WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNA/EWTN News) - For those pilgrims thinking about participating in World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland, Bishop Frank Caggiano has a message: It will be worth the sacrifice.
The Bridgeport prelate, who is serving as World Youth Day Liason for the U.S. bishops, acknowledged that attending the global gathering in Poland next summer will have a cost - not only in money, but also in time and the hardships of traveling to a foreign country.
However, he told CNA, "it is in the sacrifice that you intimately meet the Lord." Upon reaching Krakow, the fruits of the sacrifice are seen: "that you're in solidarity, that there are millions like you who are making the same sacrifice."
"I think one of the great debilitations of contemporary life for young people, and those of us older, is that we ask ourselves: are we the only ones doing this? Who else out there thinks faith matters?" he remarked.
But when at World Youth Day, "you stand with two and a half million people, young people. Then you have your answer. Faith is very much alive, and you're never alone doing it."
Bishop Caggiano spoke to CNA after the "Krakow Kickoff" event held July 7 at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C.
"I invite every Catholic young person, every Catholic young adult, every leader in our Church to come together and embark with me on this great pilgrimage of faith and mercy," the bishop told those gathered at the shrine.
World Youth Day is an international pilgrimage of young people from around the world, which includes opportunities for catechesis, prayer, sacraments, song, and fellowship. The event culminates with a prayer vigil and Mass with the Pope.
Instituted by St. John Paul II in 1985, the international gatherings are held every 2-3 years and have drawn crowds of up to 5 million. World Youth Day 2016 will be held next year in Krakow, Poland from July 26-31. The theme will be "Blessed Are the Merciful."
Although anyone is welcome to attend, the event focuses on young people. Some 30,000 are expected to attend World Youth Day 2016 from the U.S., and the anticipated overall attendance is 2.5 million.
Bishop Caggiano sees World Youth Day 2016 as an invitation for all young people to encounter Christ's transformative mercy. He told CNA that he hopes attendees "have two experiences."
The first, he said, is "that they themselves will be touched somewhere deep inside of them. That in the part of their heart which is still perhaps secret, in a part of their lives which they may still be embarrassed at what has happened and what they did, where they still wonder whether God can love them, knowing what they know - that part of what will happen is they'll be touched and realize that God knew it all along and still loves them."
"And equally important, so what they have gotten, they give away," he added. "To love and not expect something in return. Only someone who has experienced mercy can give mercy that way."
The bishop encouraged those who will attend World Youth Day to start their spiritual preparation now through prayer and service. He suggested that they reflect on Jesus' Transfiguration, and act as if they were climbing the mountain now with Peter, James and John to see Christ transfigured at the top.
For the three apostles, the Transfiguration of Jesus began the "rest of their life of faith," he said. In a similar way, by making the pilgrimage and encountering God's mercy at World Youth Day, young people today can be transformed and begin a new chapter in their life of faith as well.
It is "essential" that bishops, priests, and religious attend, but especially that bishops travel with pilgrims from their respective dioceses, Bishop Caggiano added.
"The young people, young adults, relate to them as spiritual fathers," he said. "The bishop is the sign of unity and almost the symbol, sacramentally, of the Father's love for his people."
"Everybody needs to be a part of that too, but the bishop being there is tremendous, it's a gift."