Local group prepares to head to World Youth Day

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BRAINTREE -- Even as World Youth Day 2013 was coming to close in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support has been busy planning for next worldwide gathering of Catholic youth to be held next month in Krakow, Poland.

"We've been working on this for three years, for sure," said Kathy Stebbins, Faith Formation of Youth and Young Adults Coordinator.

Stebbins, along with fellow coordinator Michael Drahos and Faith Formation Director Father Matt Williams, is spearheading the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation's trip to this year's WYD, which will see around 370 youth, young adults, and leaders from throughout the region travel through the office. In addition to those from the Archdiocese of Boston, the group will include pilgrims from the Dioceses of Fall River, Worcester and Norwich, Conn.

Over the last three years, the office has helped promote the trip by visiting parishes in the area and providing them with information on World Youth Day. Once parishes expressed interest, the office assisted them in registering with the common travel agent the archdiocese is using for the event.

The leaders of the registered groups and parishes were then invited to participate in a set of meetings put together by the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation, at which they participated in lectures on a number of topics, including travel safety, Polish culture, and the history of Krakow.

Outside speakers, such as Father Adrian Milik, who lived in Krakow while obtaining his master's degree from Jagiellonian University, were invited to speak at the meetings to offer their knowledge on Poland, and some of the group leaders were given a first-hand taste of local food after being taken to a Polish restaurant.

Stebbins said that time was set aside to teach the group leaders about Polish saints, including St. Edith Stein and St. Maximilian Kolbe, both of whom died in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and St. Pope John Paul II, who was born in Poland.

For on-the-ground preparations, Father Williams made a trip to Poland last month together with Father Michael Harrington, director of the Office of Outreach and Cultural Diversity at the archdiocese.

"We went there for a site inspection, to basically walk the route and visit the places all of our Boston pilgrims are going to be visiting," said Father Williams.

To help the pilgrims prepare for the event and get to know each other before the trip, earlier this month the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation held a rally at the Betania II Maria Center in Medway. Pilgrims and parishioners were invited to attend, and they spent a night attending confession, participating in adoration, and praying together.

Before the end of the rally, the pilgrims were given a number of items for the trip, including sunglasses with "WYD Krakow" printed on them, the book "Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves," by Jason Evert, luggage tags, and prayer cards.

They also were given the opportunity to create "spiritual bouquets," a compilation of cards containing prayers, for the 2016 World Youth Day Committee, the organization responsible for organizing the event.

"They need our prayers, and so our young people are given the opportunity to make a prayer pledge to pray for the World Youth Day Committee," said Father Williams, adding that they will also send the committee "American candy and some other fun things."

World Youth Day officially begins on July 25 and lasts until July 31, but most of the pilgrims traveling with the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation will be leaving for Warsaw, Poland on July 21.

Once there, they will tour city, attend Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Immaculate at Niepokalanow monastery, and will have a "barbecue, and a rally, and hopefully adoration" with other U.S. pilgrims, Stebbins said.

On July 24, the pilgrims will depart Warsaw for Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa before heading to Krakow. The group will also visit the remains of the German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz and Birkenau before World Youth Day kicks off.

During WYD, the pilgrims will have a full schedule, with some of the highlights including: attending the opening ceremony with Cardinal Dziwisz; attending a Mass at the Basilica of Divine Mercy celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley; a dinner with Cardinal O'Malley in Krakow; and of course, the vigil and Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.

At the end of World Youth Day, on July 31, the pilgrims will split up, with some groups returning home and other groups heading to Zakopane, a mountainous town in southern Poland.

There, pilgrims will be able to reflect on their trip before returning back to Boston on Aug. 3.

The trip to Zakopane "gives them a chance to decompress and really reflect on what God is saying," Father Williams said.

While in Poland, the pilgrims' activities will be chronicled through the Archdiocese of Boston's social media accounts, including Twitter and Facebook.

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