Can’t make it to Poland? Celebrate stateside

In June 2013, just weeks before the Archdiocese of Washington’s pilgrims were set to leave for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, misfortune struck.

The travel agency responsible for coordinating the archdiocesan pilgrimage (as well as the pilgrimages of many other U.S. dioceses) shuttered its doors and filed for bankruptcy.

Overnight, the archdiocese’s plans were upended. Rather than give up on World Youth Day altogether, however, the archdiocese decided to host a local event that attempted to replicate, to some degree, the World Youth Day experience.

They called it “Rio in D.C.”

In less than three weeks, the Archdiocese secured a location and speakers. They then began spreading the word. More than 500 young adults turned out for the event.

“We found it was not only one of our most successful events but also one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse events we’d ever hosted,” said Jonathan Lewis, director of Washington’s young adult ministries and evangelization initiatives. “Attendees saw the face of the international Church reflected in the event.”

Celebration for all

The success of “Rio in D.C.” taught the Archdiocese of Washington an important lesson: Young people don’t need to go overseas to reap at least some of the benefits of World Youth Day.

This year, that’s a lesson the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops hopes other dioceses learn as well. For the first time, in addition to its resource guides for World Youth Day pilgrims traveling abroad, the USCCB also produced a resource guide for stateside World Youth Day pilgrimages.

“World Youth Day is not meant only for pilgrims who can afford to go overseas,” said Betsy Palmer, staff assistant to the USCCB’s World Youth Day Office.

“World Youth Day is meant for every young person in the Church. By encouraging stateside events, we’re hoping more young people can experience a little bit of the spirit of World Youth Day right here at home.”

Already, at least eight dioceses have responded and are planning large-scale stateside celebrations to coincide with World Youth Day in Krakow.

Numbered among those is the Archdiocese of Detroit, which will host an overnight, lakeside camping trip on July 30, along with a pilgrimage walk, catechetical presentations and Mass.

Likewise, the Diocese of Rochester, New York, will offer three days of talks, liturgies, and other activities for young adults, teens, and families from July 27-29.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has planned a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois, for its young adults on July 30 and 31. And Connecticut’s three dioceses have teamed up to plan an all-day World Youth Day Celebration on July 23 in Middletown.

Pennsylvania event

One of the largest stateside celebrations will take place in the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which has invited young adults from all of the state’s dioceses, as well as dioceses in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, to join them for a 26-hour vigil from July 30-31.

Hosted by Catholic musician Jackie Francois Angel and featuring a Saturday night performance by the band Ceili Rain, the two-day event will also include talks by Matt Fradd and other Catholic speakers, a pilgrimage walk to Clipper Magazine Stadium (with the Stations of the Cross taking place on the infield) plus Mass and Eucharistic adoration. There will also be a “pilgrimage tent” filled with information on Poland and its saints, the Divine Mercy novena, the Luminous mysteries of the Rosary, and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

“It is a hardship for many people to travel internationally, both financially and in terms of time,” said Deb Waters, the lead coordinator for Harrisburg’s stateside celebration. “But the effects of World Youth Day on youth are huge. Our goal is to give more young people that kind of encounter with the Church and Christ without the expense of traveling internationally.”

‘Krakow in the Capital’

As for the Archdiocese of Washington, it will build on the experience of 2013 and will be hosting “Krakow in the Capital” at The Catholic University of America and the St. John Paul II National Shrine.

Hosted in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Dioceses of Arlington, Virginia, and Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, Washington’s one-day event will include bilingual talks and presentations by bishops and catechetical leaders, a candlelit Stations of the Cross, Mass with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and lots of Polish food. The more adventurous participants can camp overnight on the grounds of the Dominican House of Studies.

“For young adults, Catholic parish life can sometimes feel isolating,” Lewis said. “But at these larger-scale events, young people get to stand shoulder to shoulder with people like them. It’s inspiring to see the witness of other young people pursuing holiness.”

Although planning a domestic event for 2,000 pilgrims differs from planning an overseas pilgrimage for 20, Lewis said the goal of both celebrations remains the same: “promoting an encounter with Christ for the sake of missionary discipleship.”

Emily Stimpson is an OSV contributing editor.

World Youth Day Prayer for the U.S.
God our Father,