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  • Writer's pictureKendall Ripley

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!

Group of young people celebrating at world youth day 2019
"WYD creates a unique combination of peoples and faith practices all under the umbrella of the universal Mother Church."

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… 

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? 

Young people on a law celebrating world youth day 2019
"It gives you a plethora of human experiences that come together in a beautiful way."

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.

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!

Large gathering of people at world youth day 2019
"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.

Woman passing out food and a backpack at world youth day 2019
"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 movie—you 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.

Group of young people at world youth day 2019
"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. 

Michigan Pilgrims for World Youth Day 2019
Our Michigan-based Pilgrims


Maeve Dauphinais and Jean Uthmeier at World Youth Day 2019
Maeve Dauphinais (left), and Jean Uthmeier (Right)

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.

Girl sitting on wooden bench
Kendall Ripley

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! 


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