Newlyweds among diocesan pilgrims to World Youth Day

Photo Caption: Jack and Katie Maggiore are shown at their wedding Mass July 16 at the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in Normal. The Maggiores will be among nearly 100 World Youth Day pilgrims from the diocese.

By: By Tom Dermody

Most couples take a trip after their wedding, but usually not to join a million or so people overnighting in an open field.

Yet Jack and Katie Maggiore, married July 16 at the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in Normal, can think of no better way to start their married life than experiencing World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, with Pope Benedict XVI and pilgrims from around the world.

“We both feel that World Youth Day will be a great gift that will help us to become stronger as a newly married couple,” Katie told The Catholic Post on Wednesday. “It will help us to grow in our faith and become more centered in Christ, and it will also give us many opportunities to build each other up.”

The newlyweds, traveling with a group of 38 — mostly from the Newman Center and also including five Sisters of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary — are two of nearly 100 Catholics from throughout the diocese who are in the final days of preparation for their trip to World Youth Day, to be observed from Aug. 16-21. The event includes days of catechetical sessions leading to an overnight adoration vigil before the closing Mass with Pope Benedict.

Some pilgrimages are leaving early to take in religious sites throughout Europe such as Lourdes.

Among the many excited to go is Alex Davis, who was notified on Tuesday that he has been accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Peoria.

“I’m ready to go,” said Davis, who will move to Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn., the day after his return. “Having Mass with the pope will be an incredible experience — to be around so many youth on fire for their faith.”

Davis, who applied to be a diocesan seminarian after completing his freshman year at the University of Illinois in the spring, is especially grateful to the Daughters of Charity, a religious community with whom he volunteered in East St. Louis. The community contributed more than half of his trip’s cost with the agreement that Davis will “take what I learned and share it with them and the children” they educate.

He will be part of a small group of pilgrims, including three other diocesan seminarians and two University of Illinois students, who will be guided by Father John Cyr, pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Tolono.

Father Cyr told The Catholic Post that in Madrid his group will stay in a college dorm with 500 other pilgrims.

Navigating the city that will be swelled by hundreds of thousands of young Catholics will be “a little intimidating,” Father Cyr acknowledged, but moreso “inspiring.”

“I plan to concelebrate the closing Mass,” he said, “though I may be hundreds of yards away from the pope.” Father Cyr will be one of at least two priests from the diocese in that throng — Father Adam Stimpson of the LaSalle Catholic parishes is accompanying the ISU Newman Center group.

The largest World Youth Day contingent from the Diocese of Peoria, however, will be more than 50 members of the Neocatechumenal Way, an organization dedicated to the Christian formation of adults active in Peoria and the Quad Cities. About 30 of the pilgrims are from St. Philomena’s Parish in Peoria, with the others from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria as well as parishes in Moline and Silvis.

Theirs will be an extended trip of evangelization and pilgrimage throughout Europe, leaving on Tuesday, Aug. 9, and returning Aug. 26.

“It’s a time to reflect on the Lord and put aside self and focus on the Lord and his call to us,” said Clark Johnson, a member of St. Philomena’s Parish and one of the trip organizers who will travel with his wife, Gayle. “It’s a time to discern vocations.”

He said the young pilgrims have worked throughout the year to raise funds, including through successful garage sales. At each parish they represent, the pilgrims will be blessed for their journey during Masses this Saturday evening.


Those who want to follow the pilgrims from the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in Normal can do so online through a blog established on the center’s newly revamped website,

The blog, titled “Witnesses to Love,” already began introducing the thoughts of participating pilgrims this week.

“I believe it’s going to be a powerful trip,” said Sister Sara Marie Kowal, SCTJM, assistant director at the Newman Center. The pilgrims will first visit the Marian shrine at Lourdes.

“Through the School of Mary’s Heart we will prepare to sit at the School of Peter” when they will be guided by the Holy Father, said Sister Sara. The pilgrims hope to further mature as “living witnesses of the splendor of the Gospel in the world.”

And newlyweds Jack and Katie Maggiore — who did, by the way, get away for a quiet few days in Florida after their wedding — hope to mature in their new married love.

“Since our marriage, we have received many graces and are truly learning mature Christian living and how to serve one another selflessly,” said Katie, who will earn her degree in psychology from Illinois State University in December. “I know that the Lord will continue to teach us these things throughout the pilgrimage.”

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