Pilgrims hoping to be transformed by World Youth Day

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Chicago who will travel to Krakow, Poland, for World Youth Day this summer are hoping for a transformational experience.

When they return, they should be looking for ways to transform their communities at home, said Sister of St. Joseph Eileen Mc- Cann, who spoke to some of the pilgrims May 14. World Youth Day begins July 25 and ends with an overnight vigil and closing Mass July 31.

“We are a community of pilgrims while we are there,” she said. “But we come from a community, and we return to a community. This event is not just for you personally.”

Sister Eileen, former coordinator for Youth and Young Adults for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, led a day of reflection that included information on what it means to be a pilgrim and about St. John Paul II. John Paul ministered in Krakow as a priest and archbishop before becoming pope. He inaugurated World Youth Days in 1986.

Participants at the recent event included people traveling as part of the pilgrimage group organized by the archdiocesan Young Adult Ministries office, people traveling with campus ministry groups and those intending to help with the local World Youth Day event at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines July 30-31.

Darius Villalobos, director of Young Adult Ministry in the archdiocese, attended World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011.

“It was so powerful to realize how big our church is,” he said. “It’s one of the only places you get to see just how Catholic we are and just how universal we are.”

Villalobos said organizers are looking for a place to get all of the pilgrims from Chicago — those travelling with YAM as well as campus ministries and some parish pilgrimages — together with Archbishop Cupich while they are in Poland. All together, he expects that group to include about 300 people.

Heather LaPorte, a research scientist at Loyola University Chicago’s Health Sciences Division in Maywood, is traveling with her husband and sister to Krakow. She attended the Toronto World Youth Day in 2002.

“I’m hoping that they experience what I did in the sense that it brought me closer to my faith,” she said.

She also is looking forward to seeing World Youth Day through more mature eyes.

“When I was teenager, I was young and inexperienced in life,” LaPorte said.

Her husband is looking forward to the trip, but he’s also a bit anxious, she said, about being in such a large group of people, she said. Hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world attend World Youth Day.

Father Robert Fedek, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish, will be among the 116 pilgrims travelling with the archdiocesan group. Although he grew up in Poland, he acknowledged that this pilgrimage feels a bit overwhelming.

“I am old and afraid,” he joked.

Sister Eileen, who has been involved with World Youth Day since the first gathering in Rome, acknowledged that things will not always go according to plan.

“Something will go wrong,” she said. “Trust me.”

Pilgrims must be open to that and take the opportunities that arise, she said.

Daniel Everson, a Jesuit scholastic from Loyola University Chicago, will travel with a group from Loyola’s campus ministry.

“I have a couple of important connections to John Paul II, so this is something I really wanted to do,” Everson said.

He recalled seeing St. John Paul II when he visited St. Louis in 1999, when Everson was 8 years old.

“I really just saw him drive by in the popemobile, but when my teacher asked if anyone had seen him, I said I did,” Everson said. “She asked what it felt like, and I remember saying I felt like I had been reborn, which sounds so dramatic.”


  • pilgrimage
  • world youth day
  • pilgrims
  • poland
  • young adult ministry

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