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 | By Carol Wiget

Diocese of Birmingham sends 64 pilgrims to World Youth Day 2023

“To talk about young people is to talk about promise and to talk about joy. Young people have so much strength; they are able to look ahead with hope. A young person is a promise of life that implies a certain degree of tenacity. He is foolish enough to delude himself, and resilient enough to recover from that delusion.” — Pope Francis, Christus vivit (Christ Is Alive)

This year, the Diocese of Birmingham will be taking 64 teens, young adults, and adult leaders on a pilgrimage to Lisbon, Portugal, for World Youth Day (WYD) from July 28-Aug. 7. Since September 2022, local pilgrims and leaders have been gathering weekly in prayer and adoration to open their hearts to the fullness of the WYD experience. Once the pilgrims arrive in Portugal, they will visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, the historic Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monastery, and Santarem, home of a medieval Eucharistic miracle.

World Youth Day is a global Catholic event that brings together over one million Catholic teens and young adults in the world's single biggest celebration of the Eucharist.

Held once every three years, WYD is an opportunity for the young Church to gather and share their faith and cultures, exemplifying that as a Church we are one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Through this life-changing event, pilgrims will encounter Christ and experience the unity of the world-wide Church through Mass, reconciliation, catechesis, eucharistic adoration, and praise and worship. The 17th WYD event in Lisbon highlights the theme, “Mary arose and went with haste.” (Lk 1:39) Reflecting the urgency with which Mary responded to God’s call, the theme serves to inspire the young Church to follow Mary’s faithful and humble obedience with similar urgency. This year’s WYD will culminate with a 15-mile pilgrimage to the coast of Portugal, closing with a Mass celebrated by His Holiness.

Reflecting upon Pope St. John Paul II’s numerous messages to the young Church and spending time before the Eucharist in adoration has reminded local pilgrims that WYD is more than a trip abroad.

In 1999, Pope St. John Paul II addressed young people in St. Louis, Missouri, saying, “You are ready for what Christ wants of you now. He wants you — all of you — to be the light of the world, as only young people can be light. It is time to let your light shine.” Because of that light, WYD has a tremendous impact on its pilgrims, displaying the universality of the Church through the witness of so many from all over the world. Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have been united in their emphasis on the importance of young people to the renewal of the Catholic Church.

In his encyclical Christus vivit, Pope Francis noted: “A young person stands on two feet as adults do, but unlike adults, whose feet are parallel, he always has one foot forward, ready to set out, to spring ahead. Always racing onward.”

Capitalizing on that forward mindset, one of the main goals of WYD is to encourage young people to become the active faithful, invested in the growth of the Church and her people.

Many return home to become priests, religious sisters, youth ministers, and other forms of missionary disciples, showing the power such events have on the hearts of our young and the corresponding impact on our Church and Her people.

I was certainly impacted when I went to World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany. No moment has made the catholicity of our faith clearer to me than the last night of the pilgrimage, sharing Marienfeld with 800,000 Catholics from around the world and celebrating the Eucharist during the closing papal Mass.

Anticipating a similar experience, one local pilgrim, Seminarian John Paul Stepnowski, remarked: “I am excited to attend World Youth Day, as it is a gathering of the Catholic (universal) Church. It gives me, and I hope all the other pilgrims, a glimpse at the communion of saints through this assembly of so many of the faithful from throughout the world.”

For young adult Bradley Murai, the prospect of being around other youth celebrating being Catholic is exciting, but the decision to attend WYD actually came to him in prayer. “Our world is hurting,” he said, “and I desire to help bring the Light of Jesus Christ to others in every encounter! When the Lord calls, we have two choices: to heed the call or completely ignore it. I have done enough of ignoring the Lord.”

Earlier this year, Pope Francis said, “Any young person who goes to WYD, goes because, deep down, he or she has the thirst to participate, to share, to tell their experience and receive the experience of others. They are thirsting for horizons.” The pilgrims from the Diocese of Birmingham exemplify the “thirst” of which the pope spoke.

Diocesan pilgrims began making preparations in November 2021, and the Diocese of Birmingham Office of Youth Ministry set out to make the experience accessible to all interested Catholics around the diocese. As one might imagine, such a trip is expensive. Pilgrims were asked to raise at least $2,000 of the $4,599 per-person cost, which would cover airfare, ground transportation, food, lodging, and WYD registration. Funds were raised in a variety of creative ways including letter-writing campaigns, t-shirt sales, raffles, bingo nights, line-dancing lessons, garage sales, and parish dinners. As a result of the dedication of the pilgrims and the generosity of numerous benefactors in the diocese, the $275,940 goal needed to embark on this incredible journey was met.

To read more about the pilgrims, visit

To learn more about World Youth Day, visit

World Youth Day 2023

by the numbers


64 pilgrims:

  • 1 priest, 2 seminarians
  • 33 female, 31 male
  • 19 youth (ages     18 and under)
  • 27 young adults (ages 19-35)
  • 18 chaperones (ages 35+)

14 parishes represented:

  • Cathedral of St. Paul
  • Chapel of the Holy Cross
  • Holy Spirit (Huntsville)
  • Holy Spirit (Tuscaloosa)
  • Our Lady of Sorrows
  • Prince of Peace
  • St. William
  • Sacred Heart (Cullman)
  • St. Barnabas
  • St. Francis Xavier
  • St. John the Baptist
  • St. Joseph
  • St. Michael
  • St. Stephen the Martyr

Carol Wiget is the director of the diocesan Office of Youth Ministry.