WILMINGTON — It was an unusually cold day, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of the more than 1,100 people who took part in the Diocese of Wilmington’s sixth annual Youth Pilgrimage, which was held March 28 on the streets and in the churches of Wilmington.
Each year, young people march with Bishop Malooly from parish to parish to commemorate Jesus carrying his cross. It’s a powerful way for the youth to witness their faith, the bishop said.
“We get to pray and we get to interact with each other. I think the best thing for the young people is to see that there are 1,100 others like themselves who want to spend the day sharing their faith. To me, that’s the best thing,” said the bishop, who also participated in 21 similar walks while a priest in Baltimore.
During his homily at St. Elizabeth Church, Bishop Malooly told the pilgrims that Pope Francis, in his message for Palm Sunday this year, has challenged young people “to have the courage to be happy.”
He encouraged them to do two things: pray and witness.
“I want all of you to make it a point this week to pray in whatever way you find helpful. Spend time in conversation with the Lord. The second thing that we did was we witnessed. We saw some people come out and ask what we were doing. And you told them what we were doing. Some just came out and clapped as we went by their houses. Your presence was a witness.”
Joseph Fassano, a freshman at Salesianum School and a member of St. John the Beloved Parish in Wilmington, said he liked that some people who live along the route came outside to cheer the young pilgrims on.
“We had some people videotaping us on their phones. That was cool,” said Fassano, who was making his first pilgrimage.
The cold temperatures didn’t seem to discourage the pilgrims or the residents, said Patrick Donovan, the director of the Catholic Youth Ministry office. He was impressed by the enthusiasm of the young people and Bishop Malooly.
“We are blessed as a diocese to have a bishop who will lead the young people by example, encouraging them to lift the cross high so people can see it, walking out in front so that people who are watching know that these young people are his and challenging the pilgrims to, in the words of Pope Francis, ‘have the courage to be happy,’” Donovan said.
Riayn Baggs of Our Mother of Sorrows in Centreville, Md., was there for the third time. She spent the day with Bishop Malooly as his assistant.
“It was amazing. He ended up giving me a cross that Pope Benedict had blessed for him in 2009. I got to spend the day holding his stuff and helping him and talking to him,” she said.
Baggs, a junior at Queen Anne’s County (Md.) High School, said bad weather makes for a better pilgrimage because “everybody is brought that much closer by the cold or rain or whatever it happens to be.
“The kids were great today. They were very cooperative and they carried the cross with a lot of reverence. You could tell that they cared and they were realizing what they were doing and how they were witnessing Jesus’ walk to Calvary.”
Two students said they liked being around others of similar faith, although they came from different backgrounds.
Shelby Fallin is a freshman at Concord High School and a member of Holy Rosary Parish in Claymont. She attended last year and wanted to come back.
Faith is not a subject at Fallin’s public school. She said she was “spiritually uplifted” at the pilgrimage, which she attended for the second time.
Theresa Moschelle, the director of religious education and youth ministry at Holy Rosary, said Fallin was not required to attend.
“It’s not like she’s getting points or anything at school,” Moschelle said. “And she spent last night doing Stations of the Cross at our parish. So she’s had ‘March madness,’ we call it.”
Another walker, Sam Warpinski, was back for his third pilgrimage. The Ss. Peter and Paul Elementary School eighth-grader, a member of Our Mother of Sorrows Church in Centreville, Md., enjoyed the energy that his colleagues showed.
“We’re respectful when we need to be and we can get loud when we need to be,” he said.
Several women religious in habits were noticeable among the walkers. They joined this year as part of the year of consecrated life, Bishop Malooly said. About 15 priests gathered at St. Anthony’s to hear confessions.
Donovan said the popularity of the event continues to grow. About 115 people who weren’t registered showed up Saturday morning saying they had just heard about the pilgrimage and wanted to be a part of it. In addition, many of the students are involved in sports or have jobs and were willing to give up a day of commitments to walk with their friends and the bishop.
Part of the pilgrimage was a collection of canned goods and baby items. The bins were filled at St. Anthony’s, and the items were given to Catholic Charities.