Local pilgrims eager for World Youth Day in Panama

| January 18, 2019 | 0 Comments
Father Ivan Sant, right, the pastor of St. Bernard in St. Paul, prays a blessing over those who are planning to go to World Youth Day in Panama

Father Ivan Sant, right, the pastor of St. Bernard in St. Paul, prays a blessing over those who are planning to go to World Youth Day in Panama Jan. 22-27. Next to him is Father Joseph Kureh. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

World Youth Day in January works well for University of St. Thomas students Katie Duncan and Leo Kaardal.

Neither St. Thomas senior took classes this month, and they’re joining 26 other pilgrims, including Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, in a group from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis going to Panama Jan. 22-27. Normally held in the summer, World Youth Day is in January this year to work around Panama’s rainy season.

“I’m really looking forward to being able to meet people from all over the world,” Duncan said. “I think that it will be a really great time to learn about other cultures and how other people express their faith.”

In addition to the archdiocesan group, a multi-parish Latino group of 25 based out of St. Stephen in Minneapolis is going. St. Bernard in St. Paul will have a group of 35.

The pilgrims will join hundreds of thousands of young people ages16-35 from around the world to celebrate the Catholic faith with Pope Francis. World Youth Day began in the 1980s with St. John Paul II. It takes place every two or three years as a way for young people to join the pope and experience the universality of the Church.

“That becomes very real. It’s a not just a thing that you learn in the textbooks,” said John Sondag, director of religious education at St. Helena in Minneapolis, who will lead the archdiocesan group.

Sondag has been to every World Youth Day since Denver hosted it in 1993, except for the Philippines in 1995. It won’t be the first World Youth Day for Kaardal either; he went to Brazil in 2013. He said looks forward to experiencing the universality of the Church again.

Whether he gets as close to Pope Francis as he did in 2013 remains to be seen. The motorcade with the pope passed by surprisingly close him at the closing Mass, Kaardal said.

“That was pretty cool because I wasn’t expecting to get the actual look at the pope,” he said. “I thought more so it would be on the [giant video] screen.”

A member of the St. Stephen group, Maria Sinchi, said it will be her first World Youth Day. She sees the opportunity as a pilgrimage to grow in faith with fellow Latino young adults and give back to their communities when they return.

“It’s a once-in-lifetime opportunity, especially going with people that I know and that I’ve grown in faith with,” said Sinchi, who is taking time off from her job to attend. “It’s just an amazing way to grow in faith with others [and] others’ experiences and how they came to be Catholics and why they are Catholics, especially with the [clergy sex abuse] crisis going on right now.”

Archdiocesan group chaperone and Visitation School religion teacher Mary McClure also will miss work as she goes to World Youth Day for the first time. A student from the Mendota Heights all-girls Catholic school will also be attending.

“I love the variety, just appealing to other people … living in another part of the world,” McClure said.

Duncan sees the January date as a way the pope “is expanding World Youth Day to different parts of the world so that it’s accessible for more people.”

Duncan, who also works part-time for the archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life, became interested in World Youth Day after working on multiple Archdiocesan Youth Day events. She said the local youth day tries to “simulate” World Youth Day on a smaller, local level.

“I think that whenever we’re taken out of our element, whenever we’re taken out of a place that we’re comfortable, it’s a lot easier to be open to what the Lord is speaking to us and what he’s trying to give us,” Duncan said.

World Youth Day will include catechetical sessions in various languages, Stations of the Cross and liturgies with the pope. Pilgrimage sites include Casco Viejo, a historic district with many old churches that date to the 1600s, and Panama Viejo, the original capital founded on the feast of the Assumption in 1519.

“I think it will be a great boost to the Church in Panama,” McClure said. “Anytime a city is so generous to host an event like that … I think the grace of the generosity will come back to them.”

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