Wednesday, December 1, 2021
Jonathan Martinez - Florida Catholic
Photography: JONATHAN MARTINEZ | FC
MIAMI GARDENS | The inevitable Miami rainstorm didn’t put a damper on the first annual Archdiocesan World Youth Day celebration, held at St. Thomas University Nov. 20, 2021.
“Tonight is the Archdiocese of Miami’s response to Pope Francis’ call to each local church around the world to celebrate young people,” said Father Rafael Capo, vice president of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas University. “This is a celebration of faith, a moment of prayer and Eucharistic adoration, and we will also bless the archdiocesan pilgrim cross. This night will be a great celebration of faith.”
The event aimed to rally young people from around South Florida to get excited about World Youth Day, to be held Aug. 1-6, 2023, in Lisbon, Portugal. Typically, such rallies are held in the spring, but Pope Francis decided to issue the call for youths to assemble (high school students, youth group members, young adult ministry members, etc.) during the weekend when the Church celebrates the solemnity of Christ the King.
“I wanted to see what this was all about. I’ve never been to World Youth Day, but I’ve been to St. Thomas University before and I really wanted to see what was going on tonight,” said James Gendron, a senior at Msgr. Edward Pace High School who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood.
“If I get the chance to go (to World Youth Day), I definitely would do it,” he said. “I would like to see where the Lord guides me, where he sends me, where the Holy Spirit sends me to be at the right time and place.”
James was one of over 200 delegates from Catholic schools and parishes who gathered at St. Anthony’s Chapel on the university’s campus along with Miami Auxiliary Bishop Enrique Delgado. Originally planned as an outdoor event, organizers quickly pivoted to inside the chapel as the downpour began.
The event included an upbeat concert from Christian singers Agnes and Ivan Diaz, as well as the blessing of the WYD cross. The cross includes the logo of every past World Youth Day on the front. Logos from every place it visits will be added on the back.
“It will travel to all the Catholic schools, parishes, youth and young adult groups as a pilgrimage preparing for World Youth Day in Lisbon,” said Father Capo.
The cross does not journey alone; it is always accompanied by an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary — just as Christ himself was accompanied by his mother. The idea is that as the cross journeys from location to location to usher in World Youth Day, so does Mary greet pilgrims from every place in the archdiocese.
“I really wanted to come to spend time with the community and celebrate our faith,” said Amanda Charbonneau, a senior at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Miami who noted that “with the pandemic we hadn’t been able to celebrate as a community.”
She was one of five students from her high school who attended the event. “I would really like to go to World Youth Day, especially after this event,” she said.
She recalled that as a freshman, after her confirmation retreat, “I went on fire for the Lord. I had a transformation” and that led her to join The God-squad, a school religious club, and peer ministry. “Seeing the turnout tonight is amazing because it shows unity and helps to spread our faith. It’s exciting,” Amanda said.
As the celebration began, the flags representing the countries of those in attendance were brought inside the chapel along with banners from several ministries and parishes. The emcees — Sister Alexia Zaldivar of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and Eric Vasquez, a seminarian at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami — kept the energy high with cheers, singing, and prayers.
Andy Hernandez, a parishioner at St. Louis in Pinecrest, attended the event with his wife, Angie, and their children, including a daughter who attends Lourdes Academy and a son who attends Belen Jesuit. Their other children attend St. Louis Covenant School.
He said he hoped the Holy Spirit “rekindles and inspires (the young people) to reinvigorate and spread the Gospel when they get back to school.”
“We hope both our (older) children get the chance to go to World Youth Day so that they always discern and do God’s will and grow in their relationship with the Blessed Sacrament,” Hernandez added.
The event culminated with Eucharistic adoration and a blessing for all those in attendance.
“It’s great to be able to gather after the pandemic and a great witness to see so many young people. Despite the bad weather, they came with enthusiasm and joy,” said Sister Evelyn Maria del Amor Encarnado, a Servant of the Pierced Hearts and associate director of Campus Ministry at STU. “This is a response to an invitation from Pope Francis to the whole world, the universal Church, to have a global celebration of World Youth Day. We are honored to host this first celebration at the only archdiocesan university in south Florida and we look forward to other events to rally the youth.”
She added thanks to the Lilly Foundation, whose grant made the event possible.
World Youth Day is a worldwide encounter with the pope celebrated about every three years in a different country. The most recent one took place in Panama City, Panama in 2019.
High school students or young adults interested in joining the pilgrimage to WYD in Lisbon are encouraged to join the pilgrimage being organized by the Archdiocese of Miami’s Office of Youth and Young Adulty Ministry.
“The hope is that these young adults recognize that they are loved by God, they are called by the Lord and that they need to listen to what the Lord is asking of them as missionaries for the Church,” said Father Capo. “For those who get to go to Lisbon, they will experience the international character of the Church, the diversity, vibrancy, youthfulness, hope, and joy in the big festival of faith that World Youth Day is. Either they pilgrim in person or they follow the activities online or on social media. Everyone is invited to pray and celebrate.”
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