After celebrating Mass on May 5 for pilgrims who will be going to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Cardinal Wuerl greets young adult Xiomara Esteban. CS PHOTO BY RAFAEL CRISOSTOMO
After celebrating Mass on May 5 for pilgrims who will be going to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Cardinal Wuerl greets young adult Xiomara Esteban. CS PHOTO BY RAFAEL CRISOSTOMO
Celebrating a May 5 Mass for Archdiocese of Washington pilgrims who will be attending World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro this summer, Cardinal Donald Wuerl encouraged them to use the experience to renew and share their faith.

"Remember, the reason we have World Youth Day, and the reason you're going, is you will be able by your presence, by being there, to bear witness that we believe Jesus is risen and is with us," the cardinal said at the Mass attended by 50 people at the St. Ursula Chapel of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Hyattsville.

The archdiocese's Offices of Youth Ministry and Young Adult Ministry are coordinating a pilgrimage group to the July 23-28 gathering in Rio that will include seven teens and more than 30 young adult pilgrims. Their group will include Auxiliary Bishop Martin Holley and Father Mark Ivany, the pastor of Assumption Parish in Washington.

Cardinal Wuerl said Jesus is present in the Church through the Eucharist and the other sacraments and through the word of God, and Christ seeks to walk with his disciples in today's world. "Our life is a journey. Our destination is heaven, and on that journey, we walk as a family," the cardinal said.

In remarks after Communion, the cardinal encouraged the pilgrims to use World Youth Day as an opportunity to strengthen their faith and the faith of the new friends they will meet from around the world, and then return home and share that faith with others. "This is a pilgrimage of faith in the Year of Faith," he said.

The cardinal remembered how he attended World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 with pilgrims from his home Diocese of Pittsburgh, and how Pope John Paul II encouraged the one-half million youth attending the closing Mass to "be proud of your faith, not just on this journey, but on your life's journey. Be proud of who you are as disciples of Jesus, as followers of the risen Lord."

The cardinal later blessed the pilgrims, praying that Jesus would be with them as a companion on their journey.

After Mass, Cardinal Wuerl greeted each pilgrim personally and gave them copies of his recent book, Faith that Transforms Us: Reflections on the Creed, which he said they could use during their pilgrimage to reflect together on their faith.

The World Youth Day logo includes an image of the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer on the mountaintop overlooking the Brazilian city, and Father Ivany said he hopes that the pilgrimage will be a time when the participants will have "a personal encounter with the risen Lord."

Greg DeStefano, who will be among six seminarians from the archdiocese's Blessed John Paul II Seminary attending World Youth Day in Rio, said he looked forward to experiencing the universal Church, with pilgrims from around the world united around the successor to Peter, Pope Francis.

Devin Conner, one of seven parishioners from St. Peter in Waldorf who will be going on the pilgrimage, attended World Youth Days in Sydney, Australia in 2008 and in Madrid, Spain in 2011. "When I go, I feel connected, and I meet people from all over the world who share my faith... It's nice to know you're not alone," she said.

She said the experiences have deepened her prayer life and her parish involvement. She is majoring in secondary education at the College of Southern Maryland and volunteers as a catechist with first graders and works with high school students at St. Peter's. "Each time I've gone, I've gotten a better understanding of my faith, and I've become more and more involved in church," Conner said.