Catholic Foundation Helps Hundreds Of ‘Pilgrims’ Attend World Youth Day

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By Bill Miller and Jessica Easthope

BUSHWICK — More than 350 young adults from the Diocese of Brooklyn are expected to attend World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal, but each will have to pay a hefty sum — nearly $5,000 — to do so.

To attend the Aug. 1-7 pilgrimage, each of the diocese’s 357 participants must pay $4,530. They’ll no doubt need help to raise that money, and that’s where the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens can help.

Now in its 25th year, the foundation supports many projects, including parish priorities, Catholic Migration Services, and youth evangelization efforts. This year, its directors set aside $150,000 to help 21 parishes cover as much as half of the travel costs for their WYD pilgrims.

“Youth ministry really has been the top priority,” said John Notaro, the foundation’s executive director. “That focus has been, what are the things we could do that move the faith onto the next generation? How can we help our young people encounter Jesus?”

WYD pilgrimages subsequently gained the foundation’s support. Notaro noted it also helps some of the seminarians who want to attend.

“We don’t want anyone to not be able to go because of financial circumstances,” he said. “They do a great job with their own fundraising. We just do a little part to help make sure that it becomes a reality for them.”

To that end, parishes conduct a variety of fundraisers such as bake sales, raffles, and Bingo nights, said Father Carlos Velásquez, pastor of St. Brigid Parish in Bushwick. His parish has 48 people signed up to attend WYD.

“Most parishes do not charge their pilgrims the full amount,” Father Velásquez said. “They say, ‘We’re going to give you half, and you’re going to fundraise the rest.’ ”

Father Velásquez is assisting Father James Kuroly with pilgrimage logistics. Father Kuroly is the diocese’s director of the Youth and Young Adult Ministry and rector-president of Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Elmhurst, Queens.

“Our parishes are working very hard and diligently in fundraising, making the sacrifices necessary,” Father Kuroly said. “We always preach to the young people that this is not a vacation — it is a pilgrimage, and as a pilgrimage, sacrifices are asked of them.

“Certainly, they’re doing their part not just accepting the scholarships, but also putting the work in so that they can go.”

In so doing, the Diocese of Brooklyn consistently sends some of the largest contingents of pilgrims to WYD.

“For many years, Brooklyn has had the blessing of being the largest diocesan contingent from the U.S.,” Father Velásquez said.

Both priests made their own WYD pilgrimages as seminarians. Father Kuroly’s journey was 23 years ago in Rome. Father Velásquez attended in Sydney, Australia, in 2008 and Madrid, Spain, in 2011.

“We try to get the seminarians to go,” Father Kuroly said. “It’s good for their vocation; good for their discernment.”

Pope John Paul II created WYD in 1985. A different country hosts it approximately every three years for people ages 16-35.

The week-long pilgrimage, now led by Pope Francis, is an opportunity to experience the universality of the Catholic Church. They join in a global proclaiming of the hope that comes from committing one’s life to Jesus Christ and the Church.

“Although we call it a day, it really is a week,” Father Kuroly said. “And throughout the week, there is catechesis. There are opportunities for the youth to come together in prayer, celebrate the Eucharist and confession, and be in adoration.

“But the highlight comes when they are gathered together in prayer for an overnight vigil with our Holy Father.”

After WYD, pilgrims will spend another week touring holy sites, including the shrines of Marian appearances at Fátima, Portugal, and Lourdes, Spain.

Bishop Robert Brennan will accompany pilgrims to WYD, as did his predecessors — Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio and the late Bishop Thomas Vose Daily.

Along with fundraising, the pilgrims have a full schedule of activities to prepare in advance of WYD. Included is “genuine spiritual preparation,” such as “holy hour” gatherings each month throughout the diocese for pilgrims to get to know each other ahead of the trip, according to Father Velásquez.

The goal, he added, is “making sure they’re not just arriving at Lisbon this year ready for some kind of a secular event.”

Instead, they should be “already on fire with the faith, already developing their relationship with the Lord,” Father Velásquez said. “We’re doing that on a local level here in our parish.”

Both priests assured that the time and money spent for WYD are worthy investments in spiritual development.

“It’s about encountering other pilgrims from all over the world to see that the Church is larger than just Brooklyn, larger than just the United States,” Father Kuroly said. “To see so many people alive and vibrant in their faith — you can’t put a price tag on that.”