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Local WYD event offers talks, music and games


As local pilgrims boarded a plane for Lisbon, Portugal, to participate in World Youth Day 2023, others gathered at OLV Basilica & National Shrine for a domestic version of the international Catholic faith event.

Father Joseph Franz and Jacob Druzbik get their WYD passport photo taken with Father Nelson Baker. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

“World Youth Day is something that connects people internationally unlike any other event, so we wanted to have just a little bit of that here in Buffalo,” said Jacob Druzbik, co-director of the July 30 event, who also serves as director of Youth Ministry at St. Bernadette in Orchard Park.

Youth and young adult directors from several area parishes teamed up to create the miniaturized version of World Youth Day for those who could not make the trip to Lisbon. Instead of seven days, the local event lasted seven hours. Guest speakers, prayer opportunities, and music were still on hand.

Joe Heschmeyer, a staff apologist for Catholic Answers, gave a talk before Mass on the WYD theme, based on Luke 1:39, which reads: “Mary arose and went with haste.”

“It is there where Elizabeth responds to her ‘Blessed are you among women.’ So, I wanted to say, ‘Why does she say, “Blessed are you among women?” Why not just “Blessed are you?”’ Is she saying you’re pretty good for a girl? Is it a girl-power feminist thing? No, neither of these. Instead ‘blessed among women’ should be taken in an Old Testament context – that God had promised to work through a woman to defeat the devil.

“Secondly, Mary is the model of discipleship. She is the ark of the New Covenant. But when she received Jesus, the first thing she does is go out and share Jesus with others. This is one of the things we’re encouraged to do this World Youth Day,” Heschmeyer explained.

A former attorney, former seminarian, and now writer for Catholic Answers, Heschmeyer attended World Youth Day Krakow in 2016.

Father Joseph Tokasz celebrated Mass, along with Msgr. David LiPuma, pastor of OLV; Msgr. Paul Burkard, pastor emeritus; and Deacon Michael Dalessandro.

In his homily, Father Tokasz mentioned that he is the youngest priest serving the Diocese of Buffalo. During his formation years, the question he was most asked was what are you most looking forward to.

“The answer I came up with was I am looking forward to being able to be with my brothers and sisters, people of my generation, people who are my age,” he said. “I have a great love for ministry to the youth. I want to say to them, ‘This is for you. This is something you can live and enjoy with peace. This is something that you can take up and never put down. It will never lead you astray. That will never lack giving you joy.’ I think the answer really is here today,” he said.

After Mass, “The Voice” semi-finalist and Buffalo native Cami Clune treated the 80 or so guests to songs from No Doubt and Fleetwood Mac.

Food trucks, information booths and backyard games were also available through the evening.

“The games were fun. The booths were really interesting to look at. I enjoy the singing,” said guest Kaylee Conway from St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Hamburg.

Nicole Janecek, assistant director of youth and young adult ministry for St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville, served as MC for the event. She spoke of the importance of ministry to youth and young adults.  

“The representation of the youth is super important. For the diocese, it is really important that the youth continues to be represented,” she said. “The pope calls for the youth to be represented with World Youth Day. Right now, World Youth Day is happening in Lisbon. Now, not all of us can go to Lisbon and be pilgrims, so it is a really awesome opportunity to bring the youth and young adults, and their families and other people together to celebrate our faith and just be together. We had Mass and all the wonderful Catholic things, and then we get to be together as a community.”

World Youth Day takes place Aug. 1-6. Thirty-two pilgrims from Western New York are attending, including Father Michael Johnson, parochial vicar for Family #29, who is serving as chaplains for the group.


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