By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
“Seek Peace and Pursue it!” is the motto for the 12th International Pilgrimage of Altar Boys and Girls which began in Rome on Monday and ends on Saturday. More than 70,000 altar servers between the ages of 13 and 23 from 19 countries, and many more nationalities, are participating in this year’s pilgrimage.
Altar servers – missionaries of peace
The International Pilgrimage of Altar Boys and Girls is organized by Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium (CIM), an international organization for the pastoral care of altar servers. Founded in 1960, the organization, then and now, seeks to foster peace beyond borders in order to create a world at peace. Dr Klára Csiszár, Vice President of CIM, says that CIM fosters a sense that altar servers are missionaries who “help to carry the world-changing power of God’s love from the altar into the world”.
Bringing altar servers together from many nations, and even more nationalities, helps deepen religious identity, strengthen communion, and “shows the young people the worldwide dimension of their ministry”, says Bishop Stefan Oster, SDB, President of the Commission for Youth Ministry of the German Bishops’ Conference.
Blind date scheduled
Pilgrims will be identifiable by a scarf personalized according to diocese and country. In addition to various spiritual and liturgical experiences, some pilgrims will go on a blind date, meeting others at random to pray and play together. The highlight of the event is on Tuesday evening when the pilgrims will participate in an Extraordinary Audience with Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square.
Pilgrims can download the goRome! App where they can find a game with St Tarcisius, practical information for getting around Rome, prayers, event locations, handy words in Italian, emergency information — and even locations to the nearest water fountain and gelateria. The goHome! Section will then accompany the altar servers home after the pilgrimage as they reenter their normal lives after such a strong faith experience.
One of the pilgrims is Jonas Ferstl, an 18-year-old from Germany, who became an altar server after making his First Communion because he wanted to continue connecting with the Faith. He describes serving at the altar as a wonderful experience and that the service he performs in Church should also be identifiable elsewhere. With the recent death of his grandfather, he has felt the importance of his faith. It is that faith, he says, that assures him that his grandfather is in a better place.