Young pilgrims share path to World Youth Day

Pilgrims listen during a meeting to prep for World Youth Day. (Photo/Michael Mickle)

The call for several young adults to go on a mission trip to World Youth Day (WYD) in a couple of weeks came to them from friends, relatives, church workers, and pastors.

The 19 participants from the Diocese of Richmond and 12 from outside the diocese will be spending two weeks in Portugal, including a visit to the Shrine of Fatima and attendance at the worldwide event in Lisbon, from August 1-6.

Talk to some of these young pilgrims and it’s clear they are eager to deepen their faith.

‘Something good to believe’

The call to a missionary experience has been beckoning Xochitl Luis-Aguilar since she was a teenager.

She heard about a mission to Panama in 2019, coordinated by Father Joe Goldsmith’s Blue Eagle Ministries, the outreach program the Catholic parish cluster pastor of St. John Nepomucene, Dinwiddie; Sacred Heart, Prince George; and St. James, Hopewell, established to provide mission trips for young Catholics, primarily Hispanics.

Her mother thought she was too young. Now, she’s an 18-year-old member of the first graduating class from Cristo Rey Richmond High School and is looking forward to her first trip outside the U.S. on her own.

Xochitl Luis-Aguilar said she was surprised to receive the “Good Samaritan Award” at the Cristo Rey Baccalaureate Mass celebrated by Bishop Barry C. Knestout on June 9 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond (Photo/Kathy Taylor Scott)

Like her companions, she will enjoy the hospitality of the Comboni Missionaries of Portugal. “I’m really excited for the events and for the mission work we’re going to do,” she said. “I do pray and just ask God that leading up to those days everything goes smoothly, that I am well-prepared and, when we are there, he protects me.”

She attended parochial schools all her life, prays the rosary, attends adoration, sings in two choirs, and said she has “always been pretty good in my faith.”

WYD, she said, is a chance to deepen that faith and for the 450,000 young people expected at the event “to see the beauty in Catholicism and how the cultures and traditions that we have are beautiful.”

Luis-Aguilar has been working for the diocese, scanning and archiving documents for the Office of Catholic Schools. She will go to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in the fall, and has orientation just a few days after returning from the mission experience.

‘Docile with the Holy Spirit’

For Olmer Pineda, the call to take part in WYD came from his godfather, who suggested he apply.

“Well, I’m not that young,” the 30-year-old electrical installer said one warm afternoon outside his home church, Blessed Sacrament, Harrisonburg. But his boss was willing to give him the time off.

“Well, that must be a sign,” he thought at the time. “Let’s go!”

As a child he went with his parents to El Salvador, their native country, and hasn’t been out of the U.S. since that two-year visit. He’s looking forward to the mission work that the Comboni Missionaries and Blue Eagle Ministries are arranging.

“There are going to be so many people from different cultures. Somebody’s got a story from somewhere,” he said.

Becoming a godfather is what renewed his faith more than a year ago. A good friend asked him to be his children’s sponsor at their baptism, but Pineda had never been confirmed, nor received the Eucharist. Since his baptism at age seven, he had drifted away from the Catholic Church, attending Spanish Pentecostal congregations.

“I wasn’t looking to be living in the life of faith,” he said. “I was looking to continue doing my thing and not allowing God to do his thing.”

Newly-ordained Father William Buckley blesses Olmer Pineda, June 25, at St. Thérèse, Farmville. Pineda attended Blue Eagle Mnistries’ last group meeting before leaving for World Youth Day. Father Buckley was celebrating Mass at the parish before his new assignment in Roanoke. (Photo/Michael Mickle)

To answer the call to be a godparent, he attended Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) classes at Blessed Sacrament. He said he committed to a year of growing closer to Jesus, something that has stretched to more than 18 months.

“I want to be docile with the Holy Spirit,” he said, to allow the Lord to guide and prompt him. “I feel like I’m so very young in the faith and there’s so much to learn.”

Pineda has stayed involved in Spanish RCIA, helping new candidates. He said he might pursue his electrician’s license at some point, but he believes helping to enlighten others about the Catholic faith is more important right now.

“I believe that going over there can help me learn something to bring back over here, so we can influence all these people to further pursue Christ,” he said.

‘This is hope’

Sitting on the couch in her sister Mariana’s home in northwest Roanoke, Beatriz Munoz, 22, said she has been hearing about WYD for several years and wanted to go to the one in Panama or Brazil. But her parents said it was too many days away, and too far.

Her sister, Isaura, the administrative assistant at St. Gerard, Roanoke, met Father Goldsmith at a conference in Texas and heard about the WYD trip he was promoting. She suggested it would be a great experience for them.

Trained as a phlebotomist, but finding healthcare stressful, Beatriz just completed a 10-month mission in Detroit with the Felician Sisters of North America, so the timing of the WYD journey seemed perfect.

“You always hear that the Catholic Church is the universal Church,” she said, “and actually being in one place, seeing all of that, seeing people from the entire world is amazing to me and I want to have that experience.”

Mariana Munoz, 26, works at the Marvin Company, a Roanoke manufacturer of windows, doors and skylights. She said she started doing some research, looked at online videos and was convinced WYD was for her.

“Once people start telling you about it and you start thinking about it and you really get to know what you’re going to be doing there, then you get excited and you’re like, ‘I need to go,’” she said.

“All the young people praising and learning, doing different activities, that will be wonderful,” she added. Her husband, Mariano Lopez, will be going with her.

Mariana said people in her generation need experiences like this if they are going to have fuller lives. “Young people don’t like to get close to God anymore; they are focused on earthly things,” she said.

“So, it’s exciting to see so many young people attending. This is hope. Young people, like St. Pope John Paul II said, are very important for the Church. Young people who still believe and are close to God are really amazing,” said Mariana.

Five young adults from St. Gerard are on this trip. The sisters say they have talked about possibly forming a small group once they return to share their experiences with the parish.

“Even though we have the same faith, we live our lives different from one another because we love God in a different way, even though he loves us in the same way,” Beatriz said.

“But seeing how other people live their lives according to their faith and their love of God, especially young people, is good,” she added. “I’m going to learn a lot from that.”


Editors notes:

Read about Blue Eagle Ministries and the other eight pilgrims who were featured in the June 26 issue

You can also read about the diocesan delegation heading to WYD and when Bishop Barry C. Knestout will join them in the pilgrimage.

Local Catholics prepare to go to Portugal

Get to know more of the local pilgrims headed to Lisbon, Portugal, for World Youth Day (WYD), Aug. 1-6, for a worldwide encounter with Pope Francis!

To tell the stories of how this encounter will impact 16 pilgrims from across the Diocese of Richmond, the Office of Communications will travel with Blue Eagle Ministries (BEM), led by spiritual director and group coordinator, Father Joe Goldsmith.

The June 26 issue introduced readers to the first eight pilgrims traveling with BEM. This week, The Catholic Virginian presents readers with the remaining eight local pilgrims.

As they prepare to leave, The Catholic Virginian asked them to share their thoughts about preparing spiritually for WYD.


  Alma Aguilar Portillo, St. Augustine, Richmond

Alma is excited for the trip because she loves to travel and live new experiences. She prays the rosary every night, and sometimes when she starts to pray, she talks to the Lord. She is also in choir and loves to talk to Jesus through praise.



Maria Del Carmen Gonzalez-Aguilar, St. Augustine, Richmond

For Maria, this trip is a great blessing and opportunity that God is giving her to continue growing spiritually and to share her faith with others around the world. To prepare, she tries to attend daily Mass and to offer prayers for this wonderful encounter with Jesus.



Xóchitl Luis-Aguilar, Sacred Heart, Richmond

For Xóchitl, this experience is about growing her faith and getting closer to people. To prepare, she is practicing giving her time to people who need it.




Carolina del Rosario Luna, Sacred Heart, Richmond

Carolina is looking forward to a great life experience and getting closer to God with an open heart. She is preparing her heart to be able to offer the best of herself to others, and, at the same time, to learn to receive with a grateful heart.



Mariano Lopez Aldana, St. Gerard, Roanoke

 Mariano wants to learn more about his faith and to be able to bring it to more people. He also wants to be able to bring the good news of God to others and to learn from other people. To prepare, he is learning how he can help people get closer to God, praying more, and trying to participate more in church.


Mariana Munoz Munoz, St. Gerard, Roanoke

Mariana wants to learn more about God so that she will feel comfortable talking about him to anyone who needs to hear him. She also wants to help other people in need of material and spiritual help. To prepare, she is praying more with her husband, reading the Bible more often and participating in church. Her main source of strength is adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Thursdays at St. Gerard.


Víctor Aguilar, Sacred Heart, Richmond

For Victor, this is a new experience and a fun adventure in which he can meet new people and help in any way that he can. To prepare, he reads stories from the Bible that have to do with helping others, including the Good Samaritan and the Book of Jonah, which help him get into the mindset of being a vessel for God on this trip.


Olmer Pineda Hernández, Blessed Sacrament, Harrisonburg

 For Olmer, this trip is an open door to new experiences, a way in which God will show him how his world is great and how much there is to learn. He says that everyone needs God, and he wants to break down walls and help people open the door to what the Lord has ready for all of us. To prepare, he has been reading and praying the rosary.

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