WYD 2019: Pilgrims worship in Washington

Washington (16 – 20 January)

Between a Papal shrine, presidential funeral site and North America’s largest church, Sydney Catholic Schools staff and students found themselves in places of spiritual significance and historical interest on their first four days of pilgrimage in Washington D.C.

After more than 24 hours of travel, the pilgrims arrived on the same day they departed thanks to the time zone difference.

Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield student David Medrzejewski was on the flight, his first plane trip since he was three years old.

“The long flight was quite tortuous but now I am here it’s becoming quite an adventure,” he said.

Day two began with Mass at the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle, named for the patron saint of civil servants. Pilgrims followed in the footsteps of Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis, who have all attended Mass at the church. It was also the site of former American president John  F. Kennedy’s funeral after his assassination in 1963.

It’s becoming quite an adventure.

– David Medrzejewski

Archbishop Anthony Fisher’s homily was based on the World Youth Day bible verse, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38). He encouraged students to have the courage to embrace their calling from God.

After the Mass, pilgrims who chose to took part in annual pro-life rally March for Life.

Student Ari Tjandra said the march gave pilgrims the opportunity to connect over a topic they cared about – the sanctity of life. “Pro life is about loving people and loving every single human life. We were all fighting for a common cause.”

On Day three, a visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine gave pilgrims the chance to reflect on the genesis of World Youth Day. The shrine was named after the former Pope who introduced the event in 1985.

Floor-to-ceiling mosaics at the shrine gave artistic expression to biblical stories and significant points in Jesus’ life. Students also enjoyed a video presentation on John Paul II’s life and display of personal  items and relics associated with him.

The Mass was celebrated by Fr James Baxter. His homily was based upon how Jesus calls all peoples to be his disciples in the lead up to the World Youth Day celebrations. He said many Catholics sometimes doubt their worthiness to be a true disciple of Christ, but as Jesus said, “I have not come to call the virtuous but sinners”.

Day 4 saw pilgrims visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. An example of Romanesque-Byzantine era architecture, the church is the largest in North America and one of the 10 largest churches in the world. Inside, sacred art in more than 70 chapels and oratories includes mosaics, stained glass windows and stone carvings that express the belief that God dwells within all.

After days of prayer and reflection, pilgrims flew to Panama for the next stage of their journey. The event is a chance for young people around the world to deepen their faith.

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