Young adults make ‘deep dive’ into faith during ‘ad limina’ visit

| Cindy Wooden | January 16, 2020 | 0 Comments

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis talks with a group of young adults after concelebrating Mass with U.S. bishops at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome Jan. 15. Young adults from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Diocese of New Ulm and the Diocese of Bismarck, N.D., accompanied U.S. bishops from North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota on their “ad limina” visits to Rome. CNS

Mychael Schilmoeller and her unborn child received a special blessing from Pope Francis Jan. 15 as she traveled with 24 other young adults accompanying Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens on their “ad limina apostolorum” in Rome.

While the bishops with fellow bishops in Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota met the pope Jan. 13, the young pilgrims met him two days later after the pope’s weekly general audience. Two young men with the group came bearing white zucchetti — the papal skullcaps — and the pope put each on his head, then handed it back as a souvenir.

Schilmoeller, 33, the pastoral care minister at St. Michael in Prior Lake, Minnesota, received special attention from Pope Francis when he noticed her belly and asked her when her baby is due. She told him, “St. Patrick’s Day,” and he blessed her unborn baby and gently touched her.

“I don’t usually like people touching me, but it was a beautiful blessing,” she said.

Mychael Schilmoeller at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome Jan. 15. CNS

Supporting and supported by their bishops, the 25 young adults from Minnesota and North Dakota, women and men, single and married, ages 21-35 flew to Rome with the bishops of Region VIII, who are required by church law to make the “ad limina” visits to pray at the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul and to meet with the pope and top Vatican officials.

Many dioceses offer pilgrimages to coincide with their bishops’ “ad limina” visits, but the Region VIII trip was different: Young adults were invited last May to apply to make the trip either by providing a letter of recommendation from someone who would attest to their leadership in evangelization or by writing a short essay on how Christ has worked through others to draw them closer to him.

Schilmoeller said the bishops’ invitation to young adults to join them for the “ad limina” is “a sign of hope, a sign of a willingness to listen to young people, a willingness to change some things, perhaps.”

Vincenzo Randazzo of the Office of Evangelization of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis came up with the idea for the pilgrimage and presented it to Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who, he said, responded, “Let’s do it.”

“I want everything we do to be an effort to evangelization,” Randazzo told Catholic News Service. If the pilgrimage simply had a first-come-first-served sign-up policy, “we’d get the choir,” instead of a mix of young adults who are or potentially are evangelizers of their peers.

Will Herrmann, a 30-year-old computer programmer and member of St. Bonaventure parish in Bloomington, Minnesota, was the newest Catholic in the group. He entered the church last Easter.

Although he was surprised to be chosen for the pilgrimage, he said he applied because “I wanted to dive into the deep end of my faith.”

Speaking to CNS near the tomb of St. Paul, he said, “I feel like I married into this family and now I’m meeting the relatives — the saints.”

One thing the pilgrims have in common, Randazzo said, is how much of their time is spent online, including when seeking information about the faith.

As opposed to that “virtual reality,” Randazzo said, “Rome has lots of stuff” with art and architecture and the actual places where Sts. Peter and Paul and a host of other saints lived, died and were buried.

Another pilgrim, Mary Evinger, 29, the director of religious education at St. Joseph’s parish in Williston, North Dakota, is planning to bring high school students to Rome precisely for that reason.

“They’re just on their screens, and just seeing an image isn’t the same,” she said. “You don’t get that awe of being there.”

“Being there” — in the basilicas, the Vatican Museums, the Colosseum — was a big motivator for Evinger to apply for the pilgrimage, she said. But she also wanted to be with the region’s bishops and with Pope Francis.

Organizing the pilgrimage was part of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ ongoing response to young adults who wrote Archbishop Hebda an open letter in 2018 about what they want from the church, the archbishop told CNS.

The youthful pilgrims, the archbishop said, told the bishops they were making the pilgrimage “to pray for Pope Francis and then to pray for their bishops.”

Most of the pilgrims already have completed university and are “trying to figure out where they are in the church now that they are working and living on their own,” he said. They want to know where God is calling them to serve.

“It’s no secret that one of the things that the church, at least in the United States, struggles with is young people drifting at times,” Archbishop Hebda said, so when the region’s bishops met Pope Francis, they assured him “there also were young people who were very much involved in the church, who loved him and certainly the way he articulates his ministry.”

Randazzo said it is easy for Catholics to notice the scandals and the problems afflicting the church, but “it takes courage to recognize God is doing something incredible,” and the growing faith of many young adults is one of those things.


Pilgrim mom: Papal blessing for unborn baby ‘a good way to start a life’

Mychael Schilmoeller said that she was “extremely surprised” by Pope Francis’ attention to the pilgrimage group — which included the blessing for her unborn baby girl.

“We’re one group, I’m one person,” she told The Catholic Spirit by phone Jan. 15. “I was just kind of overwhelmed with his kindness and enthusiasm. He has a huge smile, and he was smiling through the whole blessing. That was really wonderful to experience and look at him, but also to realize this wonderful gift he’s given to us.”

The pope extended the blessings to the pilgrims’ families. For Schilmoeller, that includes her husband and their 13-year-old daughter, who remained in Minnesota.

“He was very generous with his time toward us,” she said of Pope Francis meeting the group.

The pilgrimage is Schilmoeller’s first time in Italy, and when she learned of the possibility to go, she thought, “what an opportunity to experience Rome in the most unbelievable way.”

“The whole time it’s been incredible having priests and bishops as our tour guides, basically, and being able to do all these amazing experiences that no tourist would ever experience, and certainly very few pilgrims would,” she said. “It’s been quite the experience.”

The papal blessing may have made up for one disappointment: not being able to go on the Scavi tour of the excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica because of the Vatican’s concerns about humidity and mold. Instead, she climbed 561 steps to the top of St. Peter’s cupola, where she got a bird’s eye view of Rome.

She was, however, able to join the rest of the pilgrims and all of the bishops from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota for Mass Jan. 13 at the tomb of St. Peter, in the lower level of St. Peter’s Basilica.

“That was really profound and special,” she said.

One of her favorite experiences was Mass in a small chapel in Assisi, home to Sts. Francis and Clare.

“That was really beautiful, the way voices echoed off the stone,” she said.

She acknowledged the night of Jan. 15 that the experience of the pope’s blessing had yet to sink in, but she was deeply grateful for it.

“This baby is already blessed,” she said. “It’s a good way to start a life.”

— Maria Wiering

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