(SNR) - For the last two years, young people from all over the world – including those from the Diocese of Lincoln – scraped together dollars, holding fundraisers and taking on extra jobs, in order to pay for a trip to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Organizers prepare for massive crowds who come not just to see the Pope Francis, but also to interact with other Catholics around the globe, serve in missions work and even do some sightseeing.
Diocesan Youth Coordinator Jeff Schinstock led a group of 50 to World Youth Day, including 36 students, seven priests and other adult chaperones.
"It was fabulous," he said after returning to Lincoln. "This was the warmest and most inviting country I have ever experienced."
Schinstock said World Youth Day is a significant event for young people because, "It gives them an incredible experience of prayer and a better understanding of the universality of the Church."
Student pilgrims agreed.
"The most inspiring part was seeing millions of Catholics from around the world celebrating our faith," said Katie Baumert of St. John the Apostle Parish in Lincoln. Baumert will be a senior at Pius X High School in Lincoln.
Emilee Smith, of St. Patrick Parish in Manley, added, "When I thought about how we were all there because of our Catholic faith, it helped me to realize how strong and united the Church is."
Smith elected to spend her summer between graduating from Lourdes Central Catholic High School in Nebraska City and heading off to Kansas State University at World Youth Day because she’d seen how her friends had been transformed by attending World Youth Day in Madrid two years ago.
"I knew they had experienced something great that I definitely wanted to be a part of," Smith said.
Joseph Allen of St. Mary Parish in Nebraska City, a recent graduate of Lourdes Central, said he was impressed with the vast number of people who traveled on bad roads, hitchhiked or walked for miles just to see the pope.
"For them, as for all of us, this was not a vacation," he said. "It was truly a spiritual journey, and the physically demanding aspects of it made the pilgrimage even more worthwhile and gratifying."
Allen will be taking memories of this pilgrimage to St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward this autumn as a first-year seminarian.
Sharon DeWispelare of St. Mary Parish in David City has seen the impact of World Youth Day on her five children as well as many other youth as she chaperoned groups to events in Toronto, Canada; Cologne, Germany; Sidney, Australia; Madrid, Spain, and now Rio with her youngest, Lizzy.
"She’s very into doing the Magnificat books for morning and evening prayers, and on the way home [from Rio], she asked if she could have a subscription of her own to keep up with those prayers," DeWispelare said.
She and her husband Ron first learned about World Youth Day when their oldest was heading to the event in Canada.
"That was really close, and it wasn’t really a hardship to go," she said.
As each of their children became old enough to attend a World Youth Day event, she and her husband, Ron, told the kids that if they worked to pay for the trip themselves, they were welcome to go.
DeWispelare also decided to go along as one of the much-needed adult chaperones.
"The chaperones can gain just as much faith-building as the kids do," DeWispelare said. "I find it a great time to offer prayers for people back home and for loved ones who have died."
She cautioned students and parents not to look at this as a vacation, but as a pilgrimage. And like all pilgrimages, any given World Youth Day has its share of hardships as well as glorious moments. With massive numbers of people converging on one city, there are definitely long lines and coordination issues.
Bishop James D. Conley also went on the trip to spend some quality time with young members of the diocese, including two new seminarians, as well as to provide updates for the National Catholic Register. He said he was impressed with the diocesan coordinators: Jeff Schinstock, Father Matthew Eickhoff and all the volunteers and parents.
"This was my sixth World Youth Day, and I’ve led a couple groups myself, but this Lincoln group had every detail covered," he said. "It just made it a wonderful experience."
He added, "Our young people are just so impressive… I was so encouraged and hopeful."
Smith said the feeling was mutual. "I loved getting to spend time with Bishop Conley in Rio, especially at Copacabana Beach!"
Now coordinators, chaperones and youth have two years to start planning for the next World Youth Day, which will be held in Krakow, Poland in 2016.
"Can’t wait!" Schinstock exclaimed.
Emilee Smith said she is definitely planning to attend, and Joe Allen said he’d love to take his younger sister along.
As for the DeWispelares, the kids have suggested that they all go to Poland together, as a sort of family reunion, with a side trip to the Czech Republic to learn more about their heritage.
"I said, ‘As long as you pay for it, that’s fine,’" DeWispelare said with a chuckle.