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

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By: Krysti Patient, Full Member of Women Youth Apostles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Pope Francis, Angelus on March 17, 2013 

A Papal Pilgrimage Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

The line we were in to get past security.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.