Youths from Panama carry the World Youth Day cross after receiving it from representatives from Poland in 2017 at the conclusion of Palm Sunday Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. CNS photo/Paul Haring
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BRAINTREE -- Preparations are underway for The Boston Archdiocese's round-trip pilgrimage to World Youth Day, which will take place in Panama City, Panama, in January 2019.
Registration for the pilgrimage from Boston closed July 1. The trip will take place Jan. 20-28, with World Youth Day taking place January 22-27.
Pope John Paul II instituted the tradition of an annual World Youth Day for the Church in 1986 with a large international gathering held every two or three years in a major city around the world. It celebrates the role of young people in the Church and gives them a chance to encounter the pope. Past locations have included Madrid, Rome, and Paris.
"Traditionally the pilgrimage from Boston to World Youth Day has been mostly high school age youth and their leaders," said Michael Drahos, Evangelization Consultant, who attended World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland in 2016. "We've had a young adult track as well, but they've been a minority."
The demographic of pilgrims from Boston is slightly different this year as a result of World Youth Day taking place in January, when schools in the Northern Hemisphere will be in session. Traditionally, World Youth Days have been held in either July or August, including the 2008 gathering in Sydney, Australia and the 2013 gathering in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, when it was winter in those Southern Hemisphere countries. The last time a World Youth Day was held in January was 1995 in Manila, Philippines.
Drahos explained that the winter date has made it difficult for American students to decide whether or not to go on the trip.
"By the time they would have had to sign up, they don't even know what classes they're going to be in," he said. "They don't know what extracurricular activities they're going to be in. So it's really hard for them to even think about what that would look like, to miss all that stuff, because they don't know what they'd be missing, but they do know it would be five days out of school. That's been a challenge, so we've had to kind of rethink our pilgrimage in light of that."
"The same groups that would usually go every year are not able to," said Natalia Pellicano, Director of Faith Formation and Missionary Discipleship for Ethnic Communities in the Boston Archdiocese. "But this also opened the opportunity for more young adults to attend."
According to Pellicano, some Catholic schools are granting their students permission to attend World Youth Day without being penalized for missing class.
"We did have the challenge that our usual audience is not the same audience that we're taking," she said. "It's more of a young adult group, people who are going individually, on their own."
"It's been, I think, a challenge for everyone because it's new," Drahos said. "Everyone is used to the summer pilgrimage. And that's beyond Boston ... it's all the other American dioceses (and) around the world, too. It's kind of new territory for everyone, and everyone's trying to figure out what that's going to look like."
The Boston Archdiocese's Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support is working with Dube Travels, a travel agency in Maine, to make arrangements for the Boston to Panama pilgrimage, which will include a city tour, a rally in the Gamboa Rainforest, Masses with the host city's local bishop and the pope, catechesis and cultural events, and Stations of the Cross.
In the months leading up to World Youth Day, the office will hold meetings for both pilgrims and those leading groups of pilgrims in preparation for their trip.
"We always do some kind of initial meetings with the leaders that lead up to World Youth Day, to kind of encourage and help them to prepare their own groups and themselves to have the most fruitful experience on the pilgrimage that they can," Drahos explained. Now that the registration period is over and they know who is coming on the trip, "We have two more meetings planned for those people."
Drahos continued, "The first meeting would be for leaders of groups, and it would focus more on how they can be preparing their people ahead of time." These can vary slightly depending on whether a group consists of teenagers or adults, "but it's the same kind of general best practices for preparing a group for a pilgrimage like this to have the best experience and encounter with the Lord that they can on it."
Then, before the group departs for Panama City, they will have a special sendoff meeting where pilgrims will be able to meet other groups and individuals preparing for the trip, and also enjoy Panamanian food and cultural events in anticipation of the pilgrimage.