas Dubay, “incarnate thirsts.” We greatly desire happiness; and we will rest in this happiness in heaven.Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_Mary_1914

But for now, while our feet are planted here on earth, we are quenched for a time as we encounter him in prayer. “The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human begin. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (CCC 2560).

God thirsts that we may thirst for him. This Good Friday may we hear anew these words spoken by Jesus from the Cross – “I thirst.”

The Morning Star: A reflection on the Epiphany

By: Lilie Graybriel 

For most of us, the start of a new year sparks up old memories and gets us thinking about what new memories the future has in store for us. Some people even reach a moment of epiphany, gaining a whole new outlook on life or starting to see someone or something in a new light. Recently, one of my students asked me to explain to them the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord; and naturally, I turned to Google for some help answering.  I found that the word “epiphany” comes from the Greek verb meaning “to reveal.” As I explained to the curious young lad what we were celebrating, I couldn’t help but reflect on those the moments when God reveals Himself to mankind, in particular, through Christ’s birth.

The Gospel yesterday speaks about how God revealed Himself to the Magi through the Star of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-12).  We are told that the Magi have followed a rising star in search of the newborn King of the Jews. Unaware of the true significance of this kingship, they follow the star to the future King of Israel after King Herod sends them to search for the child in Bethlehem. Upon seeing the star stopped above Jesus and his mother, Mary, the Magi are immediately filled with joy and kneel before him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

With this in mind, I couldn’t help but reflect on the appearance of stars in scripture, especially since they made in appearance in my prayer before the Blessed Sacrament just a few weeks ago, and again in a priest’s homily during Mass the very next day. Even from the beginning of time, God created stars to act as a revelation of His glory to mankind.

Genesis 1:15 says the stars “serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth.”

In Psalm 8:4-7, “When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you set in place, what are mere mortals that you care for them? Yet you made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor.” We are able to reflect on the greatness of God’s creation and how much more He cares for us than even the beauty of the His night sky.

In 2 Peter 1:19, we are reminded to heed the words of the prophets until the day God reveals this message to us as “the morning star arises in your hearts.”

Not mention the perfect revelation in the Book of Revelation! Verse 22:16 reads “I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you testimony for the churches, I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star.”

How could he possibly be anymore clear in revealing himself there?

 
But, Jesus isn’t the only person of the Bible referred to as the morning star. In fact, it’s even one of many star-related names given to His Mother, Mary. Star of the Sea, Star of Purity, Our Lady of the Star, and even Our Lady of Light are all titles given to Mary. Not to mention the countless visions of Our Lady surrounded by light, wearing a crown of stars. Just as she does in artistic depictions of her as the Queen of Apostles.

Mary is the guiding light for each of us, always pointing the way to Christ, just as the Star of Bethlehem did for the Magi. However, she is so much more to us than just a mentor or a guide. She shows us the way to be true disciples of Jesus Christ. She’s our spiritual and universal mother.

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In John 19:26– 27, we are told “When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” This wonderful gift of Mary as our mother comes from God, himself, as he’s dying on the cross for us. There have been countless times in my faith where I feel so distant and lost in my faith and I turn to Mary to bring me back. Praying for her intercession and turning to her as my mother always lights a spark inside that brings me right back to Christ. I could be in tears praying to Our Mother for help and those feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt just start to melt away. It literally feels like I’m curled up in my mom’s lap on the couch. It’s moments like these that I find so important to turn to Mary. Mary gets it. She’s been there. She can relate and empathize with our struggles.

During daily mass one day, I lost myself to my thoughts as I began to feel totally overwhelmed by life’s tribulations and suddenly I look up to see the priest hold up the large host and say “Take this all of you, and eat of it, for this is My Body, which will be given up for you.” After hearing these words for probably the thousandth time in my life, my complaints seemed so insignificant. My struggle paled in comparison to the suffering Christ would endure for us on the cross. I imagine this is how Mary felt every day of her life, giving it completely and freely to God. She experienced extreme suffering and sorrow as she stood at the foot of the cross and watched her own beloved Son be tortured and crucified; yet, she didn’t let this event tarnish her faith in the Lord, but strengthen it. She allowed her sufferings to merit grace for the good of saving our souls.

Saint John Paul II wrote in Salvifici Dolores, his apostolic letter on the meaning of human suffering, “For suffering cannot be transformed and changed by a grace from outside, but from within. And Christ through his own salvific suffering is very much present in every human suffering, and can act from within that suffering by the powers of his Spirit of truth, his consoling Spirit.” Suffering is a feeling of pain, whether it be emotional, mental, or physical. It cant be changed by anything other than God acting within us and through us. Mary allowed God to act in her own pain and unite us all in His consoling Spirit and in turn she is filled with this same Spirit in consoling us as our mother. It is in this same document, that Saint JPII writes of the Divine Redeemer wishing use the heart of His Mother to unite each and every one of us to Christ on the cross. It is truly through her that we are able to be united with him in suffering and allow God to bring about the good that will come from our suffering. It’s through Mary that we are made true brothers and sisters in Christ.

Mary’s virtues of faith, hope, and love, humility and obedience, and desire to bring us to closer to Christ can fuel our faith every day as long as we follow the radiant Morning Star. It is in turning to her, as our mother, for guidance that we are given a tiny glimpse into the glory of God and the love that He gives us. Inspired by Mary’s Immaculate Heart and imitating her love for her children we are given the chance to be filled with an overwhelming joy that we might kneel before Christ offering up not just our gifts, but also our sufferings – allowing Him to work within us, transforming our hearts to love as His mother does.

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.

A Reflection on the 3rd Week of Advent

By: Kelly Power

I absolutely love Christmas music this time of year (and yes, I listen all the way from the beginning of Advent to The Epiphany!). Although as I sing the lyrics of these songs on my way to school to drop off the kids or have them as background while we play and decorate, I cannot help but feel that they are doing a disservice to my Advent preparations. Are they helping me to enter in to the REAL Christmas story and encounter the REAL Christ child? These are the lyrics I hear…

“Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm all is bright” and “All is merry and bright,”

“The baby awakes, no crying he makes” and “O Little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie,”

“Tis the season to be jolly,” and “Children laughing, people passing meeting smile after smile,”

All these carols we hear repeatedly throughout Advent are supposed to illustrate the true feelings and images of Christmas. Right? A Christmas that is quiet, jolly, still, peaceful, joyful and frankly perfect. So this is what we all strive for during the holidays.

But as I was praying recently and reflecting on the REAL Advent – Mary pregnant and unmarried, journeying by donkey to Bethlehem to ultimately give birth in a stable, and Elizabeth pregnant and though happy, was very old and I am sure facing challenges from both her age and judgments of others. It hit me as two of my babies were crying, one had a dirty diaper, and I was trying desperately to create the perfect peace and joy-filled Advent experience for them that I was probably experiencing many of the REAL feelings of the biblical Advent that of Mary and Elizabeth. The REAL Advent was full of worry, is was messy, it was smelly, it was loud and far from “all merry and bright.” As someone who just experienced pregnancy and birth and is currently caring for a newborn, Jesus probably cried when he woke up and the stables were loud and smelly, not calm and bright, and certainly not silent at night.

I have been looking a lot at miracles this and how God brought about these miracles – the root of Jesse, the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus. He makes possible from the impossible. Mary and Elizabeth experience these Christmas miracles not in the midst of perfect peace, or joy, but Jesus comes in the chaos, the worry, and the mess. “Prepare ye the way,” is a phrase we hear often in Advent, though I began to realize this Advent that as I was getting frustrated, trying to prepare a quiet and perfect Christmas like the ones I hear in the songs for my family, that I was actually missing the miracles – the joy that God was already doing in the midst of my crazy, messy, not so silent nights.

So I am embracing the chaos, the mess, the imperfection and looking for the miracles, the grace, and the joy God is already bringing despite any preparation I may do. He is already here, the REAL Christ child. He brings the Peace, as the Prince of Peace, not me, and He brings the Joy, a joy that cannot be shaken by even the biggest tantrums or my own foiled plans. What all the characters of Christmas knew, whatever their state in life – Mary full of Grace or the rough life of a Shepherd – was that whoever this baby was He was special and they needed Him in their lives just as we all do right now.

So let us not lose sight as we prepare for the coming of our Lord, that He might be right in front of us! He is the only REAL thing we need this season! He is the only one who can bring us the REAL Peace and Joy we desire in our lives and the lives of our families.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

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

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.

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 

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.