By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
World Youth Day opened Michael Schultz’s eyes to the universality of the Catholic Church, he said during an interview after the weeklong experience.
Schultz, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Louisville, was one of 11 pilgrims from the Circle of Life youth ministry program to attend the gathering in Krakow, Poland, July 25-31.
“It gave me a wider idea of what the church really is and how language does not stop anything,” said Schultz, a 2016 graduate of DeSales High School and a parishioner of St. Athanasius Church.
The Circle of Life group — a program for teens and college-age young adults from St. Luke, St. Rita and St. Athanasius churches — is led by John Sohl. The youth ministry program also attracts youth and young adults from parishes other than St. Luke, St. Rita and St. Athanasius.
Sohl, who attended World Youth Days in Madrid in 2011 and Rio de Janeiro in 2013, said the pilgrimage was like none other he has experienced.
“The crux of any pilgrimage is about openness. It’s not a vacation. The real reason you are there is to grow closer together
as a group and to find intimacy with God,” he said.
Sohl, who kept a blog detailing the group’s experience at circleoflifeyouth.wordpress.com, said he believes the group had a powerful experience because they “made every effort to be open to the Holy Spirit.”
“We were constantly trying to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us. Even if we didn’t get to do something we planned or go somewhere we wanted to go, we didn’t let any of that get to us,” he said.
Because of that openness, Sohl said, the group was able to receive God’s blessings.
Madeline Haydon, a parishioner of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., said she was amazed at the hospitality she experienced from the Polish people, particularly during the “Days in the Diocese” events leading up to World Youth Day. The group spent time in a parish in Ursus, a district of Warsaw, Poland.
“They allowed us to participate in their Masses by doing their homilies in English and Polish. They provided us with a priest and several youths from their parish to guide us around Warsaw and translate things we could not understand,” Haydon said.
Haydon described the evening prayer vigil with Pope Francis on July 30 as beautiful. She said the group traveled on foot eight miles to reach the Campus Misericordiae, the large open field where Pope Francis would lead the vigil and celebrate the closing Mass the following morning. In English, it was known as the Field of Mercy.
“Pope Francis passed by us slowly in the Popemobile as he made his way to the stage. We were just about 10 to 20 feet away from him,” she said.
During the vigil, the group heard testimonies on mercy from young people from all over the world, including one from a young Syrian girl who Haydon described as “especially touching.”
Another set of events united the group in a way none expected, Sohl said. Two members of the group received word from home of family illnesses. Mary Whitfill, who is from the Diocese of Owensboro, learned that her grandfather had a heart attack and died. And Schultz was informed that his grandmother was very sick. She died on Aug. 2, just before Schultz arrived home.
“We thought ‘what is happening?’ We are supposed to be joyful, happy and excited,” Sohl said. “Instead we are facing sadness, death and grief.”
Sohl said he and the group tried to let these things go and trust in God’s mercy.
Pilgrims from the Circle of Life group included two seminarians — Schultz and Fermin Luna — and Sister of the Fiat Caryn Crush. Also attending were Mary Shepardson, St. Aloysius Church in Shepherdsville, Ky.; Hope Shepardson, St. Benedict Church in Lebanon Junction, Ky.; Rosa Luna, St. Rita; Kristin Ballard, St. Luke; Madeline Haydon, Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky.; Kim Abell, St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church; and Mary Whitfill, St. Romuald Church in Hardinsburg (Diocese of Owensboro).