World Youth Day mini-pilgrimage — rain or shine

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When it comes to World Youth Day, pilgrims never know what kind of weather they might get. In an effort to prepare the Arlington pilgrims for the demands that might await them in Kraków, Poland, the Office of Youth Ministry hosted a mini-pilgrimage May 21. Many World Youth Day first-timers expected the event to be canceled when the forecast called for heavy rains, but others who lived through the epic rain and wind storm during the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid knew better.

Kevin Bohli, director of youth ministry for the diocese, was pleased with Saturday's event and the attitude of the participants.

"I can think of a thousand things I would rather do a on a rainy Saturday morning," said Bohli. "I was impressed with the kids. There was no griping and no one came up to me and said, 'Can't we just drive to St. Agnes?'"

The group of 208 pilgrims included dozens of high school students and adult chaperones, six priests, three Dominican sisters and a group of seminarians. They gathered in the St. Ann parish hall prior to the event. Bohli welcomed the group and gave a brief presentation on the purpose of pilgrimage, reiterating that it was not a "tourist trip" but a spiritual journey.

After the presentation, Andrea Harcher, a rising junior at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries, took up the diocesan flag and led the group toward St. Agnes Church via Custis Trail. Mercifully, the rain slowed to a light mist and the group was able to walk the hilly, narrow trail with relative ease. Harcher, accompanied by her mother, Debra, will head to Kraków without her parents in July.

"She is already very mature as a teenager spiritually but I think this is going to help build that foundation," said Debra. "This is something that she needs to do by herself."

As the group walked along the trail, Hail Marys and Our Fathers echoed off the noise barriers separating the pilgrims from I-66. After the 1 1/2 mile walk, the group arrived at St. Agnes for Mass concelebrated by Fathers Bjorn C. Lundberg and Matthew H. Zuberbueler, who will accompany the pilgrims to Poland. During the homily, Father Zuberbueler joked about his experiences in past World Youth Day pilgrimages, saying that those who were suffering would pray and those who were joyful would sing. Since he and Father Lundberg were joyful most of the time, the other pilgrims would pray.

Soon the pilgrims were back on the trail and concluded their 3-mile trek at St. Ann Church where, they were rewarded with a Chick-fil-a lunch and an icebreaker game. The group played a round of a "get-to-know-your-neighbor-themed bingo," designed to encourage players to meet different groups. Pilgrims young and not-so-young raced around the hall to introduce themselves, and the winners received a bright red towel with the diocesan youth ministry slogan "Show Know Mercy."

Before dispersing for the day, the Office of Youth Ministry also passed out the official prayer cards for World Youth Day and encouraged the group to pray it faithfully in the days leading up to their July 18 departure to Europe.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016