In the final week before heading to Krakow, Poland, for World Youth Day (WYD), local pilgrims met with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to pray and go over final preparations.
“Go and listen to what God is telling you,” he said at a commissioning Mass July 17 at the Immaculate Conception Pastoral Center, Douglaston. “This is not a time to be busy about other things … Like Mary in the Gospel today, stay and listen to Jesus’ words.”
He also linked the Mass’ readings to things the pilgrims would encounter in Poland: welcome, hospitality and friendship.
The official diocesan contingent is comprised of 400-pilgrims, including 23 priests and three bishops, said Father Gerard Sauer, diocesan pilgrimage director. This will be the largest single group of pilgrims going from a U.S. diocese to Krakow July 26-31.
Father Sauer added that with other pilgrims – including 150 from the Neocatechumenal Way communities of Brooklyn and Queens – the total number is more than 600.
Maria Rita Furtado, a pilgrim from St. Rita Church, L.I.C., said she was excited to be only seven days away from embarking on this journey.
“I hope my faith gets stronger,” she said. “Pray for us. We need as many prayers as we can.”
Wilfredo Gonzalez, 25, a parishioner from SS. Peter and Paul, Williamsburg, hopes to grow closer to God and be in communion with other young Catholics.
Andres Frischeisen, 19, from St. Gabriel’s parish, East Elmhurst, hopes that this World Youth Day would help him to discern a priestly vocation.
“This might be the time the Lord finally calls me to the seminary,” he said.
Like Gonzalez, he has attended two other WYDs with the Neocatechumenal Way. He added that he looks forward to finding God in the precariousness involved in these trips.
Part of the reason for the meeting in Douglaston was to distribute logistical information and materials. Pilgrims also learned about their packed itinerary. The activities include catechesis, Stations the Cross with Bishop DiMarzio, and prayerful visits to the Shrine of the Divine Mercy, the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa and the Nazi Concentration Camp in Auschwitz. The pilgrims will also hike at least five miles to the overnight vigil before the Mass with Pope Francis.
Jessica Diaz, who is chaperoning eight students from St. Agnes H.S., College Point, said the overnight vigil will be significant.
“It is out in the open, with no phones and technology and in the company of other people from around the world,” she said. “It will be an eye opener, a very spiritual time.”
Mass with Pope Francis will be special for Teresa Collins, 16, of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Windsor Terrace, who is part of a 40-pilgrim group traveling with the Bensonhurst Cluster.
Father Sauer said that ensuring the safety of the pilgrims was a top priority, given the recent terrorist attacks in other parts of Europe. He said that Poland is one of the safest possible places because of the recent NATO meeting that took place there, in addition to security preparations for the pope’s visit.
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“I hope that we all stay together as a diocese, as a group, spiritually and physically and hopefully it is a safe and rewarding trip for all of us,” said Kerryclare Gleason, from BVM Help of Christians, Woodside.
She hoped to have the same experience of enlightenment that those who went to previous World Youth Days. “My sister went to Madrid in 2008 and she came home happier than when she left,” she said.
Jocelyn Bravo, 21, parishioner of Our Lady of Peace Church in Carroll Gardens, is surprised and excited to be traveling to World Youth Day. She was supposed to stay in Brooklyn to have a surgery to remove a pancreas tumor, but when she went to the doctor two weeks ago, she was surprised by a miraculous development.
“The doctor said that magic was happening to my body because I had tried a treatment for two week and it was curing my tumor,” Bravo said. “I was crying; I could not believe it.”
She hopes that God cures her completely and that WYD helps people to remember “to never lose hope and always keep faith in God.”
After months of preparation the pilgrims realized that unlike a vacation or an adventure, a pilgrimage is a time of spiritual transformation. Bishop DiMarzio said that this WYD pilgrimage was a time to think about life in a different way, grow in faith and grow as human beings.
“This experience of pilgrimage is an opportunity to experience the love of God as you share with one another, as you share your friendship with God,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “Receive this gift of the pilgrimage with an open heart and an open mind because this is truly a gift that you’d appreciate for the rest of your life.”
NET-TV will provide complete coverage of the important events of World Youth Week. Tablet and NET correspondents will be in Poland to cover all the action.