IN AUGUST OF 2010, Pope Benedict XVI gave this hope-filled message to young Catholics about their participation in World Youth Day (WYD) in Madrid on August 16-21, 2011.

“The Church depends on you! She needs your lively faith, your creative charity and the energy of your hope. Your presence renews, rejuvenates and gives new energy to the Church. That is why World Youth Days are a grace, not only for you, but for the entire People of God.”

The following young Catholics are bringing that energy to 2011’s World Youth Day.

St. Anthony Messenger wanted to know what these young people did to prepare for the trip, what they hope to gain from it and how their faith will be deepened by their journey.

These are their stories.

Pumped About the Journey

So here’s the lowdown: I’m going to Spain! Getting ready for this adventure of a lifetime has brought on many headaches, worries and great experiences. It started back in August 2010. I quit volleyball so I would have an open summer in 2011 to spend in Spain.

The weeks came and went, and I started fund-raising. Then, in September, I came home to my mother and father crying. Dad got laid off work—our main source of income was gone. My pilgrimage to Spain was in jeopardy. Well, God had a plan, like always. Dad got a job and so did I! I got a steady part-time job at my town’s Subway restaurant.

I’m excited to go to Spain for a myriad of reasons. I’m pumped to see where my relationship with God is when I get back. Will it be stronger? I hope so! What about the relationships with the others? Two weeks together could be interesting!

Through this experience, I learned a lot about saving money and what is really important in life, along with communication skills with other people. I pray for the best on our pilgrimage and that everyone makes it there and home safely.

Bethany Huelskamp, 17
Versailles, OH

A Family Affair

I’ve been blessed to see Pope Benedict XVI three times in recent years: once in St. Peter’s Square (when I was 18); once at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (when I was 20); and once at The Catholic University of America (also 20). Each time was incredibly moving.

I remember when Pope Benedict XVI spoke at The Catholic University of America. The university played a video with images of him as we waited. When the words “His Holiness the Pope, Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Jesus Christ; Successor of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles; Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church; Servant of the Servants of God” flashed across the screen, I burst into happy tears!

My sister, Carley (16), is attending World Youth Day with me. Three years ago, I was her Confirmation sponsor, and I feel this pilgrimage is an extension of my duties: helping
her to realize that the Church is alive, young, energized and faithful! It is a blessing to have her at my side, and I know that, as we grow closer to Jesus, we will grow closer to each other as well.

Trista Garttner, 23
Garden City, NY

Moments of Grace

I just finished my freshman year at Xavier University (XU), and am one of five students chosen through an application process to represent our school in Madrid this summer. XU has never before sent a group to WYD, so I, along with Jim Riordan, S.J., a staff member in campus ministry, have been working hard this past semester to plan the trip. This trip is officially one of the projects of the student-run Catholic Identity Team at XU, which aims to strengthen Xavier’s Jesuit, Catholic identity. As such, one of our big goals for World Youth Day is to be able to bring back our experiences to campus in the fall and allow World Youth Day to touch as many people back home as it can.

We have been amazed at all the ways we’ve been blessed even in just the planning of the trip. We got a little bit of a late start, and in a couple of months had the challenge of raising all the money and figuring out travel logistics. By the grace of God, however, we have raised over our fund-raising goal through the generous contributions of pastors, friends and groups in the XU community.

We’ve known all along that if this trip was to be a reality we’d need lots of prayers. Incredibly, many things have worked out. We weren’t sure what our lodging situation was going to be. Jim had a connection at the Jesuit residence in Madrid, however, and they are allowing us to stay with them for the week.

Then when trying to arrange flights, we were told initially by the travel agent that there were no flights out of Madrid on the 22nd or the evening of the 21st. School for Xavier begins on the 23rd, so we were going to have to miss either that first day or the papal Mass the morning of the 21st (which, of course, would have been a great disappointment!). Then somehow we found a flight package that would allow us to stay for the papal Mass, leave on the 22nd and be back in time for school.

Certainly, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one that will ultimately be difficult to put into words (as so many moments of grace are).

Elizabeth Rahner, 20
Cincinnati, OH

‘Future Full of Hope’

I am from a small town in central Illinois called Henry. I have lived here almost all of my life.

Since the first time I heard about WYD, I have been dreaming of going. In order to raise money, I have been saving the money I have earned from working as a groundskeeper for a senior citizen housing project. Most of the money that I have received as gifts has also been saved. I have been brought up by parents who taught me to save more than I spend.

I haven’t met anyone in the group that I am going with. Before our group attends the WYD events, we will be going on a five-day Camino, so I have been going on three-mile walks in order to train for the pilgrimage. After WYD, our group is going to Fatima.

I really don’t know what to expect from this trip because I have only been told what it’s like. I guess I expect this trip to be a life-changing one, considering our faith is the largest in the world and I’ve only seen a small side of it.

It will be amazing to see people from all walks of life and almost every country who have one thing in common—their faith. I hope to gain an increased and renewed respect for my Catholic faith. I also hope to gain a better sense of clarity on where Christ is calling me to go and what he wants of me.

Jeremiah 29:11 says: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope.” I think seeing Pope Benedict XVI and visiting the places where Mary appeared will change how often I pray.

I hope it will show what the world could be if we just get out of the way and let God take control!

Zach Bischler, 18
Henry, IL

Caffeinated Spirituality

As an avid traveler and devout Catholic, I’ve always wanted to do WYD. I believe, however, that God has waited until just the right time in my life to present the opportunity to attend this famous gathering of young Catholics.

I have recently experienced several transitions in my life: college graduation, moving to a new city, living on my own, discovering a truly loving relationship, as well as
finding a group of great Catholic friends.

While on this path, God has revealed something very basic about how our faith spreads: It begins with young people—those who have chosen to be devout followers of Christ and raise their children according to the loving guidance of the Holy Mother Church. These have been the ones who are impacting our world with the most good.

Thankfully, our parish priest, Father Jonathan Meyer, understands because he has promised that any young person in Jennings County, Indiana, who has felt the call to go to WYD would get to go with at least half the cost paid for by fund-raising efforts. To that end, he has donated his car for us to raffle off.

It has been a tremendous amount of work for our group to sell raffle tickets after every Mass, send out letters of appeal, plan a festival and sell CDs of the Holy Rosary. I have found myself frustrated by some people’s indifference to our efforts, but I try to remember why I’m standing in the rain with a tri-fold poster board, raffle tickets and a smile after several Masses each weekend. WYD is a spiritual pilgrimage—not a Spanish vacation!

The population in Jennings County, Indiana—which I still travel to for fund-raising efforts—is about 10 percent Catholic, and that 10 percent needs some spiritual caffeine. We need a revival. Our new group has come together as its own little community to work together toward a common good, even if we don’t always see eye-to-eye—just like a real family!

I believe that God will help us attain our goals in Madrid if we go with open, prayerful hearts. This will change the world for good, even within our own homes. That goodness will shine out
into our community.

I praise God for allowing me to go to WYD. This is about community and catholicity, not just about good wine and the bragging rights of having seen the pope. (It’s only partly about the bragging rights.)

Laura Coons, 23
Louisville, KY

A Positive Outlook

I am thrilled and blessed to be able to attend this trip to WYD in Madrid. My older brother attended WYD in Germany in 2005. This is when the idea of someday going touched my heart.

About a year and a half ago, our youth minister, Mike Meyer, brought up WYD to the students at St. Denis Church. I was instantly interested. Soon after, I went to a meeting for all those interested in participating.

At the time, I hadn’t even considered the cost. Raising enough money for this trip was going to be a struggle. We held countless fund-raisers, including chicken dinner sales and golf tournaments.

I hope to have a completely awesome experience with this trip. I have never been on a pilgrimage with Our Lord before, so I am hoping to find it very fulfilling when it comes to my relationship with him. I also hope to cultivate long-lasting relationships with the fellow teammates attending WYD. I hope that I can come back to America and share my stories with friends and family.

I believe that this will strengthen my faith. Some unexpected things could happen that will lead me to trust and follow God in a deeper way than I have experienced. I think if I walk into this trip with a positive attitude, I will walk out of it with an even stronger faith.

Andrea Schmitmeyer, 17
Versailles, OH

‘Firm in the Faith’

My first WYD experience comes to mind daily as I look at the small wooden cross necklace I received and the framed picture of Blessed John Paul II that I snapped as he smiled at me a few feet away in the middle of Toronto—both of which sit on my desk at work.

Nine years ago I was weeks away from my freshman year of college. A WYD encounter with a million young Catholics and with the Holy Father fueled my love of the Catholic faith.

Nearly a decade later, I see the fruit of that week with strangers in the middle of a Toronto field. The Holy Spirit has continued to work in my heart, leading me to fulltime ministry with teenagers in Cincinnati. And so for my third WYD, I will embark upon the journey with tremendous excitement and curiosity for how the Lord will work in the lives of the young people with whom I am traveling.

Who will they meet? How will they react when they see the pope? What crazy adventures will they experience while praying in the overnight vigil before the final day? How will Madrid impact their lives?

Perhaps this is the most exciting component of WYD: the inability to predict the fruits given to those who have sacrificed a week or two in order to open their hands and hearts more generously to all the Lord wishes them to receive.

As a chaperone of several teenagers who are bubbling with enthusiasm about the trip, I have the blessing of watching the transformation of their hearts and minds. What a tremendous gift to spend a week celebrating the Catholic faith with young people from around the world! And how can we begin to predict the ways in which the Lord will work in our lives during and after the trip?

A couple months before we depart, we will have a one-day retreat to prepare us for the pilgrimage. Knowing that an authentic WYD experience is born in prayer, we are striving to unite our prayers before the plane ever takes off, trusting God’s plan for our pilgrimage to Madrid.

When we arrive across the ocean, we will be ready to wonder in joy at how the Lord will allow us to be “planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith.”

Emily Bissonnette, 27
Cincinnati, OH

World Youth Day, Franciscan Style

DON MILLER, O.F.M., vocation director at St. John the Baptist Province in Cincinnati, Ohio, will be attending World Youth Day with three others to run a “Franciscan Village” for vocation purposes
and to meet Franciscans from around the world.

Father Miller shares some of his thoughts about this upcoming journey.

As a leader, what do you anticipate?

An exciting experience with young people who are turned on to the faith. The Franciscan Village is going to include Third Order sisters and brothers and secular Franciscans as well, so the students who come around are going to get an experience of the international flavor of Franciscanism.

What is it about young people’s faith that inspires you?

The simplicity as well as the sincerity of it. Studies show that most young adults don’t care about religion. It’s not that they’re anti-religious or anti-Church; they just don’t care. So here’s a bunch of young people who are turned on by the Church and faith. This is a chance for us to support that and witness to that.

Why do you think World Youth Day is so effective in engaging young people and deepening their faith?

Young Catholics are going to be learning as well as experiencing and expressing their faith, and meeting fellow young people from around the world. Hopefully, they’ll see other expressions of the faith besides the way we do it in the United States.

If there’s a good, international flavor there, they’re being exposed to Catholicism in a much broader context.

What would St. Francis say about World Youth Day?

Francis would be happy to see that we’re interested in young people’s faith. He was certainly interested in people growing in their faith. Applying it to youth is something he’d be very much in favor of. Francis would appreciate the universality and intercultural aspect of World Youth Day. He’d see it as worthwhile.



God bless our youth! Not all the reflections we received could fit into this article. To read more from participants of this year’s World Youth Day in Madrid—including on-site reporting from the event—go