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Students Join Millions of Young Catholics at World Youth Day

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Two St. John’s University students gained more than memories after joining young Catholics from around the world at this summer’s World Youth Day—and the preceding Vincentian Youth Gathering—in Rio de Janeiro.

“There was this positive energy, this spirit, that I’ve been able to take home with me,” said Joseph Reis ’14C (pictured on the home page), a psychology major at the University’s Queens, NY, campus. “It was a wonderful opportunity to be with others who are interested in learning more about our faith.”

“Before World Youth Day, I would sometimes find myself worrying about little things,” noted Ashley Bauman ’15C (also pictured on the home page), a student at St. John's Staten Island, NY, campus. “But being there, and especially hearing the homily by Pope Francis, showed me how our faith can teach us to be quiet within ourselves.”

View the photo gallery  from World Youth Day.

The Office of Campus Ministry selected the students to represent St. John's at World Youth Day 2013, held July 23–28. The event drew an estimated three million people to Brazil’s second-largest city. Activities included morning catechetical sessions, Taizé prayers welcoming Pope Francis, music, a living Stations of the Cross and an evening prayer vigil. Pope Francis celebrated the closing Mass and delivered a moving homily.

Reis and Bauman also attended this year’s Vincentian Youth International Gathering, July 18– 21 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The young Vincentians prepared for World Youth Day through prayer and service, including a visit to a homeless shelter. Together, the two events challenged young people to root their faith in Christ and to draw upon Vincentian values as they strive to live their beliefs.

An “Overwhelming” Experience

“Participating in World Youth Day and the Vincentian Youth Gathering is vital both for the students selected and for our University,” said Pamela Shea-Byrnes, D.Min. ’86SVC, ’90G, Vice President of University Ministry and University Events. “It’s part of St. John’s mission to instill within our students an appreciation for the value of faith in general, and our Catholic faith in particular. St. John’s students have taken part in World Youth Day since Pope John Paul instituted this important spiritual event nearly 30 years ago, and we look forward to continuing to encourage participation in the future.”

It was back in November that Reis and Bauman learned they were selected to attend the July events. “I was very surprised—and excited—when I found out I was going,” said Reis, who wrote a blog about his experience. “I’d wanted to attend World Youth Day for some time, and it was an honor to represent St. John’s.”

“I was overwhelmed with happiness when they contacted me,” said Bauman. “I’d always known about World Youth Day, but until now, I’d never thought I would be able to go.” She added that attending the Vincentian Youth Gathering beforehand was helpful preparation for the event. “I learned to understand and appreciate the different ways that other cultures celebrate their faith—the same faith as mine, but often expressed a bit differently.”

The experience, Reis noted, was moving in every sense. ”The scenery was spectacular, a really great backdrop for the message,” he said. “A lot of the main events were on Copacabana Beach, and we were able to visit Christ the Redeemer,” the 98-foot statue overlooking the city on Corcovado Mountain. “It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Reis and Bauman said they were especially inspired by Pope Francis’s concluding homily, which drew attention to this year’s theme—“Go and make disciples of all nations,” from Matthew 28:19. “He used three simple verbs to express what this means,” said Bauman. “Go among the nations, do not be afraid and make disciples. It was so meaningful for my own journey.”