The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference has given the go ahead for young Catholics in this country to have a national pilgrimage to Panama for the World Youth Day celebration in 2019.

NZCBC secretary Palmerston North Bishop Charles Drennan said the bishops have decided to facilitate a national pilgrimage.

“In the more recent past, dioceses have either alone or with another diocese organised a pilgrimage. This time at the request of many working in ministry for young people all our six dioceses will work together. It’s a national group which we hope will reflect our bicultural country — home now also to so many other ethnic groups,” he said.

The next World Youth Day will be held in Panama from January 22-27, 2019. The theme of the event  is “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word”.

Auckland Catholic Youth and Young Ministry team leader Teresa McNamara said diocesan youth leaders have always felt there was a benefit to having one national pilgrimage group.

“We also hoped that a bishop will travel with that national group as chaplain and really be able to engage with those young people,” she said, welcoming Bishop Drennan’s commitment to go.

Ms McNamara said World Youth Day is often seen as an event even though it was designed to be a pastoral process for young people.

“We want young people to go as pilgrims, deepen their faith but also share that with the communities that they belong to and the diocese that they come from,” she said. “We want them to really engage in the theme for it to be a  very pastoral process.”

Ms McNamara, together with Isabella McCafferty from Wellington Young Church Ministries proposed to the bishops that those coming with the national pilgrimage should be aged 18 and above.

“One of the concerns from Rome is about safety of individual pilgrims in international events,” Ms McNamara said.

“There will be millions of young people there and that always gives the possibility for accidents,” she added.

She said this does not preclude family or school groups from taking younger members. “But then they are responsible for those people,” she said.

Far from discouraging younger people, Ms McNamara said “this would give them a sense of expectation that that’s something they can do when they get older and they can start preparing for it now.”

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