About 1,300 young adults gathered in the Washington for prayer, catechesis, fellowship, and a taste of Polish culture, an event designed for those who could not attend World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.
Kraków in the Capital was celebrated on the campus of The Catholic University of America on July 30, coinciding with Pope Francis’s celebration of World Youth Day in Poland with more than one million pilgrims from around the world.
“I always imagine World Youth Day as a very exclusive event; if you had the time and resources you could go,” said Evan Wescott, a recent Catholic University graduate who is now working as a campus minister at Duke University. “The fact that the archdiocese has made it available for everyone to participate in … is a powerful way to connect in prayer.”
At the opening prayer service for the stateside celebration of World Youth Day, Jonathan Lewis, director of Young Adult Ministry and Evangelization Initiatives for the Archdiocese of Washington, welcomed the young adults gathered in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
“Today prayer shatters time and space to unite us in solidarity with our fellow pilgrims and Pope Francis,” Lewis said. While some participants traveled just a few blocks and others traveled hundreds or thousands of miles, he said, “Each of us has a call today to make a pilgrimage of the heart.”
During the prayer service, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville spoke to the young adults about the need to have love in their hearts during this difficult time in our world. He encouraged them to embark on a peaceful “spiritual crusade” with an army of young people that has Christ as the “future and rock.”
“I cannot stop asking you to pray for peace around the world, which is the fruit of justice,” Bishop Dorsonville said.
The pilgrims gathered in the basilica prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet in five different languages: English, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Polish.
Following the prayer service, the pilgrims were able to choose from 10 different catechetical session options, including a panel on forming community as young adults, a talk titled “Mercy Without Borders,” a talk about the corporal works of mercy and talks in Spanish and American Sign Language. During the sessions, they also had a chance for eucharistic adoration, to attend confession, and to venerate the relics of two patrons of World Youth Day, St. John Paul II and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.
Catholic Relief Services set up a simulation of the refugee experience: Each person was given a card with a name, age, country and background of a refugee. They were taken through different stations to see what people encounter during their migration.
Christine Ruppert, who works with the immigrant population in Washington, particularly appreciated this piece of the day.
“I think those stories and those faces are really important to bring to any Catholic conversation,” Ruppert said.
The celebration included Polish food, dancing and music. While some people enjoyed pierogies and kielbasa outside, others gathered in the exhibit hall to watch the Ojczyzna Polish Dancers. Some participants even joined in the polka.
In the evening, the young adults gathered inside of the basilica for Stations of the Cross and a closing Mass, both celebrated by Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
In his homily at the closing Mass, Cardinal Wuerl reflected on the message of Pope Francis, referring to the papal trip to Washington last September.
“What the Holy Father proclaimed throughout his time here and what he will undoubtedly be announcing again in Kraków is that we are supposed to show God’s love and mercy to everyone,” said Cardinal Wuerl. “This is not a new teaching, but it rings fresh all over again as people hear it and are drawn to it.”
Cardinal Wuerl encouraged young adults to “never underestimate the power of your witness,” even in the middle of a culture that “often says there is no place for God, (or) for the Gospel message of Jesus.”
At the end of the Mass, Cardinal Wuerl reminded everyone to be grateful for the ability to freely profess their faith, when so many around the world face persecution for their faith. He urged participants to pray and speak out in solidarity for those suffering Christians.
“Let us never forget around the world there are our brothers and sisters who pay an extremely high price, even with their lives, for daring to make the sign of the cross,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
After the Mass, singer Marie Miller, who sang at the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, held an outdoor concert to conclude Kraków in the Capital. Some pilgrims, who had planned to camp outside overnight, were welcomed into the Dominican House of Studies to spend the night, due to the inclement weather.
As they sat down to enjoy the music, Marc Cordero, David Randazzo and Natalie Vanni, parishioners of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Vienna, Virginia, reflected on their experience from the day.
“My favorite part was seeing everyone here for the same reason,” Vanni said. “Seeing all this growth in faith in a couple hours was really cool.” Her biggest takeaway: “Faith is everywhere.”