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U.S. pilgrims to World Youth Day reflect new church demographics

  • Catholic News Service, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • July 08 2016
CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) — As the church in the U.S. has shown an increasing presence of Spanish-speaking Catholics, so will the tens of thousands of young people traveling to the 2016 edition of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland.

"There are more groups coming from heavily Hispanic/Latino dioceses, and in a particular way from apostolic movements like Charismatic Renewal, Focolare, and others," said Paul Jarzembowski, World Youth Day USA national coordinator for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

World Youth Day will take place in and around Krakow July 26-31, with Pope Francis leading events July 27-31, including a closing overnight vigil and Mass that is expected to draw as many as 2 million attendees from around the world.

From the U.S., there are more than 30,000 fully registered pilgrims and another 10,000 partially registered pilgrims, which indicates at least some of those may translate into last-minute travelers to Poland.

The USCCB, Jarzembowski told Catholic News Service, has been working collaboratively on some of its Spanish language World Youth Day resources -- including the WYDUSA pilgrim prayer, the stateside leader's guide, the WYD hymn -- and through organizations such as the National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana and the Southeast Pastoral Institute in Miami, both of which are also sending delegations of Hispanic/Latino pilgrims to Krakow.

"We do not have an exact number of Hispanics going from the USA, but by the increased number of groups from movements, Pastoral Juvenil outreaches, and heavily Hispanic areas, we feel this (increase) is happening," Jarzembowski said.

Mark Gomez, 20, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Hialeah, a largely Cuban and Hispanic city in Florida, is a leader of Encuentros Juveniles, a local lay organization for youths and young adults.

"I think (Pope Francis) is by far a great example of humility and love and a Christ-like figure," he told CNS.

Gomez, who saw Pope Francis up close during the U.S. papal visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, plans to attend World Youth Day in Poland with his parents and two brothers, all of whom will experience the event together for the first time.

The most recent international World Youth Day, in 2013, took place in Rio de Janeiro, just a few months after Pope Francis' election. Poland and its historic city of Krakow are hosting this year's event that Polish St. John Paul II initiated as a Vatican-sponsored tradition in the late 1980s.

"Pope Francis knows the church has a need, and in a time when you see broken families, drugs, crime -- the world needs to know there is something more," said Gomez, who studies politics and international studies at the University of Miami.

Reflecting another trend, while the general range for World Youth Day pilgrims is about 16-35, many diocesan delegations to Poland are comprised primarily of young adults over the age of 18, mostly in their 20s and older, according to Jarzembowski.

"WYD does not provide exact numbers, but by the communication we have had with diocesan leaders and bishops we have learned about the increased number of young adults," Jarzembowski said. "In our dialogue with the international organizers, we learned that there is an increased amount of pilgrims over age 30 this year."

The U.S. participants will travel from every state and from more than 1,000 dioceses, parishes and apostolic movements. Also registered are some 85 U.S. bishops who will be among an expected 800-1,200 cardinals and bishops and 13,000 priests worldwide who are set to travel to Krakow.

Jarzembowski noted this year's pilgrims continue to come from several large metropolitan areas -- including New York, Chicago, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Seattle, Portland, and Miami -- along with rural areas in Wyoming, Texas, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, upstate New York and throughout the Midwest. Participants represent a good cross-section of U.S. Catholics who are moderately to highly involved in church life at home, he added.

A considerable emphasis is also being placed on engaging youth and young adults who will attend various stateside World Youth Day celebrations as well as maximizing the experience after the delegations return from Poland, Jarzembowski said.

"The USCCB has developed tools to help leaders accompany their pilgrims 'down the mountain' from World Youth Day and help them to put what they learned and were inspired to do into real action ... through the follow-up and aftereffects," Jarzembowski said.

"This has been a dream of St. John Paul II, and Popes Benedict and Francis after him: that World Youth Day does not end at the closing Mass, but becomes a catalyst for building up missionary disciples and agents of mercy and faith in the everyday lives of young adults today."


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