Put Out into the Deep

The Youth of the Church Universal

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

I just returned from having attended my sixth World Youth Day. Usually, these special events take place in three-year intervals. The first World Youth Day I attended was Rome 2000 and I have attended each one held since; Toronto, Canada 2002; Cologne, Germany 2005; Sydney, Australia 2008; Madrid, Spain 2011; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 2013. Each was a wonderful experience, not only for the young people, but also for the bishops to see the young people expressing their love for Christ and His Church by making difficult sacrifices to attend all of the events.

This year, World Youth Day was in Krakow, Poland, the place where St. John Paul II was archbishop and through whose initiative World Youth Days began. It was a fitting tribute to his memory now as St. John Paul II, and also in this Year of Mercy, inspired in many ways by the revelations of St. Faustina Kowalska whose shrine is just outside the city of Krakow.

Krakow is a beautiful city. If Brooklyn can be called the City of Churches, so can Krakow. In fact, there are signs throughout the city that state, “The Other Rome.” How true this is because on almost every corner, in every part of the city there is a church, one more beautiful that the other. The deep Catholic faith of this city was obvious to the bishops, priests and all the pilgrims.

The statistics for this World Youth Day truly are inspiring. At the Closing Mass with the Holy Father, there were approximately 2 million pilgrims. Also in attendance were 850 bishops, 50 cardinals and 26,000 priests. It was an honor to be with the other Bishops on the platform with the Holy Father and to look out onto the vast crowd, which in many ways assures a future of faith for our Church.

The statistics of our own diocese are also very impressive. Overall, we had almost 600 pilgrims; 400 who traveled with the diocese, 150 from the Neocatechumenal Way and 50 from our parishes who traveled on their own. It is truly a wonderful tribute to the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens in that it seems that we had the most pilgrims from any diocese in the U.S. This fact was duly noted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The work of the U.S. Bishops Conference in preparation for World Youth Day is truly one of catechesis for the pilgrims. The catechesis for our young people consisted of three days of attending talks given by various bishops from around the world. Our own diocese had an opportunity to be a part of catechesis and Mass at the Church of St. Joseph in Krakow.

Bishop Octavio Cisneros, unfortunately, was taken ill and could not do the catechesis, so I pinch hit and gave the catechesis and celebrated the Mass with all of our 400 diocesan pilgrims in attendance. The 22 priests of the Diocese of Brooklyn who were on the pilgrimage concelebrated Mass with me.

Before dinner at the Wieliczka Salt Mines, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio smiles next to the diocesan WYD contingent’s leadership and support team, which included Father Gerard Sauer, diocesan pilgrimage director; Ted Musco, the School of Evangelization’s executive director; and Paul Morisi, diocesan coordinator of adolescent and young adult faith formation. (Photo: John Romano)

Much of the success of the pilgrimage must be attributed to Father Gerard Sauer, Diocesan Pilgrimage Director, as well as the chaperones from all of the parishes who accompanied our young people. Thanks be to God, we did not have one incident that would have detracted from the pilgrimage. Father Sauer’s wonderful organizational skills allowed him to direct our pilgrims like a well-oiled machine.

Another highlight of the trip was the greeting of Pope Francis at the Blonia Park in Krakow as he arrived. He was truly inspiring to all at the vigil ceremony on Saturday, which preceded the Closing Mass on Sunday. The vigil is interesting in that it goes late into the night. For the bishops who attended, we were transported to the site by bus and did not arrive back to our hotel until after midnight. We had to be back on the bus the next morning at 5:30 so that we could return for the Closing Mass.

As I dictate this column the morning after my return home, I still feel a bit sleep deprived; however, it was all worth it. Our diocese conducted our own Stations of the Cross when we had an opportunity to visit the Shrine of Divine Mercy and to visit the new St. John Paul II Shrine. It was a strange weather day, so we found a spot behind the St. John Paul II Center with white birch trees in the background and a construction site to our right. It was here that we celebrated the Stations of the Cross, which I composed for the group. Many seemed to appreciate the directions that were given, especially the young people.

The Closing Mass with the Holy Father truly was a sight to behold. As mentioned, there were 2 million pilgrims and it was a real manifestation of the Universal Church, ever young and ever old in the world. The Roman Liturgy is so adaptable for a group of four or five, or for 2 million. All received Communion in a short period of time, with unconsecrated hosts positioned at strategic stations among the crowd.

The message of Pope Francis for both the vigil and the Mass was clear; first that God’s mercy is beyond our comprehension and secondly that we should not be afraid to exercise mercy or to receive mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Holy Father was comfortable preaching in Italian, and there were simultaneous translations for the pilgrims through radio transmissions. He excited the crowds because of his own enthusiasm and truly showed his love for our young people.

After the Closing Mass, our group visited the Wieliczka Salt Mines just outside of Krakow which are considered by UNESCO to be a unique site. The salt mines, out of use for over 20 years, contain many beautiful chapels built by the workers. One particularly beautiful chapel, which I had visited on a previous trip to Poland, might be called a cathedral. The highlight of our visit was a dinner for all 400 pilgrims in the dining hall in the salt mines. The incredible quality of the delicious meal was served in the comfortable nature of the site, 250 feet below ground, the height of a 25-story building. By the end of the meal, the pilgrims, who had a short interval between sleeping out all night after the vigil ceremony and the Mass that would follow, were in great spirits and eager to be all together with Bishop Witold Mroziewski and myself.

The next day, Bishop Witold accompanied the pilgrims to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa for a Mass at the Polish National Shrine of Our Lady.

On Monday, I stayed in Krakow to attend the Neocatechumenal Way vocational call presided over by Kiko Argüello, founder of the movement. His co-founding partner, Carmen Hernandez, died just the week before the start of World Youth Day. Kiko gave a long catechesis, but one that was inspiring. At the end, with over 50 cardinals and bishops in attendance, we all gave a blessing to those willing to follow a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Over 3,000 men and over 2,500 women came up onto the stage. At the end, Kiko called for families willing to go into mission, one of which we have right here in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Over 1,000 families came up to the stage to receive a blessing from the bishops for their dedication and willingness to pursue a missionary vocation as families in mission. Truly, this was an inspiring event and one that assures the future of our Church.

It was the capstone to a wonderful week in Krakow.

Our Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, and the Church Universal, is putting out into the deep in developing youth ministry. Our recent capital campaign, now in its closing days, has raised $10 million so that we can dedicate ourselves to youth ministry, training youth ministers and developing youth ministries in more of the parishes in the diocese.

It was announced that World Youth Day 2019 will be celebrated in Panama. Perhaps as a result of our wonderful youth ministry, we can bring 800 to 1,000 young people with us to Panama.

When young people see the Church Universal, people from every country from around the world, speaking different languages and yet of the same faith, it is truly an experience of the New Pentecost.

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