Monday, July 18, 2016

Countdown to World Youth Day: Moved By The Holy Spirit

By Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln

The sun rose over Copacabana beach in Brazil, on a warm Sunday morning in July 2013. Three million young people assembled along the water’s edge. I was on the beach with them that day. We were preparing for the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2013, celebrated by Pope Francis, less than six months into his pontificate.

The previous night we’d shared in Eucharistic adoration and Benediction with Pope Francis. The vigil lasted well into the night. I’ll never forget that night. I’ll never forget the presence of God in those moments.

Every World Youth Day has left a lasting impression for me. And they all hold a unique place in my memory – Denver, Paris, Rio. I’ll never forget the heat in Rome in 1999, and the heroic figure of Pope Saint John Paul II. I’ll never forget the beauty of Sydney in 2008, and Pope Benedict’s serene witness. I’ll never forget the rugged splendor Madrid in 2011. And I will never forget, as young priest, my first World Youth Day in 1993, in Denver.

I’ve been to World Youth Day many times, but Denver will always stand out. John Paul stood among millions of young people here in the United States, and told us not to be afraid. He told us to go out into the streets and proclaim the Gospel. He told us to defend life. He told us to become saints. He called us to the New Evangelization.

World Youth in Denver was a transformative moment in my priesthood, and my spiritual life. And every single time I go to World Youth Day, the Lord moves in my life. I am moved by the teaching of the Holy Father. I am moved by the joy of young Catholics from around the world. I am moved by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, alive in the hearts of young people.

I look forward to traveling to Krakow in 2016. With young people from the Diocese of Lincoln, I’ll travel as a pilgrim to the homeland of Pope St. John Paul II. We pilgrims will rely on the Providence of God as we travel, and we’ll look forward to gathering with the Holy Father, and with young people from countries around the world. We’ll pray together for St. John Paul’s intercession. We’ll celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We will journey to Krakow to experience the universality of the Church’s life.

The theme of World Youth Day 2016, is “blessed are the merciful.” Each one of us is called to be merciful. We’re called to imitate the mercy of Jesus Christ. And we travel to Krakow to visit the country where the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ was revealed in a special way to St. Faustina Kowalska.

I’ll never forget the experiences I’ve had at World Youth Day. I’m sure that Poland will be an unforgettable experience as well. I’ll travel there as a pilgrim, seeking a deeper union with Christ and His Church. I pray that you will be a World Youth Day pilgrim, too.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Countdown to World Youth Day: It All Comes Alive In Krakow

By Robert Brennan of Rockville Center

Long before the official World Youth Day gatherings, on his first visit to the United States in October 1979, Pope John Paul II met with the young people of the area at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Meetings with the youth would become a key part of his Apostolic Journeys. I had the good fortune to be there as part of a delegation from my parish. I can’t say I really knew what to expect but it probably would have been something very solemn and serious. It was quite the opposite. The new Pope lit a spiritual fire and had us all caught up enthusiastically in the celebration of our faith in Christ working though His Church. He spoke to us words such as “The Church needs you. The world needs you because it needs Christ and you belong to Christ.” For a teen, it was exciting to be Catholic – to belong to Christ and His Church. The idea of a vocation toward priesthood was pretty clear in my mind but this was a real turning point in my own vocational journey.

Many years later, in 2002, I attended World Youth Day in Toronto, for the first time travelling as Secretary to Bishop William Murphy, with a very large delegation from Long Island. Because it was relatively close to New York, many young people were able to go and we were able to make it a true pilgrimage with caravans of buses traveling across New York and through Canada to Toronto stopping along the way to pray (for example, at the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York) and to connect with other diocesan groups. You see, something good seems to happen during the pilgrimage. Overcoming the challenges of long travel and big crowds, the groups seem to bond very deeply. I’ve seen that time and time again. In the City of Toronto we were able to gather not only our Diocesan Group for Mass and Dinner but all the Long Islanders travelling with schools and other groups. Again, exchanging stories about the adventures, something truly good takes place.

As good as it is to bond with our own group, in every WYD experience, the Long Island groups met the world. Young Catholic’s today sometimes feel isolated trying to live their faith. In every pilgrimage group with whom I have travelled, I hear how it is so important to meet thousands – even millions – of young people sharing the same faith and values. It happens in the large, joyful group settings such as the celebrations on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. It happens walking through the neighborhoods where pilgrims exchange greetings, pins, bracelets, and other tokens. It happens in the catechetical sessions where in small groups pilgrims share faith with fellow pilgrims from around the world and exchange cultural traditions and expressions. And it happens in the individual pilgrimage groups themselves sharing the impact of the events of the day or the week.

I had the chance to participate in Cologne and Madrid. I did not go to Sydney but we had a retreat for those who could not make that long journey and connected via a video link (even before the popularity of Skype) with those who did represent us in Sydney.

Most recently, in 2013, I made my first World Youth Day pilgrimage as a Bishop in Rio. One of the things that impressed me so much in Rio was watching the crowds grow along Copacabana Beach from the hotel rooftop. As in the World Youth Days before, the enthusiasm – the joy of being Catholic – is overwhelming.

Of course, the highlight each and every time is the encounter with the Holy Father. It seems that just about everyone – young person, chaperone, religious, deacon, priest, and bishop – seems to be wide eyed and joyful as the Pope passes close by and as he speaks. I’ve had the chance to welcome John Paul II in my youth and, without realizing it, to bid a fond farewell at what would be his last World Youth Day. I’ve had the chance welcome Benedict XVI and Francis. There is something about these experiences that makes you feel close to the Popes, simply by sharing the WYD experience with them. And I hear it years later from other pilgrims – they have a personal connection with the Pope because they were there with him.

By chance, I happened to be in Krakow as word spread of the city having been chosen as the site for the 2016 World Youth Day. I couldn’t think of a better choice. Our new Saint, John Paul II, gave us the gift of World Youth Day. In Toronto, he spoke of having lived through very dark days under oppressive regimes and yet being convinced that nothing could extinguish the hope that springs from the hearts of the young. It all comes alive in his city – Krakow. I can’t wait to go to Krakow, once again to walk in his steps and to enjoy the gift he bequeathed through World Youth Day.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Countdown to World Youth Day: "It Could Have Been A Mess!"

By  Bishop David A. Zubik

As Pittsburgh pilgrims, there are so many wonderful memories connected with World Youth Day over the years. But one memory stands out, perhaps because it could have been—should have been—a disaster but was anything but!

It was my first year as Bishop of Pittsburgh. I was leading a contingent of 600 young people from the diocese. We were ready to depart on July 14, 2008 to Sydney, Australia for World Youth Day. The Pittsburgh diocesan youth group was to be the largest at World Youth Day outside the host country.

There were about 400 of us who arrived at the airport in Pittsburgh at 3:00 a.m. for our chartered departure to Sydney. As you can imagine, the scene was a little festive, a lot noisy. Then the news came. Our flight was going to be delayed. And delayed. And delayed. In the end, it would be eighteen hours before we finally took off.

It could have been a mess. Imagine 400 bored young people stuck in an airport for hours on end with nowhere to go and nothing to do. But the Holy Spirit was not going to allow this World Youth Day pilgrimage to get off to a bad start. The Spirit had other plans!

It began with the decision to use the time to begin our pilgrimage with the celebration of the Mass. Almost immediately, the Mass began to draw us together as true pilgrims. We were not just leading young people from scattered parishes, bringing them together for a “trip.” We were pilgrims coming together—leaders and young people—as a spiritual family. I spent two hours hearing confessions.

Later, with the seminarians who were taking part in the pilgrimage, we put on a skit as part of a talent show organized to pass the time. It was fun. It was laughter. It was getting to know each other. It was learning to serve. It was prayer.

Long hours waiting in the airport had become the perfect beginning to our World Youth Day pilgrimage.

It was this unity in faith and spirit that we would carry with us to Sydney. When our young people encountered young people from the Universal Church, they were prepared to share, prepared to pray, prepared to celebrate.

There were so many wonderful moments that we shared in Sydney. I remember over 270,000 gathering for the Stations of the Cross in downtown Sydney. I remember the Pittsburgh delegation coming together for a Holy Hour and Benediction in a place called Broken Bay. I remember greeting each pilgrim as we boarded the plane for home. I remember saying good bye with a blessing as we landed in Pittsburgh.

I had told the pilgrims in Sydney that, when they left World Youth Day, they must go out as servants.

It was an easy message to share. After beginning our pilgrimage with eighteen hours at the airport, it was a message well understood. Truly a gift of the Holy Spirit to us Pittsburgh pilgrims!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Countdown to World Youth Day: Mercy Amongst Millions

(CNS photo/Angelo Carconi, EPA)
By Bishop Wm. Michael Mulvey

One of my favorite prayers during the celebration of the Eucharist is prior to the sign of peace, “Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church.” The faith of the Church is one of the hallmarks of World Youth Day. Especially on those occasions, it is a Church that is young; a Church that is alive; and a Church that is totally focused on Jesus Christ and His mission. And, it is a Church on pilgrimage.

Many times as we live the routine of our daily lives, we forget about the internal movement that is happening through our faith in Jesus Christ. A pilgrimage is not only a physical journey, but an internal movement of faith moving toward a greater reality. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.” World Youth Day is a hallmark of that presence of Jesus among His people in an extraordinary way. It is a people that is moving forward and coming together from all parts of the world to celebrate that faith together.

In 2016, the theme for World Youth Day is “Blessed are the Merciful.” Mercy is the greatest expression of God's love offered to those who open their hearts to His mercy. And mercy fully expresses Christ’s mission continued through our own mission in His name. To be in the place where the devotion of Divine Mercy was established will be a true gift to all who attend.

For myself, I look forward to experiencing the origins of the devotion as it was revealed to St. Faustina. So many of us have witnessed the tremendous faith and compassion of St. John Paul II and many of us have been in his presence. To be in his home country will not only bring his memory alive, but bring to life all that he taught and witnessed as a fellow pilgrim in this confused world. He loved the youth beyond measure and to be together with youth from all over the world sharing his legacy and sharing his love for the young Church will be a very memorable moment.

I look forward to being in Kraków and being in the midst of so many brothers and sisters who are excited about their faith and want to share it with the world. In a world of violence and hatred, what better show of force than to be in Kraków where the apostle of mercy, the promoter of peace and unity among peoples lived will be most memorable.


Bishop Mulvey is Bishop of Corpus Christi.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Opening Our Hearts to Strengthening Marriages

By Bishop Richard J. Malone, Bishop of Buffalo

Recently, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, offered the following challenge: “But nowadays who is making an effort to strengthen marriages, to help married couples overcome their problems, to assist them in the work of raising children and, in general, to encourage the stability of the marriage bond?”

This probing question by Pope Francis in The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia, no. 52) is for all of us: every family, community, and nation. The Holy Father is firm: “No one can think that the weakening of the family as that natural society founded on marriage will prove beneficial to society as a whole” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 52).

If we care about addressing poverty, promoting the well-being of children, building stronger communities—we must at the same time care about strengthening marriages and families. The social science is clear on this point.

But a decisive question must be faced in order to move forward: What is marriage?

Today on June 26, people will be marking the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision one year ago in Obergefell v. Hodges. Some, following the Court's majority opinion, see this decision as a victory for equality and freedom. But that opinion is remarkable for what it lacks: a coherent account of what marriage is and what it is for. What makes marriage different than any other type of relationship? Why should the state have an interest in marriage? Why should marriage be between only two people?

The Court fails to offer substantial rationale here. It also fails to consider seriously the fact that our culture over the last several decades has been progressively declining when it comes to strengthening marriage and the family—a decline that leads to cultural breakdown: “There is a failure to realize that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 52).

The pope keenly observes that “[m]any countries are witnessing a legal deconstruction of the family, tending to adopt models based almost exclusively on the autonomy of the individual will” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 53). Unfortunately, this has been the case in the United States. Our laws have tended not to put families and children first but instead have made an idol of individual autonomy at the expense of truth and the common good, and even God himself. Civil law is meant to reflect what is true and just, not create or reconstruct it.

Obergefell has changed the law, but it has not changed the truth. Some may think that Obergefell concludes a conversation, but that conversation is only beginning, because the central questions at stake still need a hearing. And truth, ultimately, cannot be silenced.

So what is marriage? How is society protecting a child's basic right to be welcomed, raised, and loved by a mother and father if the law no longer recognizes man and woman as necessary to marriage? With malice toward none and with charity for all, we must advance this conversation and witness.

Today, I encourage those who have not read the Obergefell decision to begin reading the majority opinion and then the dissenting opinions carefully. Take time over the next several weeks to reflect upon Pope Francis’ The Joy of Love and to peruse other resources that shed light on the meaning of marriage, like those available on Consider how you and your family can advance a renewed conversation about marriage in your community.

Lastly, today let us pray that our hearts be open to one another and to God’s healing grace. May respect and kindness guide our conversations with one another, especially in our families, communities, and nation. And let us pray for a deeper understanding of the tremendous gift that marriage and family life is to the world: a warm and welcoming home where a husband and wife, father, mother and their children, strive to know, love and serve the Lord and one another. May the Holy Spirit inspire in us renewed confidence to witness to the truth of God’s plan for marriage and the family, attracting others by our own striving to grow in love.


Bishop Malone is Chairman, Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

Monday, June 20, 2016

Countdown to World Youth Day: A Massive Display of Joy and Faith

By Leonard P. Blair, Archbishop of Hartford

Participation at the World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 was one of the most joyful and positive experiences I have ever had as a priest or bishop. It was soon after our national Bishops’ meeting in Dallas that June, at the height of the crisis over the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, that I went to Toronto as one of the Bishop-Catechists for my first World Youth Day, not really knowing what to expect.

I had witnessed many big public events, especially during my years of residence in Rome. However, at the end of the Papal Mass that Sunday in Toronto, when I walked with the other Bishops to the railing of the massive stage, I can’t fully describe what it was like to behold the full sweep of 800,000 people, mostly young, filled with joy at what they had celebrated. It was an incredibly moving experience based not on sheer numbers alone, but above all on the spirit of the occasion. I can only describe it as a massive display of religious joy and faith.

World Youth Day (which is really spread over a week) is above all a religious pilgrimage. The young Catholics who attend are highly motivated, and the major events are beautiful affirmations of faith. The music included both popular and traditional styles led by very talented people. If you watch the televised events you can see the intensity and prayerfulness on so many young faces, only distracted when they realized that the camera was on them. Truly, these events are great occasions for young people from every continent to celebrate their Catholic Faith with the Holy Father and to be reconfirmed in that faith.

Pope Saint John Paul the Great always had a special place in his heart for the young. It was his courageous, audacious idea in the 1980s to hold World Youth Days. Without him, neither Toronto nor any of the other World Youth Days that preceded or followed would have ever taken place. Today Pope Francis is also a charismatic figure to whom young people are drawn because they understand that he is a true spiritual father. As the great nineteenth century convert, Cardinal Newman--now Blessed John Henry Newman--once observed, evil may be seductive and glamorous, but people are drawn even more by purity and truth. Young people see that in a Pope, who embodies the teaching of Jesus Christ and the gospel.

My few days in Toronto--at a very difficult time for those of us who were Bishops--was truly a tonic for my soul, for which I give thanks to God and to Pope St. John Paul. World Youth Day 2002 confirmed my faith that whatever evils might befall the Church, Christ’s promise will prove true, that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.