By Tim Harfmann
Pilgrims gathered in prayer at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston, Queens. Nearly 200 Catholics from Brooklyn and Queens are flying to Panama next week for World Youth Day. It’s a time to strengthen their faith through prayer, music and fellowship. “It’s going to be great. It’s going to be like a scaled-down version of the Church. We’re going to feel like we’re really part of something bigger,” said Angel Calderon. He’s a pilgrim for Immaculate Conception Church, Astoria.
The Panamanian government expects nearly 200,000 young Catholics ranging from 16-to-35-years-old.
Father Gerard Sauer, director of pilgrimages for the Brooklyn diocese, encouraged pilgrims to hear God’s call. “Just remain open to what they see, what they hear, what they experience. And to not just make it something… World Youth Day is over. No, how did that impact my faith life?” said Father Sauer.
Some of the highlights of the journey include Stations of the Cross led by the Holy Father; the vigil, which includes praying silently in front of the Blessed Sacrament; and the closing Mass. “I’m pretty excited to go. The last time I went was in Poland, and I got to see the pope and meet a bunch of Catholics from around the world. It was a really exciting experience,” said AJ Santagata. He’s a pilgrim from St. Mel’s Church, Flushing. “I feel like it would be a very good experience, trying to increase my faith,” said Mayra Velecela, another pilgrim from Immaculate Conception Church.
Since Saint Pope John Paul II started World Youth Day in 1985, this will be the third time the international gathering will take place in Latin America.