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Young adults sing, dance, pray and listen at World Youth Day UNITE in Washington

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Since its inception in 1985, millions of passionate young people have gathered at World Youth Days around the globe to celebrate the sacraments, see the Holy Father and show the world the joy of their faith. The sheer number of participants, its vibrancy — everything about World Youth Day is a witness to Christ and the church, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington. The challenge then becomes taking that witness into our everyday lives.

“World Youth Days are intended to invite your generation into the great and wonderful and ongoing mission of the church, which is simply to share the good news,” he said.

The international World Youth Day occurs every three years, but the Archdiocese of Washington along with the Diocese of Arlington, the Archdiocese of Baltimore and others hosted a regional World Youth Day UNITE at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington July 22. The gathering attracted more than 1,000 young adults from around the East Coast.

Bishop Nelson J. Perez, bishop-designate of the Diocese of Cleveland and Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., each gave a keynote address. Catholic singer and songwriter Audrey Assad performed during adoration. Musician Tony Melendez had the crowd clapping, dancing and doing the wave to his upbeat guitar playing. The singer, who was born without arms, plays with his feet.

“The Lord needs you the way you are. Amen?” he asked them.

“Amen,” the audience enthusiastically responded.

That afternoon, Cardinal Wuerl gave the homily during the vigil Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, encouraging the young people to courageously spread the Gospel.

“You are to be that leaven in the world, you are to be that beginning, that mustard seed that will grow and bloom into something more,” he told them. Drawing on the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Cardinal Wuerl said today’s obstacles to the Gospel are chiefly secularism, materialism and individualism. In turn, Catholics must be an example of authentic love.

“All of us are called to offer an explicit witness to the saving power of the Lord, who desires in spite of all our imperfections that we simply become close to Him,” said the cardinal. “We are called to tell (the message) with our lives.”

Patrick Aselin came to Washington from Vermont to reunite with his friends from last year’s World Youth Day in Krakow. In his life, the rising college senior has seen many peers fall away from the faith, even those who went to his Catholic high school. Vermont, he said, is a fairly secular state, noting that it was one of the first to allow assisted suicide. But in his experience with the college Knights of Columbus, he’s found that one of the best ways to attract new members is to foster fellowship.


“The big thing is for those who are going deeper in their faith to bear witness to the truth and to show that to others, and invite others to come in,” he said.

Washington resident Stephanie Burry likewise feels that young adults have an obligation to reach out to their peers.

“Young people who have a zeal for their faith have a responsibility to be a great witness in the way that we love, in the way that we persevere through challenges with cheerfulness and hope, in the way we’re vulnerable and courageous and talk about our faith when it's not cool or comfortable,” she said.

The spiritual inspiration to live as a witness can come from events such as these. “It was an awesome opportunity to build fellowship and it got me to the John Paul II Shrine for the first time. Mass with Cardinal Wuerl is always an amazing experience and being able to share in the pilgrimage with friends and strangers who become friends was a great way to spend a Saturday,” said Burry. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017