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World Youth Day Experience "Indescribable"


“Indescribable” and “life changing” were two ways that the pilgrims returning from World Youth Day to the Diocese of Gaylord described their experience.

Led by Bishop Bernard Hebda and Father Peter Wigton, the group of young adults departed from Gaylord on Monday, July 22, and arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, late afternoon on Tuesday, July 23, to unseasonably cold, rainy weather on the Copacabana Beach. After nearly 30 hours of non-stop travel, pilgrims were given about 30 minutes to check in to their hotel rooms and shower before venturing out to the first official World Youth Day event – the Opening Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, His Excellency Orani Jo ão Tempestra .

Standing in the middle of a darkened beach in the rain, surrounded by groups from all over the world, Shannon Scott of Roscommon recalled feeling “exhausted, dispirited, and apprehensive,” but once the Opening Mass began, “my spirits were lifted, and I relaxed. I felt the presence of God and knew that my pilgrimage would be an amazing experience,” she said.

The group’s first full day in Rio began at a concert venue called Vivo Rio where daily catechesis was being hosted by the Bishops’ Conferences from several English-speaking countries, including the United States, Great Britain, and Australia. Each morning began with a different band or musician to rev up the crowd before the presenter for the day took the stage. Steve Angrisano and Jesse Manibusen – both of whom have been presenters at youth rallies in Gaylord – were among the emcees for the catechesis sessions. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was the main presenter on Wednesday, then Archbishop Mark Coleridge from Brisbane, Australia, on Thursday, and concluding with Cardinal Sean O’Malley from Boston on Friday. Following each session, the crowd was given the opportunity to ask each of the presenters a question – whether it was a follow-up to the Catechesis lesson, or something completely unrelated.

On the third day of Catechesis, Gaylord pilgrim and seminarian David Freundl asked the first question of Cardinal O’Malley: “How can we go out and make disciples of the world… if we have jobs and with our everyday lives?” The cardinal replied with the advice, “Bloom where you’re planted,” and suggested using our already existing relationships – at work, at school, at home – to make disciples.

As the week’s events were coming to a close, hundreds of thousands gathered on the Copacabana Beach to await Vigil Mass with the Pope. Mary Spyhalski of Gaylord was moved to tears by the largest group she had ever been a part of in adoration with Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. “I could feel His graces flooding the hearts of the millions who kneeled in the most awe-filled adoration I’ve ever experienced. It was in this quiet faithfulness that He softened my heart, pulling my attention away from the crowd and the cold, and drawing my gaze to meeting Him on the altar,” Spyhalski. “In that moment He not only answered the prayer I had traveled to World Youth Day with, but He answered the prayer I had hidden from Him in my heart.”

In addition to catechetical sessions and events on the beach with Pope Francis, the Gaylord pilgrims also explored the city, visited churches and made their way to the Christ the Redeemer statue which overlooks Rio.

Though tangible mementos of the journey, such as souvenirs and items traded amongst the global participants were carried back to the U.S., it is likely the intangible effects carried in their hears that will last the longest. “I have a new family in my fellow pilgrims for Christ, and this family is strong and brave and located all over the world,” said Priscilla Oddo, also of Gaylord. “Some say the Church is old and outdated, but anyone who attended World Youth Day will tell you that the Church is alive, young, and very passionate.”

Tom Gardner, a seminarian from the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, who travelled with the Diocese of Gaylord, reflected on the change in the dynamic of the group throughout the week, “Our group started the week as semi-strangers and ended as a family. I can truly say that I consider the men and women from my group brothers and sisters in Christ!”

Katie LeBlanc of Wolverine noticed that the language barrier between pilgrims was hardly a barrier at all: “Everywhere we went, people just came up and talked to you like you had been friends forever!”

As the group settles back into their home parishes, they bring home the message of World Youth Day: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Bishop Hebda, Father Peter, and the entire group that represented the Diocese of Gaylord at World Youth Day 2013 would like to extend their sincerest thanks and gratitude to all who supported this trip through monetary donations, volunteering their time, and most importantly, their prayers. Your love and support for the young adults of this diocese has been felt and is greatly appreciated.

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