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BY CHRIS KUDIALIS
I’ve had the honor this week of speaking with and learning about the role of Catholicism in the lives of WYD volunteers and pilgrims from all over the world. Although these individuals and groups can’t have the novels they deserve, I’ve included a little bit about who they are, where they’re from, some goals for the week, and something that makes them unique.
Lorenzo Cannon, 21, from Philadelphia, PA, is attending World Youth Day for the first time in 2013. Though his relatives and friends have attended previous WYDs, Lorenzo was called this summer to join a group of 20 other Philadelphia pilgrims from around the archdiocese. “I decided it was my time,” he said. “I’m on a journey to push myself spiritually.” A rising senior at Full Sail University in Florida, White’s 21st birthday was Thursday of WYD.
From La Universidad Francisco Vitroia in Madrid, Spain, Father Justo Gomez and Alejandro Rodriguez, 20, were among a group of 22 pilgrims working in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and volunteering in Rio’s drug addiction counseling centers. “It was a humbling reality,” said Rodriguez of his experience. “When someone lives their faith, they help other people,” added Gomez. “That’s the love that Pope Francis refers to. There are no barriers to service and love.”
Waving a black and white striped flag with a red and blue logo in the corner with yellow stars, Mauricio (front, right) and his group of nine pilgrims aren’t representing a foreign country, but a nearby city. The group hails from Paróquia São Miguel Arcanjo (St. Michael the Archangel Church) in Sao Paulo, Brazil. After driving nearly five hours on Sunday afternoon, the youth are staying in hostels through Sunday night. All nine group members, age 18-22, are attending WYD for the first time.
Dennica Fernando, a 22-year-old rising senior at San Jose State University, and Sr. Jeanette Kong, 34, come from a group of 23 Bay Area Californians representing the Oakland Diocese. Fernando, attending WYD for the first time this year, had her sights set on attending WYD since she first heard about it in 2008. “I’m incredibly blessed this time around to have the sponsorship of my family and friends,” she said. “And I want this to be a transforming experience.” After WYD, the group will travel to other Brazilian cities to do mission work. “It’s a complete immersion experience,” said Kong.
Representing South Korea, Bong Gi Choi (third from right), 15, and Father Ji Young Song (second from right), 31, are part of six pilgrims from Paróquia São Kim Degun (St. Kim Degun Parish) in São Paulo. Most of the group’s members are first-generation Brazilians, and others are immigrants from South Korea. The group’s youth, aged 15, 16, and 17, cited the exchange of small gifts with international youth as one of their favorite parts of the week. “We’re sharing our culture with other countries of the world,” said Choi. As part of living an authentic pilgrimage, the group’s members slept on the floor in local Rio de Janeiro elementary schools. “We have so many good things in our lives,” said Song. “It’s humbling for us to do this, and it helps us to appreciate our blessings.”
With just a week to speak with WYD pilgrims and volunteers, it seemed like a short time to really get to know people and understand their journey to Rio. It’s my hope that with an increasingly large international media coverage of WYD, that more of the three million WYD participants had the chance to share their stories, too.
Chris Kudialis is a Register correspondent. He writes from Rio.