The Catholic University of America

Aug. 26, 2013

Students Touched Spiritually by World Youth Day

  World Youth Day

President John Garvey (back row, third from left) with CUA students at World Youth Day.

When she talks about her experience at World Youth Day 2013, junior Sarah Seski notes a “recharging of her faith” at the event that drew 3 million people to a vigil and Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at a Rio de Janeiro beach. Junior John Matera says the pilgrimage brought him “peace of the greatest magnitude.”

Luke Hlavin, associate campus minister for retreats and men's ministry who accompanied a group of 10 Catholic University students to Brazil last month, says “the biggest takeaway was seeing their joy and energy. Watching them so clearly energized by the presence of like-minded young Catholics reminded me why I do what I do. It was a great privilege.”

The group’s days in Rio de Janeiro were packed with talks by bishops and cardinals, praise and worship sessions, and dinners with other pilgrims. Seski says that while leaving a talk by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and a CUA alumnus, she passed a young man who apparently was so taken with the cardinal’s speech that he had typed parts of it into his iPhone and was reading them back to himself.

University President John Garvey spent several days with the group at World Youth Day, which ran from July 23 to 28. Garvey and a CUA student group also attended the 2011 event in Madrid.

Hlavin says the students’ trip with Garvey to the Christ the Redeemer statue at the summit of Mount Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro was “especially significant.”

On a clear day, the group crammed into a taxi van, and hiked the final stretch to the 98-foot-tall statue, with its outstretched arms, that towers over the city and Guanabara Bay. In a small chapel at the base of the statue, Rev. Marek Stybor, O.F.M. Conv., associate chaplain for faith development, celebrated Mass for the CUA group and other pilgrims who spilled outside. Referring to the weather, Hlavin notes, “The Lord smiled on us that day.”

While on foot around the city, the students carried a large banner decorated with the University’s name and stopped frequently to exchange school paraphernalia with pilgrims from other countries. Responding to cries of cambia, cambia (exchange), the CUA students traded pins marked with the University crest and CUA-embossed sunglasses for other items. Hlavin describes the black-and-red sunglasses as “big-ticket items.”

Seski, a sociology major from Grosse Point, Mich., says her favorite moment on the trip was adoration at the July 27 vigil with Pope Francis the night before the closing Mass. With giant TV screens on the beach, “you could see millions of people on their knees. You could feel God’s presence,” says Seski.

Matera, a double major in psychology and philosophy from Monroe Township, N.J., attended the 2011 event in Madrid the summer before he started his freshman year at Catholic University. As a high school senior, he had drifted away from his faith. At World Youth Day that year, he had “a conversion of the heart” that helped bring him back to the Catholic Church.

Preparing for this year’s event, Matera says he was challenged by a “huge interior struggle. I was broken-hearted about some things in my life. I found myself asking, ‘Why me’? Where are you, Lord’? ” While receiving Communion during the Mass at the Christ the Redeemer statue, he says he “surrendered to an overwhelming peace and calm. I felt like Christ truly had redeemed me in that moment. I now see that life is a pilgrimage, a journey of struggles.”

Reflecting on the theme of this year’s event — "Go and make disciples of all nations!" (Matthew 28: 19) — Hlavin says “this is what Christ is asking of us who gathered in Rio, to spread the good news.”

Campus Ministry plans to offer events this fall to share the experience of those who went to Brazil with others in the CUA community. Hlavin says he’s already planning for World Youth Day 2016 in Krakòw, Poland, where he hopes to take 30 to 35 students.



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