Entries by Bernadette Porter

An Antidote To The Pandemic’s Effects

by Albert Faraj

My 82-year old father and my 73-year old mother wouldn’t have it any other way. After the slight easing of draconian lock-down measures in Honduras, my parents booked the first flight they could to the USA.  Don’t get me wrong, they love Honduras. But it was time – high time – for them to experience freedom. And, the freedom they seek is not freedom FROM these draconian measures, but freedom FOR living!  Are they concerned about contracting COVID? Certainly. While they are careful and mask up everywhere they go, they simply needed to connect with others. They experience great joy in being with others, with going to Church, with going out to eat.

Like so many people intuitively know, the burnout of the “new [ab]normal” is wearing people down. Certainly, the health effects of the pandemic are real. But so are the effects of the social restrictions in response to the pandemic. As humans, we have a fundamental need to connect with others, to interact with them, to be really present. While technology and social media have attempted to bridge the gap, they are increasingly failing, and in some cases worsening people’s lives. Many of us have experienced first-hand how social media can generate more divisions, anger and misunderstanding between friends, families and acquaintances.

Technology has enabled us to be present to those who are absent.  In our family, we instituted weekly Zoom meetings to help connect with people living throughout North and Central America. However, audio and video are simply not the same as actual presence.  It’s akin to replacing all food and drink with calorically-free alternatives: after a while, you starve! Technology may hit the spot for near-term needs, but it simply cannot replace our fundamental need to be physically present.

What’s the antidote?

First, a disclaimer: I’m not going to recommend policy or politics.  The medical community must continue to pursue improved therapeutics, and pharmaceuticals need to continue to invest in immunity boosters.  Where absolutely necessary, safeguards need to remain in place to help minimize the transmission of this virus.

Fundamentally, I’m a human who wants everyone living enriching lives. Our goal shouldn’t be to live as long as possible: we should seek to live as well – or as humanly – as possible.

Enter travel!

The antidote to the social impact of the pandemic is to find ways for people to truly come together.  It’s the reason my parents, who are certainly in the most vulnerable demographic, decided to travel. You may feel that it is not wise for them to do so. In their place, you may not choose to do the same.

During these difficult restrictions we are enduring, we are called to creatively find ways for people to travel, to connect, to enrich lives. As a travel company, we are responsible for ensuring it is done as safely as possible!  And we are finding WONDERFUL ways for doing so.

One of my colleagues reflected on our newest private group travel concept: the Family Field Trip which “Takes Virtual on the Road!” (read about it here).  The idea enables families to travel in their “pod” to safely experience fun, hassle-free learning opportunities to places like Washington DC and Mackinac Island. The response from our clients indicates how beautifully this resonates with their pent-up desires.

Another colleague shared how we are ensuring successful, safe group tours.  “A Favorable Reaction on the American People” (read about it here) reflects on just how important it is for each of us to seek these opportunities to be together.  The phenomenal response to our Pilgrimage to Wisconsin serves to underscore the best way to battle the social effects of this pandemic is through travel. The following are just a few of the overwhelmingly positive comments we received:

  • I traveled alone. It was amazing! I met so many wonderful people with which I was honored to share this journey. I was positively impacted by this experience. I had no idea what to expect, but God showed up in a BIG way. I am going through some real struggles at the present time (in addition to COVID) and can honestly say I was truly blessed.
  • I don’t have a favorite as the whole trip was peaceful. Loved every person on the trip.
  • You all took such good care of us – which helped us focus on what’s important – growing more holy every day.
  • CTS did a wonderful job keeping us safe, very organized.CTS takes care of their travelers.

As we move forward in these challenging times, our team will continue to seek creative, life enriching ways to bring people together. We hope to be a positive force in building and promoting culture throughout our country.

Take Virtual On the Road!

by John Hale

Among family and friends, I have heard many lament the loss of annual traditions, once-in-a-lifetime celebrations and a bevy of rites of passage.

Having seniors in high school and college, we are feeling a certain heaviness knowing that we won’t be able to enjoy important rituals like football, homecoming, prom, and parent weekends, which are just a few affecting our family, to say nothing of a sweet 16  birthday on our horizon and Thanksgiving, and . . .  so on.

And yet, I have marveled at the ingenuity of so many who have found ways to create new and meaningful personal connections as well as preserve, to some extent, if not improve, these rites for which we so pine. I just learned of a large family who each will cook their own “pod” Thanksgiving dinner then gather, socially distanced in a hall, celebrate mass, and spread out in the room for dessert to watch family movies. Brilliant! Thanksgiving, maybe made better!

It has gotten our team at Corporate Travel to think of the ways in which we might be such a solution to some of that which virtually every American is longing.  Naturally, our thoughts initially pursued the virtual route, which has mercifully connected people, at least visually through the darkest days of lockdown. However, we realized that, fundamentally, we are not a technology company. We are about creating experiences through personal connections. Thinking, praying and meeting as a team for several weeks on Corporate Travel’s 55 year mission to enhance lives and promote culture, the team saw an amazing opportunity to pivot our business to be a solution to at least a few of these problems created by the pandemic.

 

It was striking to us that our mission, and corresponding mission statement, have actually never been more relevant as a roadmap for solutions. By God’s Grace, we have found a way to serve the needs of the day while opening up the world to those we serve!  And it is an antidote to the virtual solutions, of which people have fatigued.  As pioneers in educational and family travel more than 55 years ago, our creative team has reimagined education, family and faith travel.  And, like our family friends’ new and improved Thanksgiving plans, the Corporate Travel team started to see a way in which we could not only preserve, but also improve, on at least a few of these rites of passage, especially for kids and their families!

Thus was borne the Family Field Trip to provide families with the opportunity to still experience those important school trips like Washington DC.  This destination is particularly important because it is one of the very rites of passage of a middle school education that will otherwise be largely missed by two years of middle schoolers. Missing that trip compromises their overall appreciation and understanding of American history. The Family Field Trip not only provides this otherwise missed experience but does so in a way that includes the whole family, building a bond with parents and siblings through travel.  With hotels booked, guides scheduled and restaurant reservations made, Corporate Travel is making the educational school trip BETTER, EASIER and MORE AFFORDABLE, through the FAMILY FIELD TRIP!

We learned over the summer by organizing a number of very successful family weekends at resorts around the country that parents are traveling unabated and truly looking for a way to combat Zoom fatigue and to discover ways to take the classroom on the road. None of us want to miss these important educational traditions, which include school trips – all of which have or will be cancelled for the better part of two years. And we don’t want our children to miss this experience because it compromises their competitiveness for, among other things, college, and diminishes their understanding of the very history that they will hope to enjoy!

To launch the FAMILY FIELD TRIP, we have produced two, three and four night programs to Washington DC as well as a Catholic Highlights Pilgrimage Washington DC. I am so proud of the amazing programs that our team has created during what will be the best time to visit Washington DC. The trip is BETTER than a traditional school trip as it anticipates little traffic and no crowds! Our families can choose which other families they most want to experience the capital with or go it on their own! The experience is tailored for families and provides the opportunity for a private guide. The trip is EASIER than planning it on your own which takes hours and days of research. We have been organizing Washington DC for more than 55 years.  We know what to see and in what order. Our team does all the planning and work ahead of time. Our clients won’t have to even think about the trip until they start on the road with their fully developed itinerary that will also provide the flexibility to go at their own pace. And finally, it is significantly MORE AFFORDABLE than a traditional school tour. Our team has worked to offer the highest quality experience at less than half the cost!

If you are interested to have Corporate Travel help you capture at least a few of your children’s and your family’s most important experiences this year, join us on a FAMILY FIELD TRIP!

 

 

A Favorable Reaction On The American People

by David DiFranco

President Donald Trump, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and my home state’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer are just three of many American leaders who have likened the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic to World War Two.  While such a comparison can be both scrutinized and politicized, I would for my part respond this way:  If the pandemic is like World War Two, then this past weekend’s uber-successful pilgrimage through Michigan, Indiana and upper Wisconsin is the Doolittle Raid.

For those not familiar with the reference, by April of 1942 a full four months had passed since the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The American people were desperate for some positive news in their struggle against the threatening might of the Japanese Empire.  The problem at that time, however, was that we had no aircraft with a long enough range to strike the Japanese mainland, and successfully return.  The Japanese menace, it seemed, was unreachable.  Like many today who might mistakenly acquiesce to a narrative of fear and hunkering down, Americans in 1942 risked a crisis of despair. 

Enter James Doolittle.  On April 18, 1942 Captain Doolittle with his volunteer force of 80 American airmen flew a daring raid off of aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean on what was intended to be a one-way ticket.  Knowing they would not have enough fuel to return home, these brave men successfully operated a direct bombing run on Japan, providing the first step in America’s fight against the imposing threat of Japan’s ambition for world conquest.  Running out of fuel after the surprise attack, most of the American aircraft would crash into the sea in the hopes of being picked up by allied submarines.  All but three of the airmen survived the raid.  In tactical terms, the attack had little effect on Japan’s military might.  But psychologically, it changed everything.  The mindset and the morale of the American people were awakened.  The clouds of despair that had veiled the nation were pierced, and from that point forward, Americans knew it was time to get moving, and to win.  As James Doolittle predicted, the mission had “a favorable reaction on the American people”.

Now if you will indulge me but a little, I will extend the already tenuous Covid/WWII analogy and proclaim that on October 9, 2020 another daring mission was embarked upon, that should dispel the gloom for today’s Americans everywhere.  Particularly, for those of us whose livelihoods are founded on the creation of life-changing travel experiences, and for anyone who understands and embraces the irreplaceable and sacred role of travel in both personal human development, and the foundations of human culture.  For after eight full months without a single motorcoach tour departure for our determined and tenured organization, travel has finally returned.  And just as the story played out in the theaters of World War II seven decades ago, here also in 2020, we have had nothing to fear all along, but fear itself. 

To explain, it helps to recognize that our company, Corporate Travel, is but one small piece of an enormous travel industry that does not merely transport people from place to place, but that helps provide society with the experiences, memories, and perspectives that are essential to its development.  Group travel promotes and builds culture.  It is essential for the collective soul of any society.  And as the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has proven, life without travel is a dystopian abyss. 

Our company produces hundreds of group tours for tens of thousands of travelers each year.  Any normal ‘day in the life’ at Corporate Travel Service is a bustling flurry of excitement and activity as multiple concurrent events are produced for bus load upon bus load of eager travelers.  We franticly and passionately serve sorties of tourists who depart with complex and delicate itineraries.  But all of that changed abruptly with the arrival of Covid-19.  Like the Americans reading headlines after the attack on Pearl Harbor, our employees and our clients were left shell-shocked as the world was abruptly locked down.  Years of work and preparation were franticly undone, as every single tour from March 10, 2020 forward was forced to cancel.  The deluge of terrifying headlines accommodated no visible horizon for when group travel might return, and our industry atrophied under the unrelenting confusion and uncertainty of a frightened, paralyzed world. 

That is, until a few days ago, when on a warm sunlit Autumn morning, 30 Catholic pilgrims entrusted our organization and our amazing partner suppliers with their health and safety and departed on a 3-day, 1,100 mile jaunt through Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.  These travelers marveled at peak Fall colors enroute to serene National Shrines like the Shrine of St. Joseph at St. Norbert’s College and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Wisconsin.  They enjoyed delicious group meals before touring iconic American institutions like Cross in the Woods and the University of Notre Dame.  They attended Mass and listened to live presentations from prolific Catholic authors.  Under the prayerful direction of our dear friend and Catholic Radio Host Teresa Tomeo, her husband Deacon Dominick Pastore, and our Spiritual Director Fr. Derik Peterman, this intrepid group of people visited historic, natural and religious sites that will, as all travel does, affect them forever.  They prayed.  They learned.  They traveled. 

They lived. 

Be assured, every precaution was taken.  Sanitation, social distancing, the wearing of masks and the taking of temperatures were a constant feature.  As Doolittle was limited to fly only half the round trip in his day, our group was intentionally limited to half a bus, giving each guest extra space on the motor coach.  But how beautiful it was to see these Americans choose for themselves between the risks of going out, and the risks of staying in.

So is the pandemic over?  No.  Neither was World War Two after Doolittle’s raid.  Borders to foreign countries have not yet opened.  Cruise ships do not yet tread the relaxing waves of the Caribbean Sea.  But they will.  And soon.  Because Americans are resilient.  Americans adapt.  And they will not forfeit freedom.  Not to a foreign empire, nor to a foreign virus.  Take heart American travelers.  For as proven by the thirty people who decided to safely travel where precaution and governments permit; travel is not dead.  The veil of doom and paralysis was broken this week.   A ‘favorable reaction on the American people’ was earned.  And it portends that this war too, will soon be won.

The Return to Travel: The Future is Bright!

by John Hale

Something that had seemed so routine suddenly seemed so exhilarating; a previously known but now unknown, or at least reinvented, experience lay before me. September 30 was my first flight since February 24! I didn’t quite know what to expect with so many new protocols, rules and precautions in place.

My job has required me to travel at least monthly for the last 20 years and it has been at least that many years since I have been off an airplane for 7 months! And, I have to admit, I was somewhat leery of what that new old experience would look like.

It wasn’t always a walk in the park on the easiest of flights without all of the new protocols. I am happy to report that after a short hop from Detroit to Washington DC, it was the easiest, smoothest, and most enjoyable flight experience that I have had since the days following 9/11, when still fewer folks ventured onto airplanes.

 

From the arrival at the airport, through TSA screening, a visit to the Delta SkyClub to boarding and actually flying, Delta made flying easy, faster and, overall, more enjoyable! More enjoyable? Yes, and I write this for two reasons 1) the volume of travelers is 30% of a few short months ago and 2) I didn’t take the opportunity to be traveling for granted.

I flew with my daughter for dual reasons:  a business trip to scope out Washington DC to launch Corporate Travel’s Family Field Trip program and a college visit for Elizabeth to the Catholic University of America. Since being the littlest of tykes, Elizabeth has been my constant companion through many of the world’s airports and cities. We always manage to make the potential hassle of travel fun, but we found this trip to be particularly so. I think, in part, because we realized just how blessed we were to  be able to travel .

We live in an age with so many privileges that it is easier to take each one for granted (and even complain about said privileges) than to step back and realize that in the 6 million years of human history, it is only the last few years that traveling across the world has been made possible for regular folks like us! Think of it, until our lifetimes, or those of our parents and grandparents, to see what we see in a few short hours required you to be a Pytheas, Magellan, or Lewis & Clark to see beyond our own narrow horizons.

Still, it is our human condition to be given a gift only to complain about it later and so for me, traveling to Washington DC and flying there, was that opportunity to pause and reflect on this great gift of even the possibility to travel the world over!

We arrived in Washington DC to see the streets, once backed up with so much traffic, totally clear with not a single back up. It was as if we were motoring into the nation’s capital on Christmas Day! The city was transformed into an easily navigable city. In just a few short hours, we drove around to each monument and had time to pause and contemplate each one! Upon arrival in the city, we easily found a parking spot and went on a walking tour to visit most of the sites. With our guide in tow, we experienced each monument without crowds. The full impact of each monument and person or event associated with the monument and the sacrifices made could be made more real and experienced more deeply without the distraction of thousands of non-plussed kids and adults mixing about unimpressed with our nation’s history and associated enormous sacrifices.

Without the crowds and myriad distractions and frustrations of trying to move about, in just a few short hours, we experienced more of Washington DC than I have on my 50 previous trips. There Elizabeth and I stood in front of the capital, brilliant white as legislators negotiated on that very day the course of history. No matter our political affiliation, it was amazing to step back and think that I could be living, er being persecuted, under Nero or deprived of my religious liberty under King George, or crushed under the Nazi regime. And  yet, with all of its foibles, risks, and downright errored ways, here we stood with people I actually elected representing me in that vast house of legislators as a part of a government conceived more than 200 years ago.

US Capitol DC

As we did a lap around the mall, even though we were unable to visit some of the museums due to COVID closures, the open museums were so much more enjoyable. In fact, the entire experience was so much more enjoyable. We could breath in the place we  were visiting, think more deeply of it and what it represents.  Talking with one of only a few tourists we encountered, they had the same feelings. They were enjoying  this city and able to experience it on a different level. Not taking for granted the fact that we were here just to check places off the list for later bragging rights or for the requisite selfie, which, of course, we did, but for the more real reason we travel – to understand a place, a people, a nation, which helps us understand ourselves better and our place in the world.  Not to take it for granted but to inspire us to go on. Not to be overwhelmed by the problems in our nation or in our lives but to be inspired by those who came before us to try and make it better.  In short, the lack of crowds allowed us to really experience travel and all the reasons we do or should travel.

From start to finish, my first flight and trip to DC were 5 stars and our guide in DC said it best “THIS is the time to come!”

When In Rome: Italian Tips for the American Traveler

By Luca the Italian Tour Guide

1. Better Not Ask For Butter

Italians do not provide olive oil, balsamic vinegar and parmesan
cheese along with bread as an appetizer at meals, and we definitely
do not serve butter. Please do not ask, and please do not be insulted
or upset if you find this to be the case as it is simply our culture. If we
do serve bread it will be plain, crusty and dry. We don’t like to fill up
before our meal!

2. Can’t Stand Sitting for Coffee

Italians mostly stand and take their espresso quickly. Sitting and
drinking your caffeinated beverage can cost upwards of 4x more than
if you stand and imbibe. While we’re at it, Italians drink cappuccino in
the morning and espresso in the afternoon. If you’re looking for a cup
of American coffee, order an Americano.

3. Go Before You Go

With very few exceptions, there are no restrooms in churches. Please
be mindful of this, and plan bathroom breaks accordingly.

4. Temperature Trends

In most hotels, air-conditioning and central heating are regulated by
the local city council and operate only in certain months of the year. The
American definition of “AC” is often cold air blowing. In Italy, AC
may just mean some form air blowing that isn’t hot.

5. Checking the Separate Checks

Italians do not separate checks at restaurants. If this is a deal-breaker,
you will want to ask if the restaurant will do it before sitting down as it is often
impossible to do it after, resulting in commotion and the inevitable
running around for an ATM.

6. Missing the Ice

I’ve never seen an ice machine in Italy. And neither will you as we simply
don’t use them!

7. Carrying the Key

If the key to your hotel room seems heavy, it is. It is meant to be left at
the front desk and not carried on your adventures.

Pack Like a Pro: 10 Tips to Save Space and Stress Before Your Next Getaway

When it comes to trip preparation, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of packing. After all, bring too little and you may leave behind something important. Bring too much and you risk unnecessary clutter, which makes living out of a suitcase for a week or two much less pleasant. Not to mention that the more you pack, the more you’ll be lugging through airport terminals and hotel lobbies; overpacking can literally be a pain in the neck.

Luckily, more than 50 years in the travel business has taught our team a thing or two about effective packing strategies. We’re excited to share a few of our game-changing packing tips to help you prepare for your own future travels!

  1. Make a packing list. If you’re like us, you’ve probably experienced that sudden moment of panic as you leave for a trip“Am I forgetting something?” Minimize the uncertainty by creating a packing list. A thorough list keeps you on track and ensures that essentials aren’t left behind. It also helps you recognize what you truly need so you can avoid the temptation to bring more than necessary. Make your packing list at least a week in advance so you’re certain it’s comprehensive. 
  2. Know your limits. Carry-on dimensions vary depending on the carrier, so confirm your airline’s policy before filling your suitcase. If you plan to check luggage, keep in mind size restrictions (no more than 62 inches when combining the length, width, and height) and weight limitations (50 pounds). Who wants extra baggage fees when you could be spending that money on souvenirs? 
  3. Bring clothes that can be mixed and matched. Maximize your wardrobe potential by limiting yourself to articles of clothing that can be worn more than once and paired with multiple items in your bag. This dramatically increases your wardrobe versatility and allows you to bring fewer items overall. It’s also worth noting that when it comes to travel, material matters! Moisture-wicking outfits and wrinkle-resistant fabrics are excellent additions to any traveler’s wardrobe. 
  4.  Plan to dress in layers. Most travel itineraries (especially group tour itineraries) involve early morning hotel departures and activities that span well into the afternoon. To accommodate a day’s worth of weather changes and temperature fluctuations, plan to dress in layers so you can easily adapt to whatever Mother Nature brings your way. Make sure you bring a collapsible umbrella so you’re prepared for inclement weather!
  5.  Rethink your packing method. Rolling clothes takes up less space than folding them and prevents wrinkles. It also allows you to see more options in your suitcase at once. If you’d like to take your storage skills to a whole new level, consider investing in packing cubes or compression bags. These compartmentalize your luggage even further so you can capitalize on the space you have.
  6. Shoes: bring a minimum of 2 pairs and a maximum of 3. Whether you’re on the road for three days or three months, bring at least two pairs of shoes with you. Traveling involves a lot of walking, and alternating your footwear keeps blisters at bay. That being said, you shouldn’t need more than three pairs of shoes. Bring a casual pair for everyday use, closed-toe athletic shoes, and a pair that can be dressed up for special occasions or nice dinners. The shoes you choose should be comfortable, broken-in, and offer good support.
  7. Pack extra plastic bags. Plastic bags aren’t only useful for storing liquids during the TSA’s security check. They also come in handy for storing dirty clothes, jewelry and accessories, damp swimsuits, etc. Even if your next adventure doesn’t involve air travel, store your liquids, gels, and powders in a plastic bag to prevent unintended spills from ruining other items in your suitcase.
  8. Wear your bulkiest clothes on travel days. Bringing boots, a sweatshirt, or a jacket? Wear your bulkiest items while traveling. This makes the best use of the space in your suitcase and helps you save room for mementos on your way home. Plus, airplane cabins are often chilly, so you’ll be grateful for thicker layers!
  9. Choose a soft-sided carry-on. Soft-sided carry-ons are ideal for air and bus travel, since the flexible outer fabric allows for easier storage in tight spaces. Trust us, there’s nothing more awkward than trying to muscle your suitcase into an overhead compartment while a line of impatient passengers waits behind you. Additionally, most group tours limit under-bus storage to one bag per traveler. This means carry-ons will either be stored at your feet or in the coach’s overhead bin, which is often smaller than a standard aircraft compartment.
  10. Pack like you’ll lose your bag. We know. No one likes to think about the possibility of lost or delayed luggage. But preparing for any eventuality helps minimize stress and frustration if the unlikely does occur. Keep all essentials—toiletries, medication, electronics, and valuables—in your carry-on. We also recommend bringing at least one change of clothes on the plane, since delayed luggage sometimes takes a day or two to reach you. As for checked bags, keep a copy of your travel itinerary and contact information inside. This helps the airline ensure that your belongings reach you safely, especially if your schedule involves city-hopping. Use brightly colored ribbon, a luggage cover, or another unique identifier to make your suitcase more recognizable on the baggage carousel and to airport employees.


About the Author:

Kendall Ripley graduated from Hillsdale College in 2016 and has been working at Corporate Travel for almost three years. Born and raised in the Mitten, Kendall lives with her husband Shelby in Grand Rapids, MI. If pressed for a favorite travel destination, she would have to quote Audrey Hepburn from her favorite movie: “Rome! By all means, Rome.”

Welcome to the CTS Blog

Welcome to the CTS Blog

We relish serving you with exceptional experiences that will enrich your life and open you to the world of travel. Whether you are traveling on a Pilgrimage to Israel, or an Educational Tour to Washington DC, we are there for you!

In this blog, we share our expertise from over 50 years of travel and share the amazing experience of our clients and passengers. Check back often or join our mailing list to get the latest posts and trip updates!

Reflections from Panama: World Youth Day 2019

In January, Corporate Travel brought a group of over 60 young people from the Archdiocese of Detroit and St. Francis of Assisi Parish (Ann Arbor, MI) to Panama City for the 16th World Youth Day. To gain some insight into the World Youth Day phenomena, we asked our tour managers Maeve Dauphinais and Jean Uthmeier to share their experience!

Q: Jean, you’re a World Youth Day veteran! How many WYD’s have you attended? 

Jean: This was my third World Youth Day. I went to Madrid in 2011, Poland in 2016, and now Panama. I’m excited for Lisbon in 2022! 

Q: Maeve, was this your first WYD? 

Maeve: That’s right! This was my first time. 

Q: What struck you about the experience? 

Maeve: It was really cool to see so many people from across the world. There were people from every corner that you could think of—Iceland, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea… 

"WYD creates a unique combination of peoples and faith practices all under the umbrella of the universal Mother Church."

Jean: It was amazing to see people from Communist countries especially, where Christianity is often persecuted and is still somewhat of an underground Church. Seeing them come to worship and praise, and enjoy the freedom of their faith really gives you the chills. 

Q: Absolutely! WYD is obviously very different from the kinds of tours we often operate. What makes it such a special pilgrimage? 

Jean: I think WYD creates a unique combination of peoples and faith practices which are all under the umbrella of the universal Mother Church. Usually, pilgrims will go to one place and experience its culture, history, spirituality, and style of faith. At WYD, you have everyone coming together at once to worship and share their faith. We celebrate the Mass, receive the Eucharist, participate in adoration, and enjoy music, festivities, and social life together. It’s a special blend that you can’t recreate anywhere, which is why every young person—Christian and Catholic alike—should experience WYD. It usually only happens at one time in your life, when you’re at that age—maybe you’re in high school, college, or between jobs, and you finally have that one chance. Go! Suffer! Sweat! Experience fatigue, joy, faith, and inspiration all at the same time! It gives you a plethora of human experiences that come together in a beautiful way, and in a way that really stretches you and strengthens you as a person.

"It gives you a plethora of human experiences that come together in a beautiful way."

Maeve: It reminds me of that famous quote by Benedict XVI: “The world offers you comfort.  You were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness.” Pilgrimages are always a little bit uncomfortable, but this was unlike any pilgrimage I’ve been on. We had ninety to ninety-five degree days, eighty percent humidity, we were walking a lot—6-10 miles a day.  But through it all there was so much joy! If you let yourself be present in that moment, despite the physical discomforts, it’s incredible. I remember one morning we got up at 6 AM to see the Pope, and we were all so tired but so excited! We felt like the early Christians must have felt when they waited by the road to see Jesus walk by. There’s something really special about that in the life of a young Catholic or Christian. It’s a very formative experience for people at an age when they’re really thinking about their faith, and at a time when many people lose their faith because they don’t have the formation they need. At such a critical time in a young adult’s life, they need to hold onto their faith and cherish it and see why it’s so important.

Jean: When you’re at that age, when you’re a young adult, the things in your environment really shape you. Too often today, millennials are being shaped by our secular culture. They’re not being trained to be “buffed up”, staunch-spirited, and courageous individuals. We’re made to feel weak in terms of religion, and weak in terms of witnessing and sharing our faith. Our culture back home is not shaping us well. That week of WYD does a lot of shaping and stretching and bolstering up of your spiritual muscles…and physical muscles (laughs).

Maeve (laughing): True!

"At such a critical time in a young adult’s life, they need to hold onto their faith . . . and see why it’s so important."

Q:  Tell me a little about your interactions with other pilgrims. As you said, people come from all over the world and everyone speaks different languages and has different cultures and customs, but you share the same faith so you have an inherent bond. Can you elaborate on what it was like to share your faith with international friends?

Maeve: Actually, my favorite faith-sharing experience was with our local Panamanian guide. He was brought up in the Catholic faith but hadn’t really been practicing. At the end of our week we had to say goodbye to him, and as we were leaving we said, “Pray for us!” And he said, “No, you’re the ones going to church! Pray for me!” And Jean said, “Well, come to church with us!” Initially he said no, and he left. But then he texted Jean later that day and asked where we were going to Mass, and he actually joined us for Mass!

Jean: It was beautiful!

Maeve: We don’t always realize that we can be Christ to others, and the way that we live our lives and live our faith impacts others in the same way that others impact us. Always have the knowledge and be humble realizing that you can be Jesus to other people, or that through you they can meet Jesus.

"Be humble realizing that you can be Jesus to other people, or that through you they can meet Jesus."

Jean: It’s so interesting, because our American culture is very focused on “get, get, get”. People will say, “What am I getting out of Panama?” “What am I getting from WYD?” And we forget that we’re giving all the time. We’re giving our example, we’re giving a smile or a frown, a sense of gratitude or a sense of entitlement. I think our whole group was shocked to see our guide come back to join us for Mass and worship that night, because he didn’t have to! Moreover, he shared that he came becuase he was inspired by our group! It made me realize that we impressed him with our example and our faith without even realizing it. That changed his evening, and maybe his week or even his life or his outlook on his own faith.   

Q:  The message of this year’s WYD was, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to Your Word,” (Lk 1:38). How was that message incorporated by the Holy Father? Did something about that verse strike you in a special way while you were there? 

Jean: I think the overlying theme was really about a Marian receptivity and surrender of our own wills to the Lord. We all heard that through the catechesis sessions we went to each morning, and through the Holy Father’s homily and his address to the group. They actually had a beautiful hymn that was written for the week—which they do for every WYD—and it was the most beautiful, pumped-up theme song, incorporating that verse of Mary’s “Fiat”. It felt like we were in a Disney movieyou are the hero on a mission to serve the Lord! They did a great job infusing that theme throughout the whole week. 

Q: That’s such an important idea. God has a special mission for each one of us, and so if you look at your life in that context, you really are the “hero” of your story fulfilling whatever mission God has in store for you. If we aren’t following His will than that mission is left undone. 

Jean: And God, in a sense, chooses to be limited by our response to His grace, which is so empowering for us to understand. In order for grace to operate, it needs our surrender; it needs our own fiat in order to facilitate change or conversion. That was a beautiful reminder. Now I’m excited to see what the theme for Lisbon will be! 

Maeve: It was really great to have the daily catechesis and see that message made new each day through a different speaker or Bishop. One of our group leaders said on our last day that she hopes each person walked away with the message that we are made to be joyful and intentional followers of Jesus Christ. If you are the servant of the Lord, and you know that you’ve been entrusted with a special mission that only you can fulfill, you will be a joyful follower of Jesus Christ, because what an honor to serve Him! 

Jean: It comes from a sense of your identity.

"WYD is not just a trip . . . it's an investment in your faith, and how seriously you take that faith."

Q: So what would you say to a young Catholic adult, or maybe the parent of a young Catholic adult, who is considering World Youth Day? 

Jean: I feel that there is a precious certain power and influence that we appreciate from our peers in a way that we don’t necessarily appreciate from adults or authority figures. There are messages, examples, and virtuous strengths that you want to be infused with (or infuse your child with), and you can’t get those at home or from the pulpit in the same way that you can catch it—almost like a contagion—from your peers at World Youth Day. When you see 2-3 million young people from all over the world gathering together to pray and worship, you feel a tremendous sense of joy, belonging, and identity. People are rejoicing and jumping-out-of-their-skin excited to share their faith and witness!   

Maeve: WYD is not just a trip; it’s an investment. It’s an investment in your faith, and how seriously you take that faith. And it gives you a zeal for your faith which is fostered in a very special and unique way through this experience. 

Our Michigan-based Pilgrims


Interested in future World Youth Day trips?

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Bios:

Maeve Dauphinais (left) graduated from Ave Maria University with a major in Biology and a minor in Marine Biology, where she met her husband, Michael. She once came face-to-face with a shark while snorkeling and hopes to do it again! Of the many countries and cities she’s traveled to, Maeve’s favorite places on earth are Zakopane (Poland), Calcutta (India), and Galicia (Spain)!

Jean Uthmeier (right) has a BA in Theology and Philosophy, and has been working at CTS for seven years. She currently lives in Washington D.C. with her husband, James, who leads young adults on pilgrimage through his non-profit the Pilgrim Project. After checking off 27 countries (and counting) from Israel to Iceland, Australia to Nicaragua, Jean believes that there’s no place like Rome.

Kendall Ripley (editor) graduated from Hillsdale College in 2016 and has been working at CTS for almost three years. Born and raised in the Mitten, Kendall lives with her husband, Shelby, in Grand Rapids, MI. Kendall is excited to bring this blog to life and highlight the interesting and inspirational work of her colleagues. Thanks for visiting!