'When Jesus says, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful," it is a command that He gives to us,' Bishop Jugis preaches
BELMONT — More than 1,000 young people from across the Diocese of Charlotte – the largest attendance ever – gathered on the campus of Belmont Abbey College March 19 for the annual Bishop's Lenten Youth Pilgrimage.
This year's celebration focused on the Year of Mercy and the diocesan theme "Be merciful as your Father is merciful." For the day, Bishop Peter Jugis designated the main door of historic Mary, Help of Christians Basilica as a Door of Mercy, and many youths took part in a pilgrimage through the holy door.
Bishop Jugis also shared an historic announcement with the young people during the event: announcing the creation of St. Joseph College Seminary for undergraduate men who will be studying at Belmont Abbey College starting this fall.
During the day, the youths also attended Mass, celebrated by Benedictine Abbot Placid Solari of Belmont Abbey, and they enjoyed entertainment, education programs, games and fellowship. There was also the opportunity for the sacrament of confession with several priests who had accompanied their youth groups to the event, including Father Benjamin Roberts of Monroe and Father John Eckert and Father Lucas Rossi of Salisbury.
Father Roberts, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Monroe, attended the pilgrimage for the first time with a busload of youths from his parish.
"I hope they take away an experience of the mercy of God under the patronage of St. Joseph today, as we gather to celebrate this great man of faith, this man of prayer, this man of silence," he said. "I hope they find and experience a sense of communion with other youth of the diocese, and a true and profound communion with Christ the High Priest."
Father Eckert, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury, and Father Rossi, parochial vicar, also had 20 young people from their parish attending the day-long pilgrimage.
"We really want the youth to establish a foundation of prayer and continue to love the sacraments of the Church – confession and Mass, especially – because that is where they encounter Jesus," Father Rossi said.
Nicole Osmera, a sophomore at Belmont Abbey College and parishioner of St. Ann Church in Charlotte, helped coordinate the efforts of the more than 80 college students who volunteered on March 19.
"The Bishop's Lenten Youth Pilgrimage has provided an integral part of my faith journey during my middle, high school, and now college years," Osmera said. "As it takes place during Lent, this event has strengthened my prayer life in preparation for Easter and my commitment to seeking God in all that I do.
"Moreover, the break-out sessions for the high school girls have given me hope for future relationships and guidance in living as a Catholic woman in today's society. The BLYP is one of the amazing events that drew me to the Abbey, which I now call home."
Aaron Huber, a Belmont Abbey sophomore who grew up at St. Barnabas Parish in Arden and now attends St. Michael the Archangel Church in Gastonia, also served as student coordinator for this year's pilgrimage.
"It's been so wonderful for me, as a student of Belmont Abbey as well as a member of the Diocese of Charlotte – and, as you know, being able to go into the college seminary where those two come together – it's been a great segue for me," Huber said. "Even if we bring one person closer to Christ, it's all worth it."
Getting closer to God during this jubilee year was the theme of Bishop Jugis' reflection during Adoration towards the close of the day-long event.
"Each one of us makes a journey with Jesus in this life, from the day we are born until the day Our Lord calls us into the next life," he said.
"We carry Jesus in procession with us to remind us that Jesus walks with us during our entire life journey, our pilgrimage through life. And to tie in the important theme of this year, which is the Jubilee of Mercy, we should remember that during our life's journey while we are walking with Jesus – processing with Jesus from the day we are born until we are baptized, until our final moments here on earth – we are receiving God's mercy a countless number of times."
He emphasized that God's mercy is constantly accompanying us. We see it especially when we are asking for His mercy in the sacrament of confession.
Bishop Jugis reminded the youth that on our journey through life we will meet countless people who ask us to be merciful to them. "When Jesus says, 'Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,' it is a command that He gives to us," he said.
God's final act of mercy to us comes at the end of our lives when God welcomes us after a time of purification, especially when we have received and given mercy in our lives, Bishop Jugis noted.
Adoration and the events at the start of the day, were held in the gymnasium because of the threat of inclement weather, but conditions cleared in the afternoon and the young people went outside for lunch and were able to attend educational sessions around the campus.
Father Jason Barone, vocations promoter for the diocese, and Sister Mary Raphael spoke to the young people about considering a religious vocation. Kara Klein provided the keynote address, middle school talk and musical entertainment throughout the day. Belmont Abbey College alumnus Adam Trufant served as emcee and also accompanied Klein on the guitar.
Thanks to those clearing skies, the Eucharistic procession led by Bishop Jugis and Abbot Placid traveled around the campus of Belmont Abbey College in a different and poignant route this year – passing by the cemetery where Abbot Leo Haid, founder of Belmont Abbey, as well as other Benedictine monks, Sisters of Mercy, Deacon Richard Kauth, priests of the diocese, and seminarian Michael Kitson are buried.
The Eucharistic procession was a highlight for many of the youths, as well as the Door of Mercy, through which many of them made a pilgrimage to obtain the Jubilee Year of Mercy's plenary indulgence.
Father James Byer, pastor of Holy Trinity Mission in Taylorsville, attended the youth pilgrimage for the first time with seven young people from his parish.
"It's been a good experience to start the day with the Holy Mass and then to have priests offering the sacrament of confession, that's a good thing. And to have so many people from the diocese coming together for the purpose of learning about the holy year," Father Byer said.
He added that he hopes his young parishioners take away a deeper experience of the presence of the Lord in their lives, and that their small church community is part of the wider Church in the diocese. "At gatherings like this, they can feel a greater part of the whole Church," he said.
Holy Trinity members Oscar Olivas, 16, Cristal Alanis, 19, and Stephanie Romero, 17, said this was their first time attending the Lenten Youth Pilgrimage, and they did so as a way of commemorating the Year of Mercy. The event allowed them to reflect and feel closer to God, they said.
At the end of the procession, the Blessed Sacrament was placed on an altar in front of the abbey basilica for Benediction. The young people and everyone else gathered there knelt on the lawn in front of the basilica to end the day's activities.
"In a very beautiful way, what we are doing at the end of our pilgrimage is representative of our entire journey of life," Bishop Jugis noted. "The goal of our journey is (being in) the presence of the Lamb of God in heaven, who is seated on the throne, and we will be adoring Him there and blessing Him there in Adoration and Benediction, singing His praises."
After they received a final blessing from the bishop, the youth groups had the perfect ending to the day as they processed through the abbey basilica's Door of Mercy.
— SueAnn Howell, Senior reporter. Rachel McKimmon, Belmont Abbey College intern, contributed.