Just a few weeks before he left for World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, Brandon Lehner remembers that he was impressed by how many fans Target Field could hold. The 24-year-old software engineer multiplied that number by 50 as he watched the roughly 1.5 million pilgrims gather in a field for the overnight vigil Aug. 20 and papal Mass the following morning.
“That was kind of inspiring to see that that many people cared enough about their faith to make the trip and spend all the money and all the time to get to that spot with everyone else,” said Lehner, a member of St. Alphonsus in Brooklyn Center who attended World Youth Day for the first time as part of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ pilgrimage to the Aug. 16-21 event.
Time to grow
Lehner and other WYD attendees from the archdiocese said they were inspired by seeing Pope Benedict XVI, as well as the vast numbers of young Catholics from other countries who shared their faith. While they said the pilgrimage was challenging at times, local young adults found opportunities to grow spiritually and the inspiration to apply what they’ve learned in their daily life.
For Erin Phillips, a 25-year-old chemist who is a member of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, the highlight of WYD was being close to the Holy Father.
“I was about 10 feet away from Pope Benedict when he passed through for the opening Mass,” said Phillips, who previously attended WYD in Toronto in 2002. “I guess [what struck me was] just the power of his presence along with sort of this united group of international young people and just that whole interplay of we’re all here together for this common, [yet] very special event.”
Rachael Daschielle, 20, said she was surprised that so many people came without expecting anything in return. “I think it was really cool because people weren’t there to receive anything, like a gift or anything like that,” said Daschielle, who attends St. Alphonsus and the University of Minnesota.
Being around many others who have the same beliefs is encouragement to share your faith, Daschielle said. “It’s like: Be proud to be Catholic because there are so many other people who do believe the same things I do,” she said. “I think it really, like, just gave me a boost of confidence to really be the best Catholic that I can be.”
Being with other young Catholics made Lehner think about really living his faith, he said. “It just kind of made me rethink a lot of things about my faith and rethinking, ‘OK this is actually why I believe these things.’”
Tsining Dang, 20, who attends St. Vincent de Paul in St. Paul, said he appreciated seeing different cultures at WYD. “Honestly, it’s just a good event to go to because it really makes you see the greater picture of how many people all over the world in all the different cultures and ethnicities that believe . . . gathered together in one place,” said Dang, a student at Century College who attended WYD in Sydney, Australia in 2009.
The fact that things ran differently in a foreign country also helped him grow in patience. “We Americans are always on the go, always doing things,” Dang said. “Basically we don’t have time to actually make time for the Lord and make time for us to think and reflect upon our faith, so basically [we have] to have patience and tolerance.”
Marketing specialist Brittany Prokott, 24, said she appreciated the little things during the pilgrimage. While food and accommodations were not what she was used to, she said she was surprised at how strong she was. “With Jesus you really can do anything,” said Prokott, a St. Alphonsus parishioner who attended WYD for the first time.
Prokott encouraged those who can’t attend WYD to bring it’s spirit into their own lives through their parishes.
“Even though you’re not present with the pope right there, you can still celebrate your faith with a group of people in your home parish,” she said.
Anyone taking part in WYD should expect to come back changed by the experience, Phillips said.
“You have to expect to come back a [changed] person because there’s just not any way you can go and then come back without a different story to tell.”