August 19, 2005

Archdiocese’s World Youth Day pilgrims
visit Italy

Story and photos by Brandon A. Evans

ROME—There is so much to do in the Eternal City that a person could spend weeks here and not see it all.

Nevertheless, the 170 youths and adults from the archdiocese who spent five days in Italy before making their way to Cologne, Germany to celebrate World Youth Day 2005 with Pope Benedict XVI saw more than most people normally would in three days.

They are taking part in a pilgrimage from Aug. 10-22, which will conclude with a Mass celebrated by the pope for hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world on Aug. 21 in a field outside Cologne.

Their journey started with a chance to see the major sites of Rome, Vatican City and Assisi. (Click here to see a journal from the trip with many more pictures)

The first day was spent in Rome touring the ruins of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, but the highlight of the day was when the three groups of pilgrims—each comprised of approximately 50 people—who flew on separate flights out of the United States—came together for the first time at the final resting place of St. Paul—the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, who is leading the pilgrimage, celebrated Mass near the tomb of the Apostle. The reading from the New Testament was about the conversion of Paul.

Father Eric Johnson, vocations director for the archdiocese, delivered the homily, in which he exhorted the youths to remember, amidst the beautiful basilica and hurried events, to remember why they are taking part in the pilgrimage.

“The reason that we’re here—the reason that we’re all here—is to encounter God, is to encounter Jesus, and to come away from that encounter forever changed,” Father Johnson said.

The next morning, the pilgrims boarded buses for a three-hour trip to Assisi—the hometown of both St. Francis and St. Clare. The pilgrims started the day there by celebrating Mass in the Basilica of St. Francis.

Father Robert Robeson, director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, gave the homily, in which he held up St. Francis as a model.

“Many would say that St. Francis is the closest thing to Jesus Christ that humanity ever produced,” Father Robeson said. “He was a man who loved everything as God’s own creation.”

This pilgrimage, he said, ought to be a statement about our love for Christ. He urged the youths to make the most of being in such a holy place.

Though the quick visit to Assisi was interrupted by a torrential rain, even the briefest time there tends to leave a lasting mark on people.

For Laura Knueven, a junior at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, the city reminded her of everything that she thinks of when she thinks of Italy.

“I loved going to Assisi,” Knueven said. “It was a beautiful city. And I just think the life that St. Francis lived was incredible.”

She said that she enjoyed seeing all the beautiful artwork and history in Italy.

“It’s just been a completely new experience,” she said of her first trip overseas.

This pilgrimage is also the first time that Pierce Ebinger, a senior at Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg and a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Osgood, has gone to Europe.

He said the highlight of the pilgrimage for him so far was singing with a few other youths in a choir for the Mass that Archbishop Buechlein celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica on the day after the trip to Assisi.

“It was amazing—I can’t even put it into words,” Pierce said.

The Mass at St. Peter’s was offered at the large altar directly behind the main altar (at which only the pope can celebrate eucharistis liturgies). The archbishop said this was the first time he had celebrated Mass at that altar and added that it was a rare privilege, especially for a pilgrimage group.

During the homily, the archbishop encouraged the young people not only to remember the difference that one person can make in the world, but also to remember that we each need to be holy people whose lives exert that “power of one.”

But the grace required to do that—to become a saint—seems at times to be lacking, especially when things don’t go according to plan.

Besides scheduling difficulties and hurried tours, two people didn’t make it to the bus in Assisi for nearly an hour, and more than 20 members of one tour group got separated at the Forum and were “lost” for a couple of hours before using the subway to get to the next touring site.

“This is a pilgrimage and there’s no use getting upset about stuff—things are going to happen, they always do on trips like this,” said Julianne Brown, a home-schooled senior and member of Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis.

For her, the reason to attend World Youth Day was not only the opportunity to gather with the pope, but also to see so many young people of the same faith gathered there from all over the world.

Julianne has been to France and Italy before, and said that this pilgrimage was different because she was there “with a huge group and everybody was there for the same reason—and I think that that made the experience so much better.”

In the last Mass before leaving Rome, Father Jonathan Meyer, associate director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, reminded the youth to be grateful for those who helped make their trip possible.

Many parishes organized fundraisers and other events to help cover the cost of the trip.

“One parishioner from our church anonymously donated one trip for a person, and then our youth group donated it for a second person,” Pierce said.

One of several teens to submit an essay, Pierce was chosen to go on the pilgrimage.

He is now looking forward to practicing the German he’s learned during the past three years in high school.

Before leaving Italy for Germany, Father Meyer cautioned the youths that things may get harder in the coming days. He told them they may have to embrace the cross and they should ask God for the grace to get them through the difficulties so that much good will come out of the pilgrimage.

With nearly a million people planning to attend the youth rally to Cologne, the fun has only just begun.

(For more information about the World Youth Day pilgrimage and more pictures, log on to


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