rome youth conference 2018 - Catholic Action For Faith and Family

Young Catholics Stand Up for Catholic Tradition!

By: John Rockwell,
Mission Partner at Catholic Action

What do young Catholics like myself really want from the Catholic Church? What do the young men and women, who are the future of the Church, think about tradition?

Do we want shallow liturgies, the abandonment of Catholic doctrine, and the watering down of the Church’s moral teachings?

The answer is a resounding no to heterodoxy!

There are many who believe that we are all immature modernists who cowardly cave into the whims of our secularized world culture, but that is a lie. I assure you that the real Catholic Youth want Catholic tradition!


Group Picture of the Conference attendees, including Cardinal Burke, staff of LifeSiteNews, and the young pilgrims sponsored for the event

During my pilgrimage to the Holy City of Rome, I met with at least 50 young men and women doing their best to give their lives to Christ by following the ancient teaching and tradition of His Bride, the Holy Catholic Church. These young people included entrepreneurs, Catholic non-profit professionals, catechists, seminarians, and students of Catholic Theology. They came from all over the world, from countries such as the United States (my home), Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., and South Africa. Even I was surprised that so many young Catholics were doing their best utmost to truly love Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother by following the True Teachings of the Catholic Church.

But don’t take it from me. His Eminence Cardinal Raymond Burke, renowned proponent of Catholic Tradition, said he was very impressed and even inspired by our witness for Catholic orthodoxy.

Created for Heaven: The Mission of Young Adults in Today's World

A Conference and Pilgrimage Hosted by LifeSiteNews and Voice of the Family

On October 17, 2018 the conference officially commenced. The young Catholics who were sponsored for the event met with members of LifeSiteNews, Voice of the Family, and other organizations fighting on the front lines in defense of the Catholic Faith, at the Lepanto Foundation in Rome. The location was formerly a monastery during Roman times, built on one of the Seven Hills of Rome.

We began the conference by attending the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in a small, crowded chapel in at the Lepanto Foundation. The celebrant, Fr. Anthony Pillari, likened our experience to that of the Early Christian Martyrs and Confessors living in Rome, who did not have the luxury of attending Holy Mass in spacious cathedrals. He also noted that we may be called to the same in the future. Most notably, the altar was filled with many relics, including a precious fragment of the Lord’s True Cross. Quite an intense way to start a Catholic pilgrimage in my book!

Monstrance with a fragment of the True Cross

The speakers for this day included John-Henry Westen, Chief-Editor of LifeSiteNews, and many others. The talks were centered on dissecting and thoroughly understanding the crisis in the Catholic Church, namely, the widespread apostasy predicted by Our Lady of Fatima. Every one of the young Catholics attending the conference gained a thorough understanding of the root cause of the crisis, which is necessary for forming Catholic professionals defending the Faith through the Apostolate.

The day concluded with dinner at a restaurant in Rome located amongst the streets in which Pope St. Peter himself had walked before his martyrdom.

Day 2: Pilgrimage and Penance Throughout Rome

We visited the catacombs, the burial place of many Christian martyrs. Few things compare with walking underground and seeing the graves of one’s spiritual ancestors, those men and women who gave their life for Our Lord Jesus Christ so that souls like you and me may come to know and love Him.

The catacombs were filled with many works of art by the persecuted Early Christians. This includes the oldest existing image of the Virgin Mary, showing that all Christians after them should also love and venerate her as Our Blessed Mother in accordance with Catholic Teaching.

Much of the Christian art expresses the suffering of the persecuted Early Christians, as well as their unyielding trust in Our Lord’s undying love. Below is an image of Susanna from the Book of Daniel.

Susanna was falsely accused of adultery by corrupt judges, but Daniel, a young man filled with love and devotion to God, proved her innocence. The early Christians likened their suffering as the persecuted Church to that of Susanna, a pure, holy, and God-fearing young woman treated like a criminal. In the image, Susanna has her arms spread wide. To the early Christians, this gesture meant thanksgiving to God for delivering his faithful children. In many other images, martyrs are portrayed in this gesture in thanksgiving for the gift of Heavenly Beatitude with which God delivers them from their suffering. Hence, Susanna also symbolizes the victory of the martyrs who defeat their persecutors by obtaining eternal happiness with God in Heaven. Such was the faith and hope of the early Christians in God’s promise of salvation, which greatly inspired me and my fellow young Catholic pilgrims. I pray that during these difficult times, the brave martyrs before us inspire you as well.

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major)

This Basilica is the largest Catholic Church devoted to Our Blessed Mother, and one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever visited. The Basilica contains many works of sacred art.

The best part about visiting this Basilica for me was attending Mass not only in the most important Church dedicated to Our Blessed Mother, but also in the particular chapel in which Pope St. Pius V, spiritual leader of the Battle of Lepanto, is buried. Just a few weeks ago, Catholic Action and Cardinal Burke prayed with 120,000 other Rosary Warriors on October 7, 2018, 447th anniversary of Lepanto. As someone who helps make Operation Storm Heaven possible, praying and receiving the Holy Eucharist at the saintly Pope’s grave was very inspiring to me. The other young pilgrims were greatly inspired as well, knowing that we are called to defend the Catholic Faith after the manner of Pope St. Pius V, who trusted firstly in Christ Our Lord and relied in the Holy Rosary of His Most Blessed Mother.

Basilica of the St. John Lateran

The official name of the Cathedral is The Basilica of the Most Holy Savior. This is because the Cathedral is dedicated to Our Lord Himself and is considered the Holy Father’s Cathedral, having a higher status even than that of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Why is it more important that St. Peter’s Basilica, even though St. John Lateran is in the outskirts of Rome and St. Peter’s is right in the Vatican? Because the Cathedral was built during the time of Emperor Constantine, sometime after the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire. The Emperor gave the property to the Pope, and on it was built a Basilica that became a symbol of the Catholic Church’s triumph over the Roman Empire that had fiercely persecuted Her. St. John Lateran is like a statement literally made of marble and stone proclaiming that is like a statement literally made of marble and stone proclaiming that despite centuries of persecution, the Church is here to stay. The Pope lived in, celebrated Holy Mass in, and administered to Christendom from the Papal Palace in the Basilica of the Most Holy Savior. This Cathedral is an immensely important part of our Catholic heritage, so much so that we have a liturgical feast day dedicated to it.

Even the Papal Throne of Pope St. Peter is located here and has remained the official seat of the Roman Pontiff for almost 2,000 years. It is the literal and physical Cathedra (chair) in Ex Cathedra.

The Papal Throne of St. Peter and his successors

Many beautiful works of art can also be found in the Basilica, including the Pantokrator, which uniquely conveys the power and majestic kingship of Our Lord over the universe.

At the end of the day, the young pilgrims and I were plagued with aching legs, but we were quite thankful to God and to our sponsors who allowed us this opportunity to pray for the Church during these times of crisis, while immersing ourselves in the Catholic heritage we are called to protect.

Day 3: Formation for Vocation and Visit by Cardinal Burke

On this day, priests, nuns, and professional Catholic laymen, including Professor Roberto de Mattei, Catholic historian and head of the Lepanto Foundation, spoke to us about God’s purpose for us as human beings and as men and women.

In the midst of a world that seeks to aggressively redefine basic truths about marriage, masculinity, and femininity, we young pilgrims were taught how to defend and live out God’s vision for us as men, women, and Faithful Catholics. For example, at one point in the conference, the young men were told carry some chairs over to another room where the ladies would meet separately with the nuns to discuss God’s vocation for women. On the other hand, the ladies were “ordered” to go get some coffee and have lunch ahead of the men.

After lunch, the men and the ladies went to their separate meeting rooms. For the men, the speakers discussed the vocation of masculinity, to sacrifice ourselves, even losing our lives for those we love for God’s sake. In an age of effeminacy where hateful propaganda against masculinity is rampant, when persecution will occur, we were encouraged to be real men willing to fight and die for God and for the Catholic Faith like the soldiers of the Battle of Lepanto. In addition, the priests answered questions for us regarding discernment of marriage and the priesthood. It was a great blessing to hear their wisdom, as many important questions regarding vocations often go unanswered.

Meeting with His Eminence Cardinal Raymond Burke

For many of the young pilgrims, this was their first time meeting Cardinal Burke in person.

His Eminence gave an insightful lecture allowing the young pilgrims to understand precisely the issues in the Church and inspiring us to live holy lives, protect Catholic Doctrine, follow God’s will in all things, and trust that the Lord will deliver the Church from her current trials just as He has done for 2,000 years.

His Eminence also answered questions from the young pilgrims. I wasn’t sure if we had enough time to get through all of them, but he generously made time for each and every question, answering them thoroughly, whether it was questions about the issues in the Church or practical tips for evangelization. The Cardinal also expressed how he was greatly inspired to see young people faithfully working to protect the Catholic Faith.

Before leaving, His Eminence made sure to introduce himself to all 50 of the young pilgrims. Many accuse Cardinal Burke of being some sort of unapproachable, pharisaical prelate, but in fact, he is one of the meekest, humblest, most approachable, most genuine people I have ever met. He is truly a priest after Christ. His Eminence even remembered my name (to my surprise) when he saw me amongst the 50 other young pilgrims, although I am at the bottom of the ladder in Catholic Action. Cardinal Burke remembers even the little workers.

Cardinal Burke introducing himself to a young married couple who were sponsored for the conference

Day 4: The High Point – All Night Adoration

John-Henry Westen told us that everything about the event—the pilgrimage, the formation, the vocational training—was meant to lead to one thing: the All Night Adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist on Sunday, October 20th  in the Church of Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini. This all-night vigil was to make reparation for the crisis in the Catholic Church caused by unfaithful clergy, that Our Lord Jesus Christ may deliver His Bride the Catholic Church.

Taking part in the vigil was not obligatory, but it was highly encouraged in spite of already being jet lagged from travelling from the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and other far off lands. Many of the young men and women decided to take part in the adoration. Each person was given a one-hour shift during the night, but a few of the young pilgrims decided to stay all night until morning, accompanied by John-Henry Westen and other professional laymen and women, from midnight up to the end of Mass, which was about 10 hours total without sleep and without breakfast. I was quite impressed with my fellow pilgrims who stayed all night.

End of the Pilgrimage: Mass and Adoration with Cardinal Raymond Burke 

Before Holy Mass, the pilgrims attended the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the Extraordinary Form, led by Cardinal Burke. It was by far the most beautiful Benediction I have ever attended.

Holy Mass was celebrated in the Extraordinary Form accompanied by choral music, the perfect way to end a pilgrimage. His Eminence made a homily partly in English for the young pilgrims on our struggle to live the Faith as young Catholics, and partly in Italian for the local parishioners. Two of the pilgrims had the honor of serving at this Mass.


After the pilgrimage was over, I was completely exhausted.

As one of the priests told us earlier: “This conference is not a vacation; this is formation.

And he was right.

It was a great honor to witness for Catholic Tradition, even to suffer for it. Many mistakenly believe many young Catholics hate tradition. Many people misguidedly think that our opinions should somehow change Church teaching. In reality, my opinion as a young person doesn’t matter. I have no power to change Church teaching, and neither do I want to change Church teaching. The 49 other young pilgrims don’t want to change Church teaching either. We want what Our Lord wants, for the pope, the bishops, and the priests to preserve, protect, and to promote Catholic tradition as He revealed it. That is why we attended this inspiring and penitential pilgrimage in Rome.

Learn more about the Rome Youth Pilgrimage and Conference from LifeSiteNews and Voice of the Family

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