(SNR) - Several groups from the Diocese of Lincoln are preparing to send well more than 100 pilgrims to Spain for World Youth Day 2012.
This inspiring opportunity will bring hundreds of thousands of young Catholics together from all over the world for spiritual enrichment, including an address from Pope Benedict XVI.
The theme for this year’s World Youth Day is, "Rooted and built up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith," a sentiment based on Colossians 2:7.
The diocese’s Family Life Office has organized a group of 110, which includes high school and college students, adult chaperones and 12 priests. Another group has been organized through St. John the Apostle Church in Lincoln.
These pilgrims have been saving up, earning extra money, or participating in fundraisers to help collect the $3,600 or so each person will need to make the journey. At St. John the Apostle, high school students have worked together on a number of creative fundraising projects, including lock-ins for their junior-high counterparts and a March 20 concert featuring Ellen Soukup.
Their efforts are sure to reap a wonderful harvest. Father Matthew Eickhoff, director of the Family Life Office and pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Brainard, said previous trips to World Youth Day have had a profound influence on the young pilgrims who attend.
"I see the main effect as being the youth want to participate in significant ways in the life and mission of the church," he said. "And for some, that means a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. For others, it means just raising a very committed, holy family through the vocation of marriage."
World Youth Day was initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1985. Every two or three years, a diocese is selected to host the event.
Two years ago, pilgrims from the Diocese of Lincoln headed to Sydney, Australia. This summer, Madrid is the chosen site. Apart from Vatican City, which held the first two events, Spain is the first nation to host World Youth Day twice: 1989 and 2011.
Spain has a rich Catholic history that can be traced back to the apostles Paul and James, who evangelized that nation. Pope John Paul II called it the "Land of Mary" in deference to the devotion to Our Lady shared by so many locals. Spain has been the birthplace of many saints, martyrs and missionaries who shared Christ’s love throughout the world.
After leaving for World Youth Day Aug. 7, Father Eickhoff’s group will take a few days to see important pilgrimage sites in Spain and France.
They will begin in Barcelona, Spain, at La Sagrada Família, a famous neo-gothic basilica. After seeing some other shrines in the area, they will travel to Lourdes, France for a couple of days before journeying back to Spain to the home of St. Teresa of Ávila.
From Aug. 11-15, the Diocese of Lincoln pilgrims will participate in "Days in the Diocese," an opportunity for youth to experience the Spanish culture in a rich and authentic way.
"Days in the Diocese" includes various cultural activities, historical tours, celebrations, and opportunities for prayer and liturgy at the local shrines. The idea is to, "sow bonds of peace in the global village," according to Javier Igea, director of the program.
Following the "Days in the Diocese" concluding Mass Aug. 15, the feast day of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, the youth will join the opening activities of the WYD.
From the opening Mass Aug. 16 to the final Mass celebrated by Holy Father in person, young people will have daily catechesis sessions at locations across Madrid. Priests from all over the world will be hearing confession every day.
On Friday, Aug. 19, hundreds of thousands of youth will observe stations of the cross at Paseo de la Castellana. The next day, the pilgrims will gather for Evening Vigil with the pope.
Through it all, young people will have the opportunity to make connections with youth from other nations based on their shared face in Christ.
"It really solidifies what it means to be Catholic, and the meaning of the word ‘catholic,’ which is ‘universal,’" said Father Eikhoff.
"For all of the pilgrims," he concluded, "It means having a lifelong personal relationship with Jesus in addition to their connection with the wider Church community."