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Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023

News of the Diocese

August 9, 2023

Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023
Local youth, young adults, priests among millions at World Youth Day 2023

A delegation from the Diocese of Cleveland was among the estimated 3 million people who attended the 37th World Youth Day Aug. 1-6 in Lisbon, Portugal. That figure included about 700 bishops, 10,000 priests and nearly 30,000 international volunteers.

The outdoor closing Mass on Aug. 6, the feast of the Transfiguration, drew an estimated 1.5 million people. In his homily, Pope Francis told the crowd “to shine, to listen and finally, not to fear.” (Click here to read the text of this message.)

Three local priests – Father Josh Cochrac, parochial vicar at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Parma; Father Steve Flynn, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Gates Mills; and Father Eric Garris, vocations diocesan vocations director – attended WYD with the diocesan delegation, numbering about 30.

(See photo gallery above.)

This year’s WYD theme was “Mary arose and went with haste.” (Lk 1:39)

Father Cochrac recalled his first experience with WYD as a teenager.

“When I was 15, Father Mark Ott (a seminary faculty member) took a group of youth and young adults to World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany. We know that there are other parts of the world, but we don’t always get to see or meet them in person. Putting a face on a culture helps us to appreciate the way that they have come to know Jesus,” Father Cochrac said.

As a newly ordained priest, he also wanted to take a group of youth and young adults from his parish (St. Charles) to WYD.

“We were blessed to join St. Francis of Assisi in Gates Mills as well as bring some other youth and young adults from the diocese with us. Our group had a great time getting to know one another,” he added. Many in the Cleveland delegation went early and visited sites in France and Portugal before WYD events started.

“Pilgrimages are never meant to be seen as vacation. While we certainly saw a lot of sites in France and in Portugal, we also learned a lot about ourselves. We learned what it meant to rely upon God and one another as we traveled and as we prayed. We learned how different and unique each of us are, and how God has given us so many gifts. Even after camping out for one night at World Youth Day, we came to appreciate having our own bed to sleep in and food at our table,” Father Cochrac said. “We learn about ourselves and our relationship with God when we go on pilgrimage. We realize that, just as Pope Francis reminded us, Jesus has sent us out on mission and joy is missionary. Like Mary, we must go in haste to share Jesus with our own community in the world.”

The group also bumped into a familiar face at WYD: Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez, who traveled to the event with a group from his archdiocese. Archbishop Perez served as bishop of Cleveland from 2017 to 2020.

Ben Jackson, youth minister at St. Francis of Assisi, described WYD as “an incredible experience of being united with the Universal Church. Nothing will inspire you in faith more than being surrounded by millions of other people who want to know and follow Jesus.”

Another youth minister, Hailie Jester from St. Charles Parish, said she was happy to be among the pilgrims at WYD.

“It was a reminder that we are all pilgrims on a journey to our heavenly home. It’s a glimpse of what is to come in eternity … people from every corner of the world praising our Eucharistic Lord in one voice,” she said.

For James Gilliam, a teen from St. Francis of Assisi Parish, WYD was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He listed the beauty of the churches they visited, including Sacre Ceour, as a highlight of the experience. “I am very grateful to have gone,” he added.

“World Youth Day was a chance for me to see the universal Church in real life. It was the greatest experience for my faith life and I will never forget the friendships I made,” said Saige Gleason, a member of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Wadsworth, who accompanied the local pilgrims.

Another teen who attended WYD was Anna Soos, also from St. Charles Borromeo Parish. She described the experience as “an amazing way to see how Jesus, Mary and the saints are so present in the lives of youth around the world. This celebration of our faith encouraged us to go out and live our faith without fear.”

World Youth Day was initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1985. The first celebration was in 1986. The event takes place approximately every two to three years. It is an opportunity for pilgrims from around the world to gather with young people from every continent to pray, worship and celebrate the Catholic faith.

“I certainly hope we can go to Seoul in 2027,” Father Cochrac said. “Until then, we have acquired a much bigger picture of what it means to be one, holy, Catholic and apostolic.”

The group enjoyed visiting some landmark churches in France including the shrine at Lourdes, as well as some religious sites in Portugal. One trip took them to the childhood home of Sister Lucia, one of the children who saw the Blessed Mother appear in 1916 in Fatima. Pope Francis advanced her sainthood cause in June, declaring her venerable.

Click here for more information, additional photos and video clips from World Youth Day 2023.

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