All roads lead to Madrid

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WYD participants 1

WORLD YOUTH Day participants

FROM AUGUST 16-21, 2011 a million people from around the globe will converge on Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day 2011 (WYD2011). Among them will be 28-year-old Michael Uebbing. It will mark his second WYD event: When he was 19, he, his brother, and their dad climbed in their family car on a whim and drove all the way from their northern Indiana home to WYD2002 in Toronto, Canada.

The trio hit the road with the goal of seeing Pope John Paul II in person, Uebbing says. They were not disappointed—at least not much. Once there they found themselves so far back in the vast crowd that they were unable to make out the pope’s face. Yet his image shone through on the TV monitors interspersed through the crowd. “His joy and exuberance and love for young people were quite evident,” recalls Uebbing. “It gladdened my heart to see so many different varieties, cultures, and ethnicities of people uniting to praise and worship God, to be fed by our Holy Father, to show appreciation for him, and to be inspired to be witness to our peers and the world.”

Planted and built up in Jesus Christ
Nearly 380,000 youth are registered to attend the 26th World Youth Day event. Most will come from Spain, Italy, France, the United States, Germany, Poland, Brazil, Portugal, Mexico, and Venezuela. “Planted and Built up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith” (Col. 2:7) is the theme of WYD2011, which is echoed in the official event theme song, Firmes en la Fe (“Strong in the Faith”). That hymn will be in the air throughout Madrid in several languages and music genres, including a pop-soul version. Pilgrims will attend organized events such as catechesis sessions, sporting events, concerts, and Vocational Expo 2011. The VISION Vocation Network staff is excited to participate in the expo for the first time and will have a booth there.

Hosted biennially in a different country—once in the U.S. so far, in Denver in 1993—WYD pilgrimages offer not only an opportunity for the world’s youth to worship with the pope but also to celebrate their Catholic faith en masse. Many come away newly inspired with a better idea of their life’s true calling within their faith.

See the bigger picture
Uebbing says his goals for the upcoming pilgrimage are twofold. “I want to support Pope Benedict XVI for his faithfulness to the church and for being a good shepherd to his flock,” and, he adds, “I have always wanted to travel internationally. I am most looking forward to experiencing the unique cultures of France and Spain—particularly the food.”

Uebbing will travel to WYD2011 with an entourage co-led by Cindy Black, director of youth, young adult, and campus ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend (Indiana). Like Uebbing she also attended WYD2002 in Toronto. The diocese’s WYD2011-destined group is made up of more than 120 people who include high school-aged teens, young adults, chaperones, priests, seminarians, and the diocese’s bishop, the Most Reverend Kevin C. Rhoades. On the journey to Madrid the group will make stops at Lourdes in France and Loyola and Burgos in Spain.

“Pilgrims to World Youth Day come away with a strong sense of the universality of the church,” Black says. “It is amazing to be with literally over a million people who are not there for a rock star or a sports team but because they have a common faith in Jesus Christ.

“You see people of all nationalities who speak many languages. But when we speak Mass with the Holy Father, we can all participate. It’s incredible to be next to a group on one side who is, say, from Asia, and a group from, say, Argentina on the other, but we all realize when he raises the Eucharist, that we share a common belief.”

Young people sense the magnitude of their faith
Uebbing said he believes that WYD holds great promise for spiritual and personal growth. Father Jim Gallagher, C.S.C., vocation director for the U.S. Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross at the University of Notre Dame, agrees. He is looking forward to August when he will travel to Madrid—his first WYD—along with Father Drew Gawrych, C.S.C., his associate vocation director. There he will serve as a main host at “Love and Life: A Home for English-Speaking Pilgrims" at the Palacio de Deportes, which will also be the location of the VISION booth.

Sports Arena

PALACIO de Desportes, home to English-
speaking pilgrims—and the VISION Vocation
Network—during World Youth Day in
Madrid, Aug. 15-21. Come visit us!

As Madrid’s premiere civic and sports arena, the facility can accommodate 15,000 people. Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, the Sisters of Life, and Holy Cross Family Ministries, Love of Life will offer an array of programming for English-speaking youth, including Masses and devotions, catechesis sessions, concerts, speakers, testimonies, prayer, and movie screenings. It is a “wonderful opportunity to see the church in action and to be a part of helping young people learn about their faith,” Gallagher says.

“Sometimes young people can feel like they are odd or different or ‘out on their own’ in their faith,” says Gallagher. “At World Youth Day they have the opportunity to discover the universality of the church and thus the idea that ‘this is something much bigger than me,’ and bigger than their home parishes. It provides them with the opportunity to grow and share that excitement with others when they go home. It is an evangelization effort for the youth of the world.”

Like Gallagher, Kyle Sladek of Green Bay, Wisconsin will be attending WYD for the first time in August with a group from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay. Sladek is part of a sub-contingent of about a dozen young men who are making the pilgrimage to help them discern a vocation to priesthood. “I am open to the priesthood if I realize ordination is the best way for me to serve God . . . . I hope to deepen existing friendships and begin new ones while experiencing the catholicity of the church in a new way,” he says.

After returning to the U.S. from Madrid, Sladek will begin his junior year at the University of Notre Dame where he is majoring in philosophy and theology. After graduation he plans to pursue a graduate degree in philosophy. “I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of Benedict, and I’m enrolled in a class this fall entitled ‘The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI.’ ”

Resources for participants, whether you go or not
Not able to journey to World Youth Day 2011 in person? Watch the experience live! Go to to begin your adventure online at the official event website. There you will find links to YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Xt3, and more. Visit for more on VISION’s involvement in World Youth Day. Go to to start your journey in discovering your life’s calling in the faith. +




Ann JacobsonAnn Jacobson is a freelance writer and editor based in Elkhart, Indiana who currently serves as Interim College Editor for Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana.




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