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South Floridians get a taste of World Youth Day

Prayer vigil at seminary concludes historic visit of WYD cross and icon to South Florida

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MIAMI | Archdiocesan Catholics got to experience World Youth Day last week. And they didn’t have to fly to be there or watch through screens a mile away. Give or take a million people, the evening prayer vigil at St. John Vianney College Seminary Aug. 22 felt just like the real thing.

About 300 young people filled a grassy field, flags waving to the music emanating from the stage. As the sun set, the cross and icon of World Youth Day were carried to a place of honor on the stage. Prayers, petitions and music intermingled with silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, amid a sea of lighted candles.

The best part: the WYD cross and icon were not far-off objects on the horizon but close-up relics everyone could touch and venerate. The cross — a gift from St. John Paul II to the young people of the world in 1984 — had stood beside St. Peter’s tomb in Rome throughout the Holy Year of Redemption, 1983 to 1984. The icon is a replica of the image of Our Lady of Salus Populi Romani — the Protectress of the Roman People — housed in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. The devotion dates back to 590 A.D. and St. Gregory the Great. John Paul II gave the replica to the youths of the world in 2003.

Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa of Panama leads participants in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament during the Aug. 22 prayer vigil with the WYD cross and icon.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa of Panama leads participants in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament during the Aug. 22 prayer vigil with the WYD cross and icon.

From left, Auxiliary Bishop Peter Baldacchino and Archbishop Thomas Wenski pray before the Blessed Sacrament at the Aug. 22 Wold Youth Day prayer vigil at St. John Vianney College Seminary.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

From left, Auxiliary Bishop Peter Baldacchino and Archbishop Thomas Wenski pray before the Blessed Sacrament at the Aug. 22 Wold Youth Day prayer vigil at St. John Vianney College Seminary.

Participants pray by candlelight at the conclusion of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, during the Aug. 22 World Youth Day prayer vigil at St. John Vianney College Seminary.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Participants pray by candlelight at the conclusion of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, during the Aug. 22 World Youth Day prayer vigil at St. John Vianney College Seminary.

Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa of Panama presided at the vigil. Giving South Floridians a taste of World Youth Day was exactly his purpose in accompanying the WYD cross and icon on its one-day visit to Miami — one of only five stops on a U.S. tour that last happened 25 years ago. After arriving here from Chicago, the cross went to Houston, then Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

 

ALL INCLUDED

“We know that many young people, especially immigrants, will not have the opportunity to encounter each other at World Youth Day in Panama,” he told the Florida Catholic . “We want to let them know that they too are included in this great youth festival that Pope Francis has convoked in Panama.”

Prior to the vigil, Archbishop Ulloa had celebrated Mass in the chapel of St. John Vianney Seminary, also with the cross and icon present. The Mass intention was for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the chapel was filled with seminarians, women religious, and novices and postulants from the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Auxiliary Bishop Peter Baldacchino, and Bishop Fernando Isern, emeritus of Pueblo, Colorado, concelebrated with Archbishop Ulloa and took part in the vigil, which followed the Mass and concluded around 10 p.m.

Also present were several South Florida priests, including those who staff the seminary and Father Rafael Capó, director of the U.S. bishops’ Southeast Regional Office for Hispanics. Father Capó works with the Pastoral Juvenil Hispana, a ministry to Spanish-speaking young adults, whose members helped prepare the vigil along with staff from the archdiocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

Members of Encuentros Juveniles, an archdiocesan movement for young people, also took part, helping especially with the care and transportation of the cross and icon.

 

OVER 12 FEET TALL

The cross consists of two plain wooden beams swith an inscription, but it stands over 12 feet tall. Each diocese must build its own stand for the cross, said Rosemarie Banich, archdiocesan director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. The icon comes with an easel. When boxed and readied for shipping, they weigh about 700 pounds altogether. They also have GPS tags attached and come with a 21-page set of instructions outlining the proper way to transport, ship, assemble, celebrate and care for them.

“It doesn’t come to the United States that often,” Banich said of the WYD cross. Aside from coming for World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, it only came one other time: to Ground Zero in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The self-described “Uber cross driver” was Encuentros Juveniles’ Mark Gomez, who attended World Youth Day in Poland in 2016.

“The last time I saw (the cross), it was up on the stage with the Holy Father right next to it, leading adoration and 1.5 million people gathered around. Seeing it this close is quite incredible,” he said during a mid-afternoon prayer rally at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens. (Click here for slide show of Pace event.) 

“I always thought what an honor it would be to carry it, and now I’m the one that’s bringing it around Miami,” Gomez told the Florida Catholic. “The cross will unite us all in prayer with those however-many-million young people will be there in Panama. It really is a blessing to have the cross here and the icon as well.”

 

SAME WOOD

Gomez’s brother, Father Matthew Gomez, currently parochial vicar at St. John Neumann Church in Miami and also a Poland 2016 veteran, stressed that point to the young people at Pace. “This cross was given to the young people, to the youth, by St. John Paul II. You will be touching the same wood that he touched, and that other youth have touched.”

In his homily at St. John Vianney, Panama’s Archbishop Ulloa said while standing before that cross, “just like you and me, millions of young people around the world have found strength… They have discovered that no one loves us more than Him.”

The archbishop noted the smallness of his homeland, and said Pope Francis chose the isthmus of Panama precisely because “of his faith in the little ones” — the hundreds of thousands of young people from Central America who might not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in a World Youth Day.

Archbishop Ulloa also reminded his listeners that young people “are not the future. You are the present,” poised to transform both the Church and the world.

Father Bryan Garcia, a veteran of two World Youth Days and administrator of St. Bernadette Parish in Hollywood, echoed that sentiment in his remarks to the teens at Pace High.

“I hate that phrase (youth are the future),” he said. “And I think that John Paul II would agree, because if you believe that you are the future, then what happens is you wait until tomorrow to do what you are called to do. We’re the present, brothers and sisters, which means that we have to give witness of who we are today. We can’t wait until the future.”

Freelancer Cristina Cabrera Jarro contributed to this report.

Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa of Panama poses for a photo with young people from South Florida who will be attending World Youth Day in Panama in January. Next to him are Father Bryan Garcia and, far right, Father Rafael Capo. Archbishop Ulloa, joined by Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Auxiliary Bishop Peter Baldacchino, Pueblo Bishop Emeritus Fernando Isern and priests from St. John Vianney Seminary and the archdiocese, celebrated Mass at the seminary the evening of Aug. 22 to pray for priests and religious. The Mass was followed by a vigil on the grounds of the seminary with the World Youth Day Cross and icon, attended by about 300 people.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa of Panama poses for a photo with young people from South Florida who will be attending World Youth Day in Panama in January. Next to him are Father Bryan Garcia and, far right, Father Rafael Capo. Archbishop Ulloa, joined by Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Auxiliary Bishop Peter Baldacchino, Pueblo Bishop Emeritus Fernando Isern and priests from St. John Vianney Seminary and the archdiocese, celebrated Mass at the seminary the evening of Aug. 22 to pray for priests and religious. The Mass was followed by a vigil on the grounds of the seminary with the World Youth Day Cross and icon, attended by about 300 people.

Corrected: To say Central America rather than Latin America in reference to Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa's quote about "the little ones" and the isthmus of Panama.

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