(RNS) When my older sister attended World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, I begged my parents to let me go as well. I wanted so badly to travel across the planet, meet new people, see Pope Benedict XVI, and take in the sights of Australia.

Hannah Welz, who will be a junior this fall at The Catholic University of America, reflects on her upcoming trip to World Youth Day 2013. Welz is an English major from Downingtown, Pa. Photo courtesy Hannah Welz

Hannah Welz is a junior at The Catholic University of America. Photo courtesy Hannah Welz

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It wasn’t until I was older that I realized World Youth Day is more than just a Catholic vacation. It is a pilgrimage, one that requires a joyful spirit, an open heart, and a desire to deepen and develop your faith.

So when I heard that Catholic University would be sending a group to Brazil for World Youth Day, I was overjoyed that my dream would be coming true, and I knew it could not have happened at a better time or with a better group of people.

As a student at CUA, I have been able to mature in my faith surrounded by wonderful people endeavoring to do the same. The CUA World Youth Day group includes some of these wonderful people. We come from all over — from Minnesota to Miami, and Pennsylvania to Poland — but we are united by our faith and our joy as pilgrims on a remarkable journey.

In preparing for this pilgrimage, the theme of World Youth Day has been something my group and I have continually returned to in reflection. The theme is a message of hope taken from the Gospel of Mark: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” The disciples had recently seen their Messiah suffer, die, and return to life; they are full of joy but they are reminded of the great task at hand. They are sent by Jesus to go out to share his works and teachings with all peoples.

It is a daunting task, but the disciples are confident in the presence of the Lord, and face the challenge with joyful spirits.  World Youth Day 2013 commissions the youth of the world in a similar way.

In an age when things might at times seem hopeless, it is important for us to be reminded not only of the role we play in the world, but also of the continual presence of the Lord. The theme says it all. We are to go out into the world — to our homes, our schools, our workplaces — and bear the good news to everyone we meet. But just as the disciples were not alone in their mission, so too we have a constant companion in Christ.

In calling together the youth of the planet, World Youth Day inspires and encourages us to support each other on our missionary journeys. We are all pilgrims together, and we know that once we have completed our pilgrimage, our work is really just beginning!

World Youth Day provides an opportunity for us, the young people of the planet, to celebrate our faith in the best ways we know how — through the sacraments, prayer, music, and dancing, and by meeting new people from around the world. It is a unique opportunity for us to express our joyful faith and hope in the Lord together.

From the different catechetical sessions with bishops from around the world, to Stations of the Cross and the Vigil Mass with Pope Francis, to free time spent getting to know and sharing with my group and other pilgrims, I am sure the time in Rio de Janeiro will be unlike anything I have ever experienced.

(Hannah Welz, a junior at The Catholic University of America, is an English major from Downingtown, Pa.)



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