Nine Merrimack College students marked the end of their summer by joining more than 1 million people at the world’s largest gathering of Catholic young people.
The students, all members of Merrimack’s Austin Scholars, were joined by fellow students at Villanova University on their pilgrimage to World Youth Day, which brings together young people from around the globe to deepen their faith and connection with like-minded peers.
World Youth Day was launched by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1985 and is held every three to four years in a different host city. This year World Youth Day was in Lisbon, Portugal, from Aug. 1 to Aug. 6.
“World Youth Day is framed as a pilgrimage,” explained Fr. Daniel Madden, O.S.A., director of Austin Scholars Formation, who accompanied the students on the trip. “We were pilgrims and that was the intention, to see how this time affects us and draws us closer to each other and God.”
Among the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Sanctuary of Fátima, which commemorates the Virgin Mary’s appearance to three small children in Fátima, Portugal in 1917. While there, Merrimack students not only visited the homes of the children, but also participated in an act of penance in which they crawled on their knees through part of the sanctuary while reciting the Rosary.
“It made us feel more connected to that site,” said Kristen Guarante ’26. “And to be able to do this at such an important place to our faith…it was such a beautiful moment.”
During World Youth Day, Pope Francis celebrated Stations of the Cross, an evening of adoration and the closing Missioning Mass, all of which the Merrimack students attended.
“I think the biggest highlight for me was to see everyone come together from different places across the world and be part of something bigger than ourselves,” said Rileigh Armstrong, campus minister for service and social justice.
The day before the Missioning Mass, World Youth Day participants walked about six miles from the center of Lisbon to Campo da Graça. It was there where Pope Francis celebrated the evening of adoration, after which everyone camped out for the night before the Missioning Mass.
“We were all tired but it was exciting that we were united in walking to the same place together,” said Emily Lac ’25. “Everyone was singing and dancing.”
Fr. Dan has encouraged the students to share their experiences from World Youth Day with their fellow Merrimack students once they all return to campus for the semester.
“We don’t often know how each of us is personally affected by these experiences, but we are, and now each of these students has the chance to share that impact with others in the weeks and months ahead,” he added.