A group of Diocesan World Youth Day 2023 pilgrims from Epiphany Cathedral in Venice shared stories about their epic and faith-filled journey to their supporters during a gathering on Sept. 12, 2023.
Five teens, four priests and two adults, reflected upon their 11-day journey to Portugal, joining Pope Francis and 1.5 million others from around the world for a life-changing experience. They were among 52 pilgrims from the Diocese, including Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who travelled from July 29 to Aug. 8.
The evening was designed as a way for the pilgrims from the Cathedral to express their gratitude to the parishioners whose generosity allowed so many to go to World Youth Day. Stephanie Lovetere, Youth Director at Epiphany, organized the event.
As a slideshow of images and videos rotated on a screen, the pilgrims each reflected on highlights of the journey, including stops at Fatima, the site of a famous Marian apparition, as well as Santarem, the location of one of the earliest recognized Eucharistic Miracles, then in Lisbon for the main World Youth Day activities which included encounters with Pope Francis.
Christian DiGioia, a senior at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, said it was an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to go to World Youth Day.
“It didn’t hit me until we were in Fatima, as everything was happening so fast and we were all tired from flying and taking a bus, and then we were with a large group, praying the rosary, outside of the big Fatima Basilica and Shrine. What a faith-filled and joyful experience,” DiGioia said.
Others shared similar experiences with one teen saying how the frequent encounters with youth from different countries helped to reassure them about their faith, noting how language barriers meant nothing when words such as Jesus and Mary were sung or spoken, and the faith connection was made stronger.
One young man explained that a faith journey for teens today can be very lonely. However, being amongst 1.5 million other youth who are excited about their faith lit something within him – it is a gift he will carry with him for the rest of his life, he said.
The youth also enjoyed seeing Pope Francis, either during an opening ceremony or riding in the Popemobile, and hearing his inspirational words during the closing Mass.
Adult chaperone Krista Lopez, who journeyed to Portugal with her daughter, Tatiana, saw how the young people were “on fire for the Lord. None of them were faking it.”
Tatiana Lopez said the pilgrimage was “outstanding” and described how she and other Diocesan pilgrims had youth from around the world sign a Portuguese flag, with many adding inspirational messages.
“I also made a pledge to myself to pray for the supporters back here at Epiphany Cathedral who made this experience possible,” Tatiana said. “I am so blessed, as this is the closest time to my faith I have ever had, and it remains strong within me.”
Also sharing their experiences were Cathedral Parochial Vicars Fathers Alex Pince and Kris Piotrowski, as well as retired twins Fathers Richard and Robert Beligotti. The twin priests offered the closing praying for the gathering.
Several supporters told the pilgrims how impressed they were to hear about their experiences, and were enthralled how the young people conveyed not just the stories but the true emotional impact of the journey to Portugal.
Msgr. Patrick Dubois, Cathedral Rector, concluded the presentation by thanking the supporters for their willingness to understand the benefit of sending so many to World Youth Day from the Cathedral as possible.
To the pilgrims, he said, “Treasure your experience and share this with your friends. And take what you gained and continue growing in your faith.”