MADISON -- In 1987, for the first international World Youth Day held in Argentina, an estimated 900,000 youth came from around the world to come together as Catholics and celebrate their faith.
In the years since then, millions more youth have attended the humbling and spiritually uplifting experience of an international gathering of vibrant, passionate young people on fire for their faith.
This year, more than one million youth — nearly 29,000 from the United States — are expected to converge on Madrid, Spain, during the six days of World Youth Day, August 16 to 21. Among them will be at least 79 young people from the Diocese of Madison, traveling more than 4,200 miles to meet other young Catholics, join in prayer, learn more about the faith, and see Pope Benedict XVI.
The pilgrims from the Diocese of Madison are attending primarily in three groups: two diocese-sponsored pilgrimages, a dozen seminarians, and a handful of independent travelers.
Days in Madrid
Though each will be taking a different route to the city, all will be present in Madrid from August 15 to 21. The week will include catechesis, Mass, Adoration, and prayer, as well as cultural activities such as sacramental plays and art exhibits. Groups outside WYD will offer even more events, such as a charity soccer match the evening of August 21 to say “Gracias” (thank-you).
Pope Benedict XVI is expected to fly into Madrid on August 17 and celebrate Masses and have meetings with young religious Sisters, young college professors, and young seminarians. He will also be present for a portion of the vigil on August 20 and the final Mass at the Cuatro Vientos aerodrome, Madrid.
Information on the weeklong event has been slowly building. WYD Madrid’s online hub, www.madrid11.com offers schedules, news, and even profiles of some of the volunteers and pilgrims. A picture of the WYD backpack every pilgrim will receive and its contents (among which are the new YouCat Catechism, Bible, pilgrim’s book, fan, hat, Rosary, and map of Madrid) was released on WYD Madrid’s Twitter feed and Facebook page.
As well, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been sending out press releases on various aspects of World Youth Day specific to U.S. pilgrims — even the virtual ones. More information is on the USCCB page www.usccb.org/wyd and on the virtual pilgrimage Facebook page www.facebook.com/VirtualWorldYouthDay
The WYD experience is one that can be life changing, said Fr. Paul Arinze, diocesan vocations director and one of the leaders of the diocesan pilgrimage. The most important thing, he said to the pilgrims during a July pre-WYD meeting, was to pray for your pilgrimage.
With the days ticking down, the excitement is building for pilgrims, most of whom will be leaving August 8 from the Bishop O’Connor Center in Madison on their way to their flights.
“I’m hoping to further my knowledge of the Catholic faith, to strengthen my faith, and to learn more about God’s plan for me,” said Erin Sincox, who hails from Ridgeway and will be attending Edgewood College this fall.
“To prepare myself physically, I have been talking to and taking advice from friends who are familiar with traveling and backpacking,” she said. “To prepare myself spiritually, I have been praying for the safety of myself and all pilgrims. Also, I will be taking advantage of the Sacrament of Confession to make sure I can be the best person I can be and to get the most out of this experience.”
When John Paul Schiedermayer, a Diocese of Madison seminarian entering college seminary, was offered the chance to go to World Youth Day by a donor who is paying the way for 12 seminarians to attend, he took it quickly. He has never been to one of these international gatherings before.
“It’s an amazing opportunity, a chance to see youth from all around the world, gathered for their faith,” Schiedermayer said. “I think it’ll be an inspirational experience. . . . It’ll be a powerful experience, with millions of people excited about their faith.”
In addition to the activities and events that all pilgrims at World Youth Day will encounter, Schiedermayer will have his own closer experience with the pope and young people like him. He was one of the few able to get a pass for the pope’s special Mass for young seminarians on August 20.
“I’m sure I’ll get some goosebumps,” he said.
Follow along on the pilgrimage
The Catholic Herald and the Diocese of Madison are providing opportunities for those at home to stay in step with the pilgrims. A blog is available at madisoncatholicherald.wordpress.com and a YouTube account for pilgrims to share brief videos of their experience is at www.youtube.com/user/DioceseofMadison