World Youth Day 2023.

Fatima and World Youth Day: Let us journey together, united in prayer

On Friday, July 28, I will be traveling with a group of young people and chaperones, seminarians, and priests, representing our diocese at World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon, Portugal. Pope St. John Paul II established World Youth Day in 1985. Since then, young Catholics from all over the world gather with the Holy Father every two to three years, coming together in prayer, fellowship, catechetical sessions, and in a joyful celebration of faith. I had the privilege of attending my first WYD in Denver, Colo., in 1993, after my first year in the major seminary. It was a very important moment that helped me to discern my vocation and grow in my appreciation of the “universality” of our Catholic faith. It was also an opportunity to witness Pope St. John Paul II interact and pray with hundreds of thousands of young people, seeming to inspire and speak to the heart of each and every one of them.

I also had the grace of attending World Youth Days in Cologne, Germany (in 2005) and Sydney, Australia (2008), both led by Pope Benedict XVI, during the years that I served as vocation director in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Those two pilgrimages gave me the opportunity to see youth and young adults have similar experiences to those I had had as a young adult in 1993. One of the reasons that I mention all of this is to ask for prayers for all those who will be traveling to WYD during the next two weeks.

For those who will not be (physically) traveling with us to WYD, I would like to invite you to accompany us on a “pilgrimage of prayer.” To learn more about the events and schedule for “World Youth Day 2023,” you can go to the official website. There is also a very good (3-minute) video that you can find on the official site or here.

There is an additional blessing to the choice of Lisbon, Portugal, as the host city for WYD 2023. When, God-willing, our group arrives in Lisbon on Saturday, July 29, we will almost immediately board buses for a trip to Fatima, the sight of the apparitions of our Blessed Mother to three peasant children in 1917. In preparation for our pilgrimage, I have been doing some reading about the apparitions and the “Message of Fatima.” I read an excellent book, The Miracle and the Message, by John C. Preiss, and I am currently reading Fatima for Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope, by Father Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R. I would highly recommend either or both of these books, especially for those who may have “heard of Fatima” or heard things about Our Lady of Fatima and the “Message of Fatima,” but may not be aware of some of the details, history, or some other important aspects of what Our Lady asked for at the time of the apparitions and what she continues to “ask,” from each of us. The message of Our Lady of Fatima continues to be relevant and can inspire and challenge us to strive to live our faith and spiritual lives to the fullest.

It was during my reading and reflecting on “Fatima” that I realized I could offer this “invitation” to the readers of this column and to all the faithful in the diocese. We believe that we can truly “accompany” one another on a particular journey and/or on the journey of our day-to-day lives, even when we cannot be physically close to one another. We can “spiritually accompany one another,” in an “intentional” way, when we offer specific intentions in prayer.

During this special time of pilgrimage under the protection of the Virgin Mary and led by our Holy Father, I will offer a specific intention at Mass, praying the Rosary and at Eucharistic Adoration each day of this journey: the two (or three) days we will be in Fatima and the six days (Tuesday–Sunday, Aug. 1–6) when we will be in Lisbon for the WYD gathering. The special intention that I will offer each day will be a prayer for all those in the diocese who will be joining us spiritually in prayer on this journey. I will also ask the members of our diocesan group to offer this same special intention at Mass during each day of the journey.

As I said earlier, I also ask you, dear reader, to pray for us and for all those who will be visiting Fatima and participating in WYD during the coming week. I have no doubt that there will be young people who are discerning the call to the priesthood or consecrated (religious) life who will be able to fully respond to the Lord’s call because of what they experience at Fatima and WYD. There will also be youth and young adults who are struggling with their faith and in other aspects of their lives, who will have an encounter with God, with our Blessed Mother, and with the “Mystical Body of Christ,” the Church, during this journey. Many of them will go on to be leaders in their parishes, to be spouses, parents, or dedicated single women and men who will be a great blessing for the Church of our diocese and beyond.

Many, many people and parishes have already offered very generous financial and other support so that young people, who would not have been able to otherwise afford to attend this pilgrimage, are now able to go. I am asking you to spiritually support us as we begin this journey, and look forward to gathering with Pope Francis. I encourage you to invite family, friends, or fellow parishioners to join us in prayer, letting them know that we will also be praying for them.

Pope Francis wrote a message to young people for WYD 2022–23. Here are the first few lines of that message:

“Mary arose and went with haste” (Lk 1:39)

Dear Young People!

The theme of Panama World Youth Day was, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). After that event, we resumed our journey towards a new destination — Lisbon 2023 — with hearts afire with God’s urgent summons to arise. In 2020, we meditated on Jesus’ words: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” (Lk 7:14). Last year, too, we were inspired by the figure of the Apostle Paul, to whom the Risen Lord said: “Arise! I appoint you as a witness of what you have seen” (cf. Acts 26:16). Along the route we still need to travel before arriving in Lisbon, we will have at our side the Virgin of Nazareth who, immediately after the Annunciation, “arose and went with haste” (Lk 1:39). Common to these three themes is the word: “arise!” It is a word that also — let us remember — speaks to us of getting up from slumber, waking up to the life of all around us… .

The full text of Pope Francis’ message can be found here.

I am very much looking forward to this spiritual journey. I hope you will join us, united in prayer. Together, we place our young people and our own intentions for this time of grace under the care of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We seek the Blessed Mother’s intercession and confidently pray, “Remember, O gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided” (The Memorare).

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