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JOURNEY OF FAITH A group of 20 from our Diocese is preparing for World Youth Day 2023 this August in Lisbon, Portugal, which will bring together young Catholics from around the globe. Pictured left is the diocesan group at the 2019 World Youth Day.  On the right side are three pilgrims who will be going to World Youth Day 2023 as part of our diocesan group: Carlos Casas (left), 19, from Corpus Christi in Corona; Isabelle Casalmir (right), 20, from St. James the Less in Perris; and Father Paul Schmidt (bottom), who has attended every World Youth Day since 2000. 

By Mary Pearson

This summer a group of young people from our diocese will travel together to Lisbon, Portugal to take part in World Youth Day 2023. The diocesan group is being coordinated by the Office of Ministry With Young Catholics and will include 20 Catholics from around our diocese.

World Youth Day is an international gathering of young adults with the Pope. Since the first World Youth Day in 1985 under St. Pope John Paul II, the event has taken place roughly every three years, in over 10 different countries. The most recent World Youth Day was held in Panama City, Panama in 2019 and was attended by 700,000 people.

Despite its name, World Youth Day actually takes place over the course of six days. This year, it will begin on August 1 with an Opening Mass presided by the Cardinal Manuel Clemente, Patriarch of Lisbon. Over the course of the week, there are catechetical programs, social events and festivals and opportunities for pilgrims to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation at various locations spread throughout Lisbon. On Saturday, August 5, all of the expected 400,000 pilgrims in attendance will walk several miles to a central location in order to take part in an overnight Eucharistic Vigil with the Holy Father. The week culminates with the Sunday liturgy, celebrated by Pope Francis.

One of the pilgrims from our diocese who wil attend is Father Paul Schmidt, SVD, a World Youth Day veteran. Fr. Schmidt, chaplain at Notre Dame High School in Riverside, has attended every World Youth Day since 2000, when it was held in Rome. In all, Fr. Schmidt has attended eight World Youth Days – presided by three different popes – and has traveled to Rome, Toronto, Cologne, Sydney, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Krakow and Panama City. Lisbon will mark his ninth consecutive World Youth Day.

Of that first World Youth Day in Rome, Fr. Schmidt called it a “powerful experience,” though he was quick to add that it was “not always comfortable.”

A little discomfort, to Fr. Schmidt’s way of thinking, is one of the features of World Youth Day. The accommodations are unglamorous; pilgrims often sleep in sleeping bags on hard cots, or simply on the ground. But when asked what stood out to him the most from that first pilgrimage to Rome, and why he continues to attend, Fr. Schmidt speaks of adoration—not with the Holy Father—but in a simple, makeshift chapel where his group slept for a night as pilgrims in Turin, in northern Italy.

“It was a commercial building that they had us staying in, and there they had set aside a place with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament ... That made an impression on me, to see young people there making themselves at home with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament,” said Fr. Schmidt.

Another pilgrim from our diocese is 20-year-old Isabelle Casalmir, one of four parishioners from St. James the Less Parish in Perris, who will be attending with our diocesan group. Casalmir has been involved with parish music ministry since she was a child, and she is also active in the young adult community throughout the diocese. This will be her first World Youth Day.

Casalmir first heard of World Youth Day as a freshman in high school, when one of her youth ministry leaders attended the 2016 event in Krakow. Ever since then, attending a World Youth Day has been on Casalmir’s “bucket list.”

“It just seems like such a great experience to see Catholics from around the globe,” Casalmir said. “I’m very grateful for this opportunity.”

Having studied abroad during her time at university, Casalmir is an experienced traveler, but believes World Youth Day will be unlike anything she has done before given the spiritual nature of the trip. When asked what she is doing to prepare, Casalmir first spoke of spiritual preparations. “I’ve been praying the Rosary every day and I’ve been reading the daily readings,” she said.

For Carlos Casas, attending World Youth Day seemed like too good of an opportunity to miss. Casas is 19, and a member of the CORE team at Corpus Christi in Corona.

“I used to think Church was for old people,” he said of his faith life before becoming confirmed last year. Casas said his mind was changed throughout his confirmation preparation, by asking questions and being inspired by the witness of the young adult leaders at his parish.

When asked why he chose to attend World Youth Day, Casas said, “I want to share my story with others, and have others share their stories with me.” Casas added that he believes the experience of World Youth Day will allow him to better serve the community of his parish.

There is no admission fee for most of the main events of World Youth Day, but traveling internationally is costly. Each pilgrim traveling with the Diocese had to come up with $4,300 to cover the various expenses of the trip.

For Casas and the other four pilgrims from Corpus Christi, a portion of that cost was covered by selling churros after masses on Sundays.

“That was a cool experience, just that alone,” Casas said of the fundraising. “A lot of people would come up after the Masses and say, ‘Oh I went to this World Youth Day,’...and they would tell me their story. I really enjoyed that.”

One aspect of World Youth Day that all three pilgrims mentioned looking forward to is something called “Days in the Diocese,” which takes place in the days leading up to World Youth Day.

“Everybody goes to Lisbon, but first they go to a different diocese,” Fr. Schmidt explained. “They have different activities during those days ... you get to know the local people.”

During the Days in the Diocese, each pilgrim will be assigned to stay with a host family living within one of 17 dioceses in Portugal. It is an opportunity to experience the faith and the culture of the host country on a more personal level.

“That’s probably the most exciting part for me, to learn from them and to grow in community with them,” Casas said of the opportunity to stay with a host family.

Pilgrims with the Diocese of San Bernardino will depart for World Youth Day on Wednesday, July 26.

Mary Pearson is a freelance writer and parishioner of St. Martha, Murrieta.