Hundreds of young people gathered July 29 at St. Mary Parish in Buffalo Grove to prepare themselves for World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain Aug. 16-21. There, they will share their faith with other young Catholics from all over the world. “World Youth Day is designed and is given in the church every three years so young people from around the world can come to Christ in faith,” Cardinal George told the congregation who gathered for Mass and music. In Spain the young people will be joined by Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal George and hundreds of bishops and priests. The Holy Father will celebrate the closing Mass. Nearly 500 teens and young adults will represent the Archdiocese of Chicago, joining more than a million other young people from all around the world expected to participate in this spiritual event. “I hope that they will be filled with the Holy Spirit and Christ and that when they come back they will be able to evangelize their brothers and sisters here,” said Maria Perez-Eraci, the Vicariate V youth ministry coordinator. Perez-Eraci coordinated the send-off Mass for the archdiocesan Office for Catechesis and Youth Ministry and will travel to Madrid as part of the archdiocesan pilgrimage. Rudy Gomez, 25, said he wants to experience some “Catholic craziness” in Madrid. Originally from Miami, he has lived in Chicago for the last four years as part of a domestic Salesian mission and is traveling with a group of 50 young people from St. John Bosco Parish. “I have no other way of describing it [World Youth Day] other than a ton of energy, a ton of love, a ton of faith and just joy. I want to come back renewed and strengthened in my faith, that’s all,” Gomez said. Timothy Chatman, 16, from St. Ann Parish in Lansing, came to the Mass because he wanted to be blessed for the journey by Cardinal George, “the man who is close to God,” as Chatman described Chicago’s shepherd. “It’s important to be blessed by someone like that,” he said. Chatman is excited to visit Spain, “We will see thousands of different people speaking different languages, but sharing this same faith,” he said. Joining Cardinal George in celebrating the send-off Mass were auxiliary bishops George Rassas, Joseph Perry, John Manz and Andrew Wypych. Mass followed an afternoon of prayers and activities, including eucharistic adoration and opportunities for confessions. During the homily, the young crowd listened attentively as Cardinal George told his listeners that they must prepare themselves for World Youth Day in a spiritual way by receiving Communion and spending a little more time with Jesus. “So when you meet him in Spain, you know how to recognize the Lord, who shows you his wounds, who serves your need, who asks you to open your heart,” said Cardinal George. Also attending the send-off Mass were older people who will go to Madrid in a spiritual way. Maria Modelewska, 67, traveled from her home near St. Hyacinth Parish on the Northwest Side to Buffalo Grove by train. “I’m in love with teens. I followed them during the World Youth Day in Toronto (in 2002),” said Modelewska, who said she spent that afternoon before the Blessed Sacrament praying for youth. She also participated in the World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008. Each parish present received a candle to take back to its church to be lit during World Youth Day. Participants left not only with a blessing but also with a couple of material gifts. They were given medals featuring the World Youth Day logo on one side and the theme on the other. Each participant also received a bright orange backpack with the logo of the Archdiocese of Chicago Strategic Pastoral Plan and logos of the three Archdiocese papers: Catholic New World, Katolik and Catolico. “They will help you to recognize each other in Madrid,” Cardinal George joked.