June 29, 2015 — Jesuit Brad Held is gearing up for World Youth Day (WYD) in Krakow, Poland — he is the U.S. project director for MAGIS 2016, the two-week Jesuit program leading up to WYD 2016.
Held has never attended a World Youth Day before, so he is looking forward to experiencing it for the first time in a leadership role for MAGIS, which will gather 2,000 young adults from Jesuit schools and parishes around the world. The theme for 2016, “To Give and Not to Count the Cost,” comes from Saint Ignatius’s Prayer for Generosity. Held says it ties into the WYD theme: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
“I think that will be a powerful theme for young adults and hopefully be an experience of that for them,” he says. Held first found his own religious calling as an undergrad at Marquette University, a Jesuit college in Milwaukee. He studied political science and remembers telling someone his freshman year that he would probably work in politics for 15 years and then become a priest. His heart was already leading him toward religious life, even if his head still had other plans.
By his junior year, both his mind and heart were being called to a vocation, and after graduating in May 2006, Held entered the Jesuit novitiate that August. Now nine years into his formation, he is studying theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, while also serving as the point person for MAGIS in the United States.
Held’s role is to work with MAGIS pilgrims from U.S. Jesuit colleges and universities. “Our hope is to get as many of the 28 Jesuit colleges as possible to send groups of students over to Poland,” he says. “We also hope to encourage young adult groups from Jesuit parishes to attend.”
Part of his job is to help the U.S. pilgrims prepare for MAGIS — both physically and spiritually. “The preparation is both the odds and ends of travel — what they need to bring, what the program’s going to be like — but also, a key part will be spiritual preparation as well.”
Held doesn’t look at July 15, 2016, the first day of MAGIS, as the beginning. “There’s reflection and prayer and community that’s built prior to our arrival in Poland, and that’s a key part of the preparation.”
Once they do arrive in Poland, all 2,000 participants will gather for the first three days of MAGIS in Lodz in Central Poland. Then pilgrims will be split into groups, with students from a variety of countries and languages mixed together. These groups are sent off throughout Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic on experiments for five days, which will include pilgrimage, service, social/cultural, or artistic experiences.
From July 23-25, MAGIS attendees will regroup in Czestochowa, Poland, to reflect and pray about their experiences, before heading to Krakow to join thousands more for World Youth Day, which takes place July 26-31, 2016.
Held anticipates that Pope Francis, who will be attending the final three days of WYD, will be a big draw for pilgrims. “He’s had a very large impact on many people, both Catholics and non-Catholics in the U.S. and across the world,” says Held, who looks forward to hearing the pope’s message firsthand.
As the point person between U.S. attendees and the Polish Jesuits organizing MAGIS in their country, Held will make a planning trip to Poland this fall, where he will meet with Polish Jesuit Fr. Waldemar P. Los and other organizers. He will also travel to the various cities where MAGIS and WYD will occur.
With an event this large, the logistics are always a bit of a challenge. “Those who have gone to WYD and MAGIS before always say be ready to roll with it!” Held says.
Held thinks that many young adults could appreciate the program. “I know that the young adults I’ve worked with — whether it’s in Boston or in remote places like Pine Ridge, South Dakota — are looking for an experience of mercy and forgiveness in various ways in their lives, and I think MAGIS and World Youth Day will be a very powerful experience of that.”