This is a brief article/journal entry highlighting the Ottawa-Cornwall World Youth Day experience, written by Bianca Picciano (a parishioner since birth). Bianca said, “I simply wanted to express that the journey we had was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and wanted to thank you for your part in it. There are no words – truly. This has meant more than you could know. Thank you!”
Embarking on a Spiritual Odyssey: World Youth Day Unveiled
Imagine finding yourself amidst a vibrant sea of humanity, where the air crackles with shared energy, and the steady beat of drums guides your every step. Words known and unknown are being shouted and sung through the vibration of the crowd – a symphony of languages. The people you embarked on this pilgrimage with, those you barely knew at the outset, have now become your lifeline.
Beads of sweat collect on your skin, each one a testament to the intense heat that embraces you and the limits of your own physicality – badges of commitment. Amidst this sea of humanity, a singular figure stands as a beacon urging you forward – the Pope himself.
And then, as you stand at the epicenter of this human tapestry, a realization takes root within you. You are not alone. You are part of a multitude, 1.6 million strong, all gathered for a common cause. In this moment, you are not just an individual; you are a vital thread in the intricate fabric of a global pilgrimage. This… is World Youth Day.
However, this odyssey commenced long before you found yourself in the midst of this colossal assembly. It began with a faint whisper of curiosity, a yearning to connect with something greater than the self. With every mile traveled, every stranger encountered, and every story exchanged, the anticipation mounted, painting a vivid picture of lives diverse yet converging for a common purpose.
Amidst the echo of drums and the crescendo of voices, you draw a deep breath and step forth, buoyed by the current of camaraderie. With every stride, you move closer to a deeper understanding of yourself, of your place in the world, and of the profound connections that transcend language, culture, and distance. At this point, you revel in the irony – as this pilgrimage concludes, a new personal journey begins.
Originating as a vision to celebrate the vitality of youth in the context of religious devotion, World Youth Day has evolved into a pilgrimage that spans continents and cultures. As the sun rises on different corners of the world, eager souls pack their bags, fueled by a profound sense of purpose. They travel across lands and seas, converging on chosen host countries, drawn by the magnetic pull of this singular event. World Youth Day serves as more than just a congregation of faith; it is a nexus of souls seeking rejuvenation, camaraderie, and encounters with spiritual leaders who guide their next steps. The pilgrimage is not confined to mere physical movement; it embodies a symbolic expedition of self-discovery and spiritual maturation.
Pilgrimage, a timeless human tradition, and a path lined with the unknown, finds its modern expression in World Youth Day. It involves setting foot on a journey towards a destination imbued with sacred significance, driven by the desire to connect with the divine and the inner self. Holy sites and sacred shrines pepper the landscape, welcoming the pilgrims with open arms and whispers of ancient wisdom. As the pilgrimage concludes, these travelers disperse, each returning to their homeland not only with cherished memories but also with renewed determination to bridge chasms and enhance connection.
Embracing the Path: A Chronicle of the Ottawa-Cornwall Diocese’s Journey through World Youth Day
Our voyage to World Youth Day began on July 28th. The day began with a deeply resonant mass, setting the spiritual tone for the incredible journey that lay ahead. From there, our trajectory traced different modes of travel – a drive to Montreal, flights to Toronto and then Lisbon, Portugal. The anticipation heightened with every transition.
Our ultimate destination: Viseu, Portugal – a gracious diocese that flung its doors open, eager to share its culture and heritage. As we disembarked from our bus, a blend of weariness and eagerness pulsed within us. A lively festival atmosphere enveloped us instantly, as pilgrims from Portugal, Spain, and France warmly welcomed us. The air was saturated with music, the aromas of delectable food wafting around, and the laughter of fellow travelers.
In that moment, we stepped into a whirlwind of celebration. Renewed energy surged through us, and we joyfully participated in the festivities – dancing, singing, and forming bonds that transcended language barriers. The festival extended into the late hours, the festivities only dimming as the night sky deepened. And then, late into the evening, our group was whisked away to the municipality of Mangualde. Here we were to meet our billet families – those who would be our guides, our caretakers, and friends during our stay. The mix of excitement and nervousness was tangible as we were introduced to our temporary homes (of 4 days).
For those of us without assigned billet families, a school became our sanctuary for the nights. The halls echoed with laughter as our temporary residence turned into a cozy hub of friendship.
The days rolled on in a whirlwind of activities. Soccer matches pitted us against Spain and Portugal (victory often eluding us), while masses provided spiritual grounding. Another festival beckoned, igniting the night with music and performances. We experienced a day immersed in the lives of our billet families, (even those “school bound” were taken in for a day) attending their local church services and participating in gatherings that included pig roasts, pool parties, and espresso stops. The food – oh, the food! They indulged us…even if it meant a few extra pounds by the end of our stay.
As we embarked on our journey back to Lisbon, we monitored Portuguese news reports with keen interest, painting vivid portraits of the bustling city that awaited us. Anticipation bubbled within us as we absorbed the information, acutely aware of the magnitude of what lay ahead.
The bus ride became a sanctuary of sorts, an opportunity for most of us to steal a nap – a moment of respite after completing our rosary. Soon, we reached our destination, greeted by the presence of our bishops at the hotel where we would reside for the coming days. With the afternoon free, we were given the chance to reacquaint ourselves with this new environment. Transport passes in hand, we had the city at our feet – trains, subways, trams, and buses were our vessels to explore. Food passes promised culinary adventures, from local specialties to familiar fast food comforts.
The following day began with a sense of haste. A sea of red and white greeted us at the Canada festival, where a congregation of 5000 Canadians had assembled. Canadian culture was on full display. Indigenous and Maronite-Catholic performances, along with the spirited presentations from our own Ukrainian-Catholic contingent, infused the atmosphere with an understanding of the pluralism among Catholicity alone. It was a time of mingling and weaving a network of new relationships.
The options for that afternoon were varied. Some chose to delve into the city’s landmarks, further orienting themselves within this foreign landscape. Others were drawn to the renowned theological talks that were laid out before us, a chance to deepen our understanding of matters close to our hearts.
The subsequent days unfolded in a blend of worship and contemplation. Daily masses and catechesis sessions took precedence, accompanied by global music resonating in our familiar language. Words on eco-theology, eco-justice, and mercy lingered, inviting reflection on our roles in safeguarding the planet. Amid the structured sessions, opportunities arose to attend concerts spanning genres – from Christian rap to the soothing embrace of worship melodies. As we explored the city’s labyrinthine streets, we uncovered hidden treasures. Esteemed speakers shared insights that captured our hearts and minds, and in worship, adoration and opening mass, we found solace, a sanctuary to commune with the divine.
And then, the moment of anticipation arrived – Thursday, August 2nd, Pope Francis graced us with his presence. As the sun dipped below the horizon, hearts brimming with anticipation, Pope Francis delivered his opening address. The following day brought the Ways of the Cross, an event that anchored us spiritually. But it was on Saturday that we embarked on an extraordinary journey – the overnight vigil. This was no venture for the faint of heart. The day began with a demanding hike under scorching sun, leading us to a vast field where we’d spend the next day and a half.
After an exhausting hike that left some of us sweltering, we pitched our tarps and found our spots on the field. As the day turned to night, we sprawled on our tarps, engaging in conversations and relishing each other’s company. As the sun set and darkness fell, we gathered under the stars for the Pope’s commissioning message and a period of adoration. Beneath the starlit canopy, we entered a space of quiet devotion, a beautiful counterpoint to the challenges we’d faced throughout the day.
Following adoration was a night’s sleep (restless for most, peaceful for some). The morning brought a musical wake-up call, waking us and preparing us for the Pope’s morning commissioning mass. We were tired, our bodies weary from the trials of the past days, yet the prospect of receiving the Eucharist together, all 1.6 million of us, infused us with renewed energy – a communion of souls in the presence of the Holy Father.
With that, our homeward journey began. The hike back seemed a symbolic closure to our World Youth Day activities. We retraced the same path, the memories of the days prior replaying in our minds, a mix of exhaustion and fulfillment propelling us forward.
As the curtain fell on the formal activities of our week, our expedition was by no means at its end. Our “day off” materialized as a day at the beach for most, spent in the company of those who had swiftly become friends. The concluding day led us to Fatima, a place steeped in miracles and history, where we were privileged to partake in a tour that delved into the narratives of Fatima. A group lunch, graciously arranged by our bishops, awaited us, and the day culminated with a mass in the very heart of Fatima.
And then, the final day arrived, Wednesday, August 9th. Early morning departure brought a mixture of emotions. Fatigue was evident and the longing to reunite with loved ones back home, all while coexisting with a sense of sadness at leaving it all behind. As we embarked on the return voyage, we clung to moments that had shaped us, grateful for the experience that imprinted upon us the wisdom that our ministry is wherever our feet are.
With absolute gratitude, on behalf of all of us.
Bianca Picciano, MTh., MDiv., BTh.
Chaplain, Spiritual Care Intern (The Ottawa Hospital)