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Students head overseas for international pilgrimage

The group poses for a selfie in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, where they went through one of the holy doors. (Submitted photo)

Every two to three years, the Pope declares a celebration called World Youth Day. It’s a massive celebration for the Catholic church, one in which thousands of youth and young adults gather together from across the world.

This year, there are 21 youth from the Hastings, Cannon Falls, Vermillion and New Trier areas who will be attending World Youth Day 2016, which will be held in Krakow, Poland, July 25-31. Cindy Meyers, youth minister and director of religious education at St. Pius V in Cannon Falls, is coordinating the local trip.

According to the World Youth Day website, “World Youth Day is a unique way to deepen your faith and grow closer to Christ, by means of prayer and the sacraments, together with thousands of other young people who share your interests and ambitions.”

Meyers described the trip as a pilgrimage – a journey of sacrifice.

“It’s not just taking everything you want to take because you’re on vacation,” she said.

The group will be visiting holy sites, going to Mass every day and walking to their destinations whenever possible.

Members from the local parish community left July 9. Their trip starts before the official World Youth Day. Meyers said they’re starting their pilgrimage in Rome for five days, then Italy for nine days. From Italy, they’ll take a night train to Katowice, Poland, to visit the diocese there for five days before going to Krakow.

Along the way, they’ll see sites like the Vatican, the Coliseum and Pantheon, the holy stairs in Rome where it is believed Jesus climbed up to Pontius Pilate. They’ll tour Auschwitz and Jasna Gora, the location of the 1991 World Youth Day and also an icon believed to be created by St. Luke on a table that Jesus built.

“Everywhere that we are going has got a significance,” Meyers said.

They’ll stay in churches and faith families in Europe will take care of them along their journey, she said.

“It’s very much a pilgrimage because you don’t quite know where you’re going to be,” she said.

Before they left, she said she wasn’t even sure where they’d stay once they reached Krakow.

The trip got its start with a former youth minister at St. Pius V and St. Joseph in Miesville who had asked to go on a pilgrimage for World Youth Day. Although that person resigned and won’t be going, the group continued with the plans.

As of July 12, the group had made it to Vatican City. Their blog update gives a glimpse of what they’re experiencing:

“We were blessed to have Pope Francis walk past us today at the Vatican. Yesterday after a long day at St Peter’s Basilica, we decided to end with the Cupola. It was such an amazing journey getting to the top.

“Today we had a tour of the Vatican Museum and the Scavi Necropolis tour.

“We walked almost 10 miles yesterday and today is not even close to over (we need to get back to our lodging) and have walked almost 7 miles. True pilgrimage as we offer our aching feet and the high heat as a sacrifice.”

As a chaperone, Meyers said she was looking forward to the spiritual journey and the large number of people that they’ll be joining.

“When we get to Poland and just have the masses of people coming in, the number of people that all have something in common,” she said. “That’s exciting, to be in the same area of a group that big of people coming together for the mission.”

There are three chaperones on the trip for the local parish group. Besides Meyers, Joyce Lorentz and Jodi Falk, both members of St. Pius V, will look after the group. Other than them, the other travelers range in age from 14 to 25.

The group will be posting updates about their pilgrimage to a blog,