The youth ministry of St. Thomas More Parish, Allentown, sent 19 high school students and six adults to World Youth Day in Lisbon. Fr. Brendon Laroche served as the group’s chaplain.
“Being on the streets of Lisbon during World Youth Day was a glimpse of what heaven will be like,” said youth ministry leader Allie Yudt.
Organizers report that pilgrims from nearly every nation in the world attended the August 1 through 6 gathering.
“Figuring out how to break through that language barrier added all the more laughs and smiles,” said St. Thomas More youth ministry member Bryn Lawler. “It was amazing to discover how different our lives were, but also similar through the love of Jesus Christ.”
Youth ministry member Elizabeth Samer recalled, “A group from South Korea started singing nearby. I could hear the catchy rhythm, but the words were foreign to me. I kept copying the people around me until I heard a word I knew: ‘Alleluia!’ I shouted along, singing ‘Alleluia.’ Despite the language barrier this one word meant we all believed in the same God.”
World Youth Day is a worldwide encounter with the Pope that is celebrated approximately every three years in a different country. It was instituted in 1985 by Pope St. John Paul II.
Pope Francis celebrated Mass with this year’s 1.5 million attendees on August 6 in Lisbon’s Tejo Park. His homily centered on the universality of the Church. In the Church there is room for “everyone, everyone, everyone” the Pope said. The crowds joined him in chanting, “todos, todos, todos.”
The theme of this year’s World Youth Day was the Visitation, when Mary, carrying the Incarnate Word in her womb, visited to her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with St. John the Baptist.
“What I saw among the young pilgrims in our pilgrim group, and among pilgrims from all over the world, was this spirit of the Visitation. Of a deep, even contemplative, love for Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament leading to encounters of shared faith, love, and understanding,” said Father Laroche.
Yudt is confident that the pilgrimage will leave a lasting impression. “We have several members leaving for college in a few weeks. When everyone else is partying, they can remember that they’re not alone in their faith. No, there was a whole city on fire for God.”
The trip was funded by donations from parishioners and the Knights of Columbus. Participants raised money through several fundraisers, including deep cleaning the Church after construction.
Every Wednesday evening, the St. Thomas More youth ministry hosts “Pickle and Adore,” consisting of a game of pickle ball followed by Adoration in the church. All high school students are welcome to attend. For more information, contact Allie Yudt at email@example.com.
OSV News Service Contributed to this story.