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

By Tom Tracy

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 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

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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