SJU Students Explore Faith, Fellowship at World Youth Day

Produced by: Office of Marketing and Communications

September 22, 2016

In his homily at World Youth Day (WYD), an international gathering of Catholic youth, His Holiness Pope Francis encouraged the millions of young people participating in Kraków, Poland, this summer to “believe in a new humanity” that’s stronger than evil and refuses to see borders as barriers.

Zachary Reale ’18Pharm.D. is one of the 32 St. John’s University students, campus ministers, and seminarians who traveled to Europe to see the Holy Father and experience their Catholic faith on a deeper level. “Pope Francis is mercy,” said Reale. “He brings the Gospel to life and is able to connect with people everywhere.”   

Open to young people from around the globe, WYD is a weeklong encounter with the Pope and Catholics celebrated in a different country every three years. Held in Poland from July 25 to 31, the event drew nearly three million people ages 16‒35.  Attendees received sacraments, engaged in prayer throughout the week, and heard the transformative words of Pope Francis.    

“World Youth Day brings together Catholic youth from over 187 countries for fellowship, catechesis, and prayer while experiencing global solidarity,” said Andrea Pinnavaia, Campus Minister for Liturgy and Faith Formation in St. John’s Office Campus Ministry, which sponsored the trip. “Taking our students on this journey demonstrates this University’s commitment to being a leader in Catholic education.”  

A prayer vigil took place at Campus Misericordiae the evening before the concluding Mass celebration, where millions of people gathered to pray, sing, and hear from the Pope. Campus Misericordiae, or “Field of Mercy,” is the name given to the special site designed specifically for this year’s World Youth Day Papal Vigil and closing Mass.

Because the local roads were closed, participants traveled nine miles on foot to the Mass site and spent Saturday night in the sprawling field. “I was a little nervous to sleep outdoors, but staying outside overnight was one of my favorite parts of the experience because all of us were in community together—regardless of what country we call home,” said Marissa Ruotolo ’16C, ’18G.

Pope Francis addressed the faithful on the final day, advocating for courage when faced with the world’s criticism and doubt. “People will try to block you, to make you think that God is distant, rigid, and insensitive,” said the Holy Father. “We must maintain our hope and show love to all—even our enemies.”

Pope Francis's pilgrimage to Poland also included a private meditation at the Auschwitz death camp on July 29, along with a prayer for the end of a new wave of global terrorism. The students, ministers, and seminarians from St. John’s also paid their respects at Auschwitz. “Visiting a place where such atrocities took place was so important,” Reale noted. “It helped illustrate what can happen when we replace love with hate.”  

“As a St. John’s student, I felt inspired by meeting so many people dedicating their lives to service,” observed Priscilla Manzo ’17CPS. “I know I will keep following my Vincentian values even after graduation and continue to serve the poor and those in need.”