By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published July 22, 2016
ATLANTA—The 2016 World Youth Day Pilgrims Mass, held Wednesday, July 13, at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, was a time of prayer and fellowship for young people preparing to make the journey to Krakow, Poland.
Representatives of more than 10 parishes and groups attended the evening Mass, organized by the Young Adult Ministry of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
World Youth Day, to be held July 26-31, is a meeting of young people from across the world with catechists, priests, bishops and the pope. The theme of the 2016 event in Krakow is the fifth Beatitude—“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).
Father Tri John-Bosco Nguyen, parochial vicar at St. Brigid Church in Johns Creek, was celebrant and homilist for the Mass.
Remembering World Youth Days of the past
An experienced World Youth Day pilgrim, Father Nguyen shared his favorite memories of his past participation.
“On the surface, it’s like going on a tour. It’s fun. It’s really fun, but at the same time it’s not a tour,” said Father Nguyen. “In World Youth Day, you see something more that can answer the deep yearning in your heart.”
In 2002 when Father Nguyen was a college student, he attended World Youth Day for the first time in Toronto, Canada. What struck him most was witnessing the universality of the church.
Flash mob songs and dances on YouTube are amazing yet cannot compare to World Youth Day, said Father Nguyen.
“Try this—singing Alleluia with 3.5 million people all singing the same song. Telling that story is giving me goose bumps,” he said.
He recalled that World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2013 required a lot of patience. Because of an influx of Brazilians for the vigil and closing Mass, organizers asked foreign pilgrims to return to their hotels instead of staying outdoors overnight on the beach. No one complained.
At the 2011 event in Madrid, Spain, safety and security were of concern.
“Not one single fight, not one single conflict. There is something very special there,” said the priest.
Another favorite experience occurred during the vigil in Rio. The priest recalled that Pope Francis was to deliver a prepared reflection.
“He just threw that away and said ‘Guess what? Let’s spend 15 minutes in silent adoration’,” said Father Nguyen.
A crowd of millions, singing and dancing a half hour before, became still in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
“In the next 15 minutes you didn’t hear a sound, except for the ocean waves and maybe some helicopters,” he said.
There is no world tour that can give you that kind of experience, noted Father Nguyen.
“We know that God always accompanies us and God always speaks to us. We understand that God is most obvious to us in our sacraments,” he continued.
But there is another way in which God communicates to his people, and Father Nguyen urged youth to pay attention.
“Be open to experiences because God always speaks to us through experiences,” he said.
Patience, prayer will guide the pilgrims
Father Nguyen said having an open, patient and easy-going disposition will help pilgrims on the journey.
“There will be no Starbucks around the corner or the ATM machine for you anymore,” he said.
The priest encouraged groups to have nightly reflections during the pilgrimage, suggesting use of the daily examen in the Jesuit tradition. He simplified the Ignatian reflection into basic questions to consider: What are a couple of things to thank God for this day? What am I sorry for today? What events of the day helped me to see God’s presence?
“And number four,” he continued. “What can I do to be more Christ-like tomorrow? After you come back, the fourth question will move you forward.”
Pilgrims can ask these questions as a group or reflect on their own.
“This trip is not just a thing to do for fun but is God communicating to you,” said Father Nguyen.
More than 10 parishes, groups making the journey
Local parishes and groups with members making the pilgrimage to Poland are St. Andrew Church, Roswell; Our Lady of Vietnam Church, Riverdale; Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, Norcross; Our Lady of the Americas Mission, Lilburn; St. Mark Church, Clarkesville; St. Francis of Assisi Church, Blairsville; St. Catherine of Siena Church, Kennesaw; and All Saints Church, Dunwoody. Also making pilgrimages are Georgia State University students, seminarians of the archdiocese, and a group organized by the Legionaries of Christ.
Local pilgrims will also take part in Days of the Diocese in Krakow leading up to official World Youth Day events. The host diocese provides opportunities for youth to become familiar with local parishes, the people and the country’s culture. By praying and volunteering with people in Polish parishes, attendees will experience an enrichment of faith and cultural interchange.
Legionary Father Juan Gabriel Guerra, of St. Brendan the Navigator Church in Cumming, and Father José Luis Hernández-Ayala, pastor of St. Mark Church in Clarkesville, concelebrated the July 13 Mass and will be making the pilgrimage.
The priests presented votive candles with the likeness of St. Pope John Paul II to each pilgrim family. The families will light the candles daily and pray for their loved ones on pilgrimage.
St. Pope John Paul II was founder of World Youth Day, holding the first one in 1985 in Rome.
During prayers of the faithful, pilgrims prayed for those whose hard work and sacrifices make the trip possible, for the nation during a time of division, and for the suffering in Sudan.
Musicians Greg Ferrara and Geneva Tigue taught pilgrims the official theme song of World Youth Day, “Blessed Are the Merciful.”
Afterward, the groups assembled in Kenny Hall for a dessert reception to become acquainted with others. Pilgrims painted their palms with bright colors to make a banner for Pope Francis featuring a heart of handprints.
Lucy Frain, a rising senior at Pinecrest Academy in Cumming, is part of the Legionaries of Christ group of 51 pilgrims.
Frain is looking forward to experiencing firsthand what she has always been taught—the universality of the church.
“I’m really excited to see the universal part. It’s what sets us apart,” she said.
Trinity Martinez, who will be a senior at Lambert High School in Suwanee this fall, will be part of the same group.
She is excited about being in the World Youth Day environment where faith is expressed openly and celebrated.
“I just really want to grow in my faith,” said Martinez.