St. Mary’s Youth Ministry Director and St. Mary’s graduate Will Targy class of ’00 was blessed with a wonderful pilgrimage opportunity this past summer where he went to Europe for World Youth Day and then to Rome. A $1,000 grant from Home and School helped fund this trip of a lifetime that left Targy filled with hope. Please take a walk with him on the pilgrimage through his words and photos.
Our group from Omaha was 46 strong and very diverse. We had 4 priests, 3 consecrated lay women from the Apostolic Oblates plus a mixture of seminarians, college students, current FOCUS missionaries and young professionals. Our first destination was Krakow, Poland, which would be the host site of the 14th International World Youth Day. WYD is a celebration where the youth continue to answer the invitation of the Holy Father in staggering numbers and carry home the message received there to be Christ’s light to the world. We were blessed to be in the home of many great modern saints like St. John Paul II, St. Faustina and St. Maximilian Kolbe. Our group was put up in an elementary school in Wodowice, the childhood home of St. John Paul. We were about 30 km outside of Krakow, the capital city of Poland. We spent the week touring many sites including Auschwitz, the Divine Mercy Shrine and St. Faustina’s convent along with local churches and museums. World Youth Day provided various activities like catechesis, concerts, and a closing overnight vigil that ended with holy mass on Sunday morning with Pope Francis. One of the many graces I personally received from World Youth Day was an incredible amount of hope. In his Sunday homily, Pope Francis said, “[At] times in our lives, we aim lower rather than higher. At those times, it is good to realize that God remains faithful, even obstinate, in His love for us. The fact is He loves us even more than we love ourselves. He believes in us even more than we believe in ourselves. He is always “cheering us on”; he is our biggest fan.” This struck me not only personally but also as a message of hope to our world and our culture where despair and indifference are so widespread. And just seeing the nearly 2 million young people coming together to celebrate their Catholic faith was really awe-inspiring.
From Krakow, we took a flight to Rome to begin the second and final leg of our pilgrimage. I’m sure the ‘Eternal City’ needs no introduction and we just hit the ground running. Our days in Rome were just as incredible as Poland. Day One had us visiting the ancient catacombs, St. Sebastian’s tomb/church, and St. Paul’s tomb/basilica with an incredible lunch in between. The next day we were extremely blessed to see Pope Francis again at his papal audience in the Vatican. A few from our group even got to shake his hand! From there, we took a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, which included the ancient Scavi, the necropolis underneath St. Peter’s where he is buried. St. Peter’s Basilica itself is absolutely unimaginable, like no other church I’ve ever seen. That was a great day. Moving on, we toured St. John Lateran (another of the major basilicas), which included the baptismal font of Emperor Constantine. Across the street from St. John’s was the Church of the Holy Stairs. This church housed the marble staircase Christ was believed to have walked on during his passion interrogations with Pontius Pilate. The stairs are now covered with wood and pilgrims are invited to travel up them on their knees. I took the opportunity to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary as I climbed and it was an incredibly humbling and powerful prayer experience. Our last few days in Rome included visits to St. Mary Major, one of the oldest churches dedicated to Our Lady. We also visited St. Cecilia’s tomb/church and the Gesu, the mother church of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), which contains the tomb of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the hand/forearm of St. Francis Xavier. In between church visits, we visited the Coliseum and Roman Forum and sampled all of the finest Italian cuisine (including daily gelato outings). Rome was an incredible look into the history of our church and an opportunity to pray with and discover the great men and women who have given their lives for Jesus Christ. Many of them had humble beginnings but said “yes” to God’s will in their lives every single day. I hope to continue praying with those moments and encounters for as long as I can. (for more photos and descriptions of each click here.
In conclusion, this was truly the trip of a lifetime and I am hopeful that many graces will continue to flow from this experience.
Thank you and God bless,