Laura May and Becky Keteltas
Laura May and Becky Keteltas

As the bus pulled up to Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac on July 24 to pick up 23 World Youth Day pilgrims on their way to Dulles Airport for their flight to Kraków, Poland, Father William Byrne was among those wishing them well on their journey.

“For people of faith, there are no coincidences. Everything is providence,” said the parish’s pastor, who had just  offered a special prayer for the pilgrims at Mass. “It’s an incredible blessing that the Lord called Mercy pilgrims in the Year of Mercy to the city of mercy,” where St. Faustina received her revelation of Divine Mercy.

For several participants, the pilgrimage resembled a family trip, as they were accompanied by family members as well as people from their parish family. Father Chris Seith, the parochial vicar at Our Lady of Mercy who was helping to lead the pilgrimage, was joined by his brother Eric, who hopes to become a Carmelite priest.

Father Seith said that Pope Francis will be continuing the legacy of St. John Paul II, the patron saint of World Youth Day who began the international gatherings and who served as a priest and archbishop in Kraków. “Both in their own ways inspire the young to give themselves fully to Christ,” he said.

The priest said he hoped the World Youth Day pilgrims take away the understanding that “the Church is very much alive and young, so that’s something they want to own and be a part of and share.”

Before Mass, siblings Greg and Abby Sharp spoke about their hopes for the pilgrimage they would be taking together. Greg, 17, will be a senior at St. John’s College High School, where he is a linebacker on the football team and participates in the Junior ROTC program. He hopes to learn more about his faith at World Youth Day. Abby is 16 and will be a junior at St. John’s, where she is on the volleyball team. “I think it’ll be a really good experience for both of us,” she said. “We get to connect with more people from all over the world.” She hopes the experience will help her “fall more in love with God.”

Melissa Ford, a New Jersey resident who is studying nursing at  Catholic University, said she is looking forward to feeling a spirit of unity with young Catholics from around the world. “I think that will transcend language barriers and cultural differences we have,” she said.

Laura May and Becky Keteltas, rising seniors at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, have grown up together, having attended 12 years of school with each other, and the friends said World Youth Day would offer another growing experience for them  as they prepare for college. May said the pilgrimage would offer “a great way to connect with God and have Him with me.” Keteltas hopes the journey will help the young pilgrims understand that “God is always there in our lives.”

Tony Falcone, who will be a junior at the Heights School in Potomac, was making the pilgrimage with his sister Daniela, a rising senior at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and with their mother, Anna-Maria Falcone. “I’m really excited to be with a bunch of other Catholic youth from around the world. It’s  really cool to be with them,” he said. “We’re all there for the same purpose, to see the pope and to come together to pray for the world.”

His mom said it would be inspiring to come to the city that shaped the life and work of St. John Paul II, who has been a great influence on her own life. Anna-Maria Falcone hopes the young pilgrims learn “to trust Jesus in everything, to know He loves them dearly and has a plan for their life, and to be open to whatever that plan is, and not be afraid.”

Moments later, the pilgrims loaded their luggage onto the bus, climbed aboard and headed off for their rendezvous with Pope Francis and a million or so other youth from around the world.

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