A group from the Archeparchy of Philadelphia returned from World Youth Day in Lisbon

The World Youth Day was held from August 1 to 6 in Lisbon. It attracted approximately one and a half million young people. There were 28,000 from the United States and about five hundred young Catholics from Ukraine. Among the participants was a group of twelve youth from the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia who represented both the American and Ukrainian Churches.

Everyone’s experience was unique, and we tried to ask the participants of our group about what they encountered in Lisbon - what they learned about God, about themselves, and about the Church.

Yuliana Fartachuk

During World Youth Day, I noticed that when people were asked “Where are you from?” Usually, you heard a straight response - from this country or this religious organization. Only Ukrainians would answer “Ukrainians from Philadelphia”, “Ukrainians from Belgium”, “Ukrainians from France”, etc. We were all here together for the same reason, with the same faith and beliefs. There were millions of people trying to honor the same thing but we [Ukrainians] were here on a slightly different mission, with additional questions and aspirations. The most surprising for me was to observe how open everyone was in conversations with the young people, especially the bishops and the priests who were including us in every conversation, answering questions and asking us our opinions. We may not always agree but open discussion was a nice surprise.

Zoryana Mokhnal

The Church once again tore down the stereotype of being an obsolete museum artifact. The Church keeps up with the younger generation, understands young people, and helps them develop spiritually and to discover their place near God and in the Church community. What struck me the most was the scope of what was happening here. A million people in one place, at one time, united by one goal.

Marko Khreptyk

The phrase that stuck with me is from Archbishop Borys’s homily “Bread must be broken to be shared”. To know better about yourself or others, you need to develop and know what makes up a person. I discovered the unity of the Ukrainian Catholic Church – we sing the same songs, hymns, and prayers. One of the lessons I learned - do not overthink, just do it.  

Stefan Bilyk

We don't all have the same opportunities in life. And we need to help others who don't have those opportunities and help the world. During World Youth Day, everybody was open and kind and we were able to find a common language.

Marko Doroch

Without a broken soul, it is going to be harder for you to understand other people, and if you don’t understand others, you will just be ignorant. You are not alone. The community is much larger than I expected. Back in America, it's a little bit more secluded, we have fewer people. I was quite surprised to see almost two million people here.

Fr. Ostap Mykytchyn

I saw that our Church is young and alive and that it will continue to live with the energy that I have encountered here among so many young people. I was struck by the understanding that each young person follows his or her own unique path to God. Everyone has their own encounter with Him. Everyone has their own unique understanding of God.

Viktoria Obidnyak

I learned that prayer is stronger and more powerful when you are praying with other people, and everybody is united in prayer. It was important to feel part of a bigger Ukrainian community and understand how people from different countries also support Ukrainians. I carried a Ukrainian flag, and I got plenty of attention. People were saying “Slava Ukraini”, asked to sign their flags, and shared their support. That was amazing. We spent a lot of church time together as well, a lot of liturgies and prayers, and this was our spiritual togetherness. Everyone was supportive and welcoming.  I have learned that I need more God in my life. 

Sofia Zacharczuk

Looking out into the crowd and seeing the never-ending sea of people - over 1.5 million people in one place – was incredible and overwhelming. But even deeper emotions came over me with the realization that they all came together for the same purpose, with the same goal.  Another insight that was reinforced—we are all human beings, we all have the same pain, and we all have the same needs. No matter if you're a pilgrim, a priest, a bishop, or the Pope, we all have the same basic things that we need from God and the same needs to be able to get through every day. It is comforting because you know you're not alone.

Archbishop Borys Gudziak

World Youth Day put a spotlight on my fears and pointed to my freedom. The confessions of young people, the prayerful liturgies, the catechesis offered and received, was for me truly renewing and refreshing.

World Youth Day was an experience of rediscovering God, the Church, and my brothers and sisters. Listening to and reading the words of the Pope, preaching myself, and most importantly being with many young people from virtually the whole world, I experienced the vastness of life, of our humanity, and reopened an experience of the greatness of God.

During World Youth Day, many things are simple, essential, and laid bare. You're away from the office, from the routine, from the pressing problems, and the joy and purity of encounter is something that I experienced very personally and in a way that inspired my faith. The beauty reflected in the young people leads me to experience again God's plan for all of us. World Youth Day is, first and foremost, an encounter, and that is what is at the essence of our relationship with God, but also of being the Church.

Many bishops, pastors, and people in the pews in daily life are often preoccupied, if not overwhelmed, by various administrative demands and professional, psychological, or political pressures. Every pilgrimage, every true pilgrimage, offers a respite from these confinements and frees us to delve into the mystery of God, to allow the mystery of God to delve into us, and to experience it with others. i.e., be the Church. For me, the prayer, the listening, and the sharing with very diverse members of the Church brought a sense of joy and freedom. I was encouraged by the liberty and spontaneity of the young people, and by their focus on the life of the Spirit. And by their good, clean fun.

For Ukrainians around the world who live in the shadow of a cruel invasion and brutal war which brings death and destruction, injury, and trauma, World Youth Day was a healing oasis, showing human beings created in the image and likeness of God.

“I was encouraged by the liberty and spontaneity of the young people, and by their focus on the life of the Spirit. And by their good, clean fun.”

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