Diocesan pilgrims at World Youth Day: Office for Evangelization

Pilgrims from Diocese of Richmond join massive crowd in pilgrimage walk in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 5, 2023. (Photo/Dani Liette)

“A good reason why you should send your kids to World Youth Day is it will light a fire of faith in their hearts,” said diocesan pilgrim Harry Drum, from St. Francis of Assisi, Staunton.

“I wish I could to it all over again, every day,” said Audrey Litkowski, from Christ the King, Norfolk, describing eucharistic adoration and vigil during World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon, Portugal.

“Almost a million people were around me, and the moment that Jesus Christ, Our Lord, was truly present in the Eucharist, placed on the altar in that monstrance, everyone around me fell silent. And I don’t think I can express the feeling of a million voices just going silent at the same time. It was crazy, and everyone hit their knees,” she said.

Approximately 60 pilgrims led by the diocese’s Office for Evangelization are sharing the most powerful experiences of their trip to WYD 2023.

“The highlight of the trip for me has been seeing so many passionate young Catholics from all around the world, from all the continents,” said Adam Landry, from St. Francis of Assisi, Staunton, “all coming together to worship God and to grow closer to our Lord.”

Drum said he brought his daughter along for WYD. She was “iffy” about whether she wanted to be Catholic. “After this and seeing the Church in action and the millions of youth poured in in support of Pope Francis and Our Lord Jesus Christ, she has decided to come into the Church. It’s been an absolute blessing,” he said.

Focus on the keystone

The weeklong events of WYD began Tuesday, Aug. 1, with an opening Mass outside.

Janice Guzman, from Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, said the highlight for her was “seeing everyone during Communion during our opening Mass … seeing everyone help each other go down the hill just so that they could receive the Lord in the Eucharist, and I thought that was very beautiful.”

Pilgrims pack into São Mamede church in Lisbon, Portugal, for the World Youth Day catechesis session led by Bishop Barry C. Knestout on Aug. 3, 2023. (Photo/Michael Mickle)

The following three days included WYD’s “Rise Up” catechetical sessions, where different bishops were asked to listen to the youth and share reflections in a synodal setting. The diocesan group attended the same sessions Wednesday and Thursday as Bishop Barry C. Knestout, who was the lead bishop at Thursday’s session.

Bishop Knestout’s reflection at one of those sessions stuck with Kathleen Reuwer, from Virginia Tech’s Catholic Campus Ministry. “With his background in architecture, he described how in an arch all the forces all come together at this one central point called the keystone,” Reuwer recalled, “and he talked about how Christ is that keystone in the center of our lives – helping all the forces that are pushing and pulling on us throughout our lives.”

Lenina Valle, from Church of the Epiphany, Richmond, said one of her favorite experiences was also during the catechesis sessions. “We got to sing praise and worship together and discuss Scripture with people from all over the world – English-speaking people, everything from Australia to Dubai to other Americans, and it was just amazing to hear everybody’s take on Scripture.”

The Virginia pilgrims also attended a gathering on Aug. 2 hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops which included a talk by the well-known Bishop Robert Barron, of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.

Thursday night, there was the official welcome ceremony with Pope Francis. Then Friday, the pope led the pilgrims in the Stations of the Cross. The diocesan group got to see the pope twice that day.

Fe Guzman, youth minister at St. Mark, Virginia Beach, said it was a highlight for her to see “young people and even the older ones being so excited seeing the pope, even just for a glimpse.”

Seminarian Graham Fassero said the Stations of the Cross was a unique experience because each station had a modern-day parallel, which included testimonies and reflections which “really gave you time to meditate at each station.”

“I liked the Stations of the Cross because it was an amazing moment to see them acting out the stations,” said Abigail Truax, from St. Mark, Virginia Beach. “It wasn’t just us reciting them and going through the motions – it was actually being shown to us.”

The events of the week led up to Saturday, when all the WYD pilgrims would hit the streets for a miles-long walk to Tejo Park, for eucharistic adoration and a vigil.

Morgan Harris, from Church of the Redeemer, Mechanicsville, pauses for a quick photo with Bishop Barry C. Knestout during the pilgrimage walk on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023. (Photo submitted by Morgan Harris)

“Something that stood out to me today was that when we were on our walk for the pilgrimage, it was extremely hot and almost unbearable at times. (It) felt like you couldn’t get enough water, and I prayed to Mary that she would bring a breeze, and almost instantly, there was a beautiful wind,” said Charlotte Torres, from St. Pius X, Norfolk.

More than one million pilgrims would sleep on the ground overnight in that field, camped out under the stars. They would wake up Sunday morning for the closing Mass with Pope Francis.

Mamie Luck, from Our Lady of Lourdes, Richmond said her favorite part of WYD was the overnight vigil. “It’s amazing being able to venerate Christ in the Eucharist at adoration overnight with millions of people and then in the morning, having Mass with the pope is amazing.”

Marian moments

The diocesan delegation began its pilgrimage in Europe a week before WYD started, visiting Lourdes, France, where Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous 18 times in 1858.

Drum said the “number one highlight of the trip so far was probably the Marian procession at Lourdes. It brought me to tears like five or six times. It was the most absolutely incredible thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Luck said that she had always wanted to go to Lourdes. “It was amazing being in the grotto where Bernadette had the apparition of Mary multiple times,” she said. “The Marian procession was beautiful, it was very heartwarming, just being able to see so many Catholics holding candles in honor of Mary.”

The pilgrims also visited Burgos, Spain, and then spent a weekend in Fátima, where Bishop Knestout joined them, before going to Lisbon for WYD.

Many of the pilgrims said Fátima had a special impact on them.

“One of my favorite things was during Fátima, when I prayed the rosary while walking on knees. It was excruciating but also very worthwhile because it made me so much closer to God and to Mary,” said Gabriel Sudarma, from Church of the Ascension, Virginia Beach.

Dani Liette, from Star of the Sea, Virginia Beach, said Fátima was also her highlight. “It was amazing there to be with the candlelight vigil twice,” she said. “It was just so beautiful … it was indescribable … it was awesome.”

Margo Sheffler, from Church of the Epiphany, Richmond, was impacted by “the opportunity to go to confession in a place where I knew that our Blessed Mother had us in her loving care. It was a wonderful experience all around, but I would highly recommend Fátima.”

As the diocesan delegation’s two-week spiritual journey came to an end, seminarian John Paul Shanahan said “personally, I loved dancing on the streets with random people – whether that was at the World Youth Day events or just randomly in the streets of Lisbon. So, it’s been a wonderful trip and I’m so grateful to God who’s provided all of this.”


Read more about the Diocese of Richmond at World Youth Day 2023: 

Bishop Knestout: ‘great spirit of joy’ at World Youth Day

Blue Eagle Ministries at World Youth Day

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