World Youth Day Stateside
January 28, 2019 •

By Thomas Clark

More than 100 people, mostly young adults and families with children, braved low temperatures and a crisp ocean breeze to celebrate World Youth Day Stateside at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine. The event took place as hundreds of thousands of Catholics gather with Pope Francis for World Youth Day 2019 in Panama.

EPIC the Band (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Woody Huband)

The event was kicked off by EPIC the Band, a Miami-based musical group that had just returned from Panama. Youth groups danced along to the lively music that merged contemporary musical genres with Christian themes, while food trucks kept the crowd fed and warm. Various groups set up tables for attendees to learn more about upcoming events and opportunities in the diocese. These included seminarians of the diocese who travelled from Jacksonville and Gainesville to speak about how they discovered their vocations, and members of RiseUp promoting an upcoming young adult event in Jacksonville.

Joel Stepanek (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Woody Huband)

The keynote speaker was Joel Stepanek, director of resource development for LifeTeen, an international youth ministry. Stepanek, who is based in Arizona, has trained youth ministers across the world and has authored books about youth ministry and discernment.

Stepanek’s talk centered on having the humility to allow God’s healing to take place. “We don’t like people to see our weaknesses,” Stepanek noted, saying that we often have “the mentality that we have to be our own savior.” Through various anecdotes, both humorous and serious, Stepanek challenged the audience to think of ways to rely less upon themselves and more on God. “We can turn to Jesus or we can turn inward and hide,” said Stepanek. “Only one of those things can make us whole.”

Next, Father Richard Pagano celebrated an outdoor vigil Mass. Huddling for warmth under blankets, families and groups of friends sang out the responses, drawing curious onlookers from San Marco Avenue. In a passionate and engaging homily, Father Richard noted the significance of celebrating Mass just steps from where the very first Mass in the Americas was held. After Mass, the attendees moved inside for Holy Hour of Adoration before the Eucharist.

Father Richard Pagano celebrates Mass with seminarian Armon Antolin at the Rustic Altar (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Woody Huband)

At the conclusion of Adoration, several dozen young men and women migrated to the nearby Bosco Center for Theology on Tap, where Stepanek engaged the audience with a talk on discernment. Stepanek spoke about the different varieties of discernment, from the spontaneous discernment of the Apostle Matthew to the careful consideration of spiritual consolations and desolations written about by mystical thinkers like St. Ignatius of Loyola.

“Joel Stepanek was an excellent, personable speaker”, said Iciar Ocariz, a Catholic school teacher who was in attendance. The sentiment was echoed by many of the other young people who attended Saturday’s event. More information about upcoming events in the diocese can be found at