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World Youth Day pilgrimage to Lisbon being planned by OP parish

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World Youth Day 2023 is now less than a year away. Lisbon, Portugal, not far from the site of the Fatima apparitions, will host the international Catholic event Aug. 1-6. World Youth Day is a worldwide encounter with the pope celebrated about every three years in a different country. Events include Mass with Pope Francis, visits to pilgrimage sites, and encounters with Catholics from around the globe. The most recent WYD was celebrated in Panama City, Panama in 2019.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Orchard Park is leading a pilgrimage with guests from seven other parishes. Thirteen spots are still open for pilgrims 18 and older.     

“I was always open to collaboration with other parishes, because it helps to have more people. I think it’s a better experience for everybody,” said Sarah Leahy, youth minister for Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is located 70 miles from Lisbon and will be a popular site for pilgrims. San Jorge Castle, the Cristo Rey statue, the Cathedral St. Mary Major, and the Church of St. Anthony are also on the itinerary to see.

Leahy had previously attended WYD 2016 in Krakow, Poland, where she visited local churches, heard from international speakers, and met people from across the globe.

“The things that made me so passionate about wanting to bring a group from Sacred Heart when I came here was the experience of the international Church that just can’t be replicated anywhere else,” she said. “To see how the Church across the world worshipped the same and different at the same time; the unexpected meetings and conversations with people from other countries and cultures, and knowing that we all shared our Catholic faith was really powerful to me.”

WYD is meant to be more than a tourist trip. It is a pilgrimage that should change and shape the pilgrim.

“I remember a young women during the overnight vigil on Saturday night from Syria. In 2016 it was particularly bad in their refugee crisis,” recalled Leahy. “A young woman was up there sharing the plight of young adult Catholics in Syria. It hit me in a totally different way that I saw global news differently ever since that point. Now, when I read about stuff going on in the other side of the world there’s a human face to it. I think I’ve brought things to prayer and paid more attention to those things because of that.”

St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Tonawanda will be joining Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. A lot of effort and commitment is involved in preparing for the weeklong event. Even now, a year away, fundraising is a must. The parish has gotten creative by holding a dinner and magic show, and a Wine and Paint Day with a local artist. A chowder sale took place last fall. 50/50 tickets will be sold at some Sabres games.

“I’ve heard a lot of people talk about it,” said Sue Ann Salterelli, family faith formation director. “All of us want to grow in our faith, and we thought this was a great opportunity to do that, to have an experience of probably discomfort and the unknown and growing closer to God and going closer to each other. It’s a really nice group of people we have.”

Salterelli said no one from her group has been on a pilgrimage before, let alone something on the scale as World Youth Day.

The crew has been preparing by meeting in prayer and fraternity and taking a hike to Eternal Flame Falls in Orchard Park.

 “The world seems smaller to the people who I have talked to who have gone. They said when they meet other Catholics around the world from other countries and cultures, it puts a face on the geography that they know,” Salterelli said.

The Our Lady of the Sacred Heart group still has 13 open spots for pilgrims 18-35. Contact Sarah Leahy at SLeahy@olshop.org for more information. To Learn more about World Youth Day, visit www.lisboa2023.org/en.

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