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Canora resident joins over a million pilgrims at World Youth Day

Valérie Caza of Canora had the memorable experience of traveling to Portugal and attending Youth World Day in August

CANORA - Valérie Caza of Canora had the memorable experience of attending Youth World Day in August as a representative for Development and Peace – Caritas Canada in the Caritas Internationalis delegation.

“Being involved in this way allows me to put my faith into action,” said Caza. “I’m lucky to now have friends from all over the world.”

World Youth Day was started by Pope John Paul II and his belief that “All young people must feel that they are cared for by the Church.”

World Youth Day events have been taking place since the 1980s, hosted by a variety of countries. This year, World Youth Day was hosted in Portugal, with the main events taking place in the capital city of Lisbon.

Caza shared her Word Youth Day experience during a presentation at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Canora on Sept. 17.

World Youth Day is split into two parts.

“For the first five days or so, participants, who are referred to as pilgrims, are hosted by various dioceses throughout the country to experience local culture and smaller scale pilgrim events,” said Caza. “Then, all the pilgrims head to Lisbon for six days of festivities and main events, and  Pope Francis joined in for most them. These included an opening mass, a welcoming ceremony, the way of the cross, a pilgrimage, a vigil where we were invited to stay overnight and finally a missioning mass the next morning. Just to give you an idea of the scale of this event, it is estimated that 1.5 million were at the missioning mass.”

The word “Caritas” means “love” in Latin. Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 member organizations that operate in almost every country around the world, Development and Peace being the Canadian member.

“Our international Caritas delegation consisted of 18 young adult members, ages 22 to 40, from around the world, including: New Zealand, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Egypt, Cook Islands, Australia, Poland, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Czech Republic,” said Caza. “Some of us, like myself, are volunteers for our local Caritas organizations, and others work for their country’s Caritas organization.”

Caza and the rest of her delegation stayed at a Diocesan Caritas summer camp during the days in the diocese, which was conveniently located right next to the Atlantic Ocean.

“During the days in the Diocese, we had the opportunity to meet with local Portuguese Caritas groups who carry out Caritas’ mission by having tutoring programs, summer camps for kids, second-hand stores, social work services, and health services. We were particularly interested in meeting youth volunteers and seeing the work that they do, and how they’re involved in Caritas.”

The group also had the opportunity to visit Fatima while in Portugal, and then to Lisbon.

“We headed to Lisbon for World Youth Day’s main events,” continued Caza. “During the days in Lisbon, we operated a booth. Being in the booth was definitely a big highlight for me! In our booth, we talked about our experience with Caritas and learned from others how Caritas operates in their own countries. I had pilgrims tell me that some hospitals in their country are run by Caritas, while others shared that they were Caritas scholars. All of this, sometimes done through Google Translate, which added to the challenge, and the fun!

“Our booth encompassed the international aspect of Caritas. At our booth, pilgrims were invited to write a postcard to Pope Francis. We prepared seed packages for pilgrims to take home with seeds from a Caritas Portugal project with people who are incarcerated.

“Pilgrims were also invited to take a rosary that came from Caritas Jerusalem, where the making of the rosaries provided a job and income for families. And on the background of our booth was an upside map, which comes from one of Development and Peace’s campaign that challenges us to re-think the world!”

Caza and her delegation hosted an event that invited pilgrims to participate in an interactive scavenger hunt where they could experience one of two stories that each demonstrated one way in which Caritas operates. The first was humanitarian aid during crisis and emergency events, and the second, the long-term community development, advocacy and solidarity work that Caritas does at the grassroots level.

“I did have the opportunity to get a glimpse at Pope Francis, in the flesh!” shared Caza. “When he spoke, the Pope emphasized many times that the church is for all, and that all have a place in the church, inviting us to repeat with him “para todos, para todos, para todos,” for all, for all, for all.”

While being in a big crowd of fellow young Catholics, seeing the Pope in the flesh, having a giant sleepover in a field with a million people, and being woken up by a DJ priest’s rendition of Aleluia were all memorable moments, Caza said what really stood out to her about the experience was “the group of people that I was with.

“We were a diverse group in and of itself, and I feel quite honoured that I now have friends quite literally across the world. I admire each and every one of them greatly for the work that they do, whether is it empowering youth to be involved as youth and supporting organizations in making room for them, or working with refugees. Most of all, I am in awe of one particular delegate who works on violence against women issues in Egypt.”

Caza said that she came away from the World Youth Day experience recognizing that the Catholic Church still has some growing to do.

“And I’m also very thankful for my experience of church in general, where I have always felt welcomed, and where my presence was valued and appreciated. And now, where I, a young adult and a woman, can hold a position of leadership in a church, because I am well aware that that is not the case everywhere.”

Caza closed her presentation with words of encouragement from Pope Francis.

"Those who love do not stand idly by, but serve others. Those who love, hasten to serve, hasten to dedicate themselves to the service of others."

Caza said she is looking forward to future involvement with Caritas Canada, including a visit to Lebanon in October to meet with Caritas Lebanon and getting a first-hand look at their work.

Local celebrations of World Youth Day will be held in local churches around the globe on Nov. 26.

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