Esther Gagliardi, right, smiles next to her friend in front of their Wisconsin flag during one of the events at World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal. Gagliardi’s home parish is St. Patrick in Hudson; both young women are students at UW-Madison. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

“You cannot explain the noise, noise, noise,” Katie Zenner of Medford said, describing the scene of World Youth Day in Lisbon, Aug. 1-6. This noise was hundreds of thousands of people chanting to Pope Francis, singing songs in their native languages and jumbo-trons transmitting live video.

“There was just so much excitement in this youth,” she added.

Zenner, a member of Holy Rosary Parish in Medford, traveled to Portugal with her sister, Ann Harris, who attends Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Whittlesey. The pair formed their own small group with two of Harris’ granddaughters, Kaylee Harris, her friend Miriam Rundy, and Katie Snyder. Snyder was a student at Holy Rosary until her family moved to New London, where her mother is director of religious education. Harris’ daughter, Angie, had been to World Youth Day in Denver and took groups to the event in both Cologne and Toronto.

The morning of the final Mass, after sleeping “like sardines” on a layer of crushed granite, Zenner said her sister was wondering why everyone in their section had moved to the roped barrier. Mass wasn’t scheduled to start until 9 a.m. but Pope Francis was making rounds, being driven through the makeshift roads between all the roped-off sections where pilgrims slept and would participate in the closing Mass. They were thrilled to see Pope Francis about 50 feet away, and jumped right in with all the cheers.

In contrast, the sisters shared how struck they were by the total silence during Bishop Robert Barron’s adoration event, with about 30,000 people. The reverence of the youth for the Eucharist inspired them, as did the experience of watching the teens they chaperoned in the World Youth Day’s organized “City of Joy.”

That was the name for an area, at some distance from the larger gathering spaces, where hundreds of booths with representatives from various religious congregations as well as other Catholic ministries and organizations were set up. There was also 150 reconciliation booths with hundreds standing in line waiting for confession in their own language.

Zenner and Harris were so pleased that the girls had a wonderful experience. While all are active in their faith, it was a chance to see firsthand the livelihood of youth in love with Jesus and the global sense of Catholicism. They all want to go to the next World Youth Day, which will be in Seoul, South Korea.

Hudson native and UW-Madison student Esther Gagliardi echoed Zenner’s experience of the adoration event with Bishop Barron. For her, it was “definitely the night in which I felt closest to Jesus,” although “Getting to see and pray with the Pope was a wonderful experience … I am extremely grateful to have been part of something so incredible!”
Zenner and her sister commented on how vocationally themed World Youth Day was and the impact events like these can have on young people’s lives. While in Portugal, they learned that according to statistics, 38 percent of the youth at a World Youth Day will discern the priesthood or vocation to consecrated life.

Harris noted there were 10,000 priests in attendance, thousands of seminarians and women religious and 800 bishops. She and Zenner admitted their disappointment that no Wisconsin bishops were present and encouraged, “We need to send more people from the Superior Diocese!”