Catholic family of 10 returns home after pilgrimage to World Youth Day and Spain


The Love family, along with Father Andrew St. Hilaire, enjoy their last meal at World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal. / Photo credit: Alexis Love

Denver, Colo., Aug 26, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

The last time we spoke to the Loves, a Catholic family of 10 from Maryland, they were days into attending World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon, Portugal. Now, Alexis and John Love, along with their eight children — Anthony, 18; Rosemary, 16; Thomas, 14; Cecilia, 13; Catherine, 10; Gloria, 9; Josie, 3; and Edmund, 1; are back home, unwinding from their pilgrimage and getting ready to send their oldest son to college.

CNA spoke with the Loves one last time to hear how the rest of their time went in Lisbon as well as their pilgrimage to Spain visiting Ávila and Toledo.

The family had two final events at WYD before they drove from Lisbon to Ávila — the vigil and closing Masses with Pope Francis. But it didn’t quite go as they expected.

Highs and lows

On Saturday, Aug. 5, the family took part in the pilgrimage walk to the space in which the vigil Mass was held. They started at 10 a.m. and arrived at Tejo Park at 7 p.m. Once they arrived, they decided not to spend the night there, as many other pilgrims were doing, and to instead drive back early in the next morning for the closing Mass to better accommodate the needs of their little ones.

But after arriving early for the closing Mass, the Loves spent three hours walking around trying to find an entrance into the event space. Unfortunately, once Pope Francis arrived all entrances were closed and they were unable to attend.

“Pilgrimage always has things that are disappointing, things that are different than you thought,” John said. “And there are always unexpected benefits, too.”

Alexis added that while speaking to another pilgrim she was told that while on pilgrimage “you get the highs of a pilgrimage and there’s some benefit to that, but really the lows of a pilgrimage are also a benefit to you.”

“You’re not there just to do cool things, you’re there to offer sacrifice and to be present in the moment, even if it doesn’t feel good and if it’s disappointing,” she said. “So there were some disappointments, but I think that in the end they’re going to benefit us as well if we are open to the grace of that.”

Alexis, Gloria, and Catherine Love during their last day at World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal. Credit: Alexis Love
Alexis, Gloria, and Catherine Love during their last day at World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal. Credit: Alexis Love

Despite the hectic nature of the pilgrimage, the Loves still encourage other families considering attending a WYD to participate. Their best piece of advice: “Go with the flow.”

“Have no plans. Just go out and look for something positive that is happening, because there’s a lot of good things happening,” Alexis shared.

She added that if you’re prioritizing papal events, make sure that is the only event you do for the day and “plan ahead a lot and conserve your energy.”

Off to Spain

From Lisbon, the Loves hopped into two cars and drove to neighboring Spain, where they visited locations associated with St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross — two saints for whom they have a special affection. The visit included the burial place of St. John of the Cross in Segovia. In Toledo they walked the same route he walked when escaping from prison. They also saw the chair in which he sat to hear confessions, including those of St. Teresa of Ávila, in Ávila.

John Love prays at the tomb of St. John of the Cross in Segovia, Spain. Credit: Alexis Love
John Love prays at the tomb of St. John of the Cross in Segovia, Spain. Credit: Alexis Love

Additionally in Ávila, they visited St. Teresa’s birthplace, childhood home, and the monastery where she was a nun, the Monastery of La Encarnacion.

Cecilia, 13, shared that her favorite part was seeing where “baby Jesus appeared to St. Teresa of Ávila on the steps of the convent.”

“My favorite part was actually driving from Ávila to Toledo because I like seeing the cities, but … we drove through the mountains and it was definitely one of the most beautiful landscapes and countrysides I’ve ever been in,” Rosemary, 16, said.

Surprise of St. Dominic

As an added bonus, the Loves were given the rare opportunity to see the cave in which St. Dominic prayed.

Alexis explained that a nun found out that she’s a lay Dominican and, seeing that it was the feast of St. Dominic, gave the family a key and told them to simply return it when they were done.

“It’s not open to the public. And when she found out that I was a lay Dominican and it was the feast of St. Dominic, she gave John the key and a map and just said, ‘OK, well, return it when you’re done. Turn off the lights and lock it back up.’ It was amazing,” Alexis recalled.

“So we got to this chapel that they’ve built around this rock — you can still see in the niche over the altar — they’ve put this statue right into the rock where he was. So you could actually still see the stone behind it… so that was very cool.”

Thomas and Josie Love at the footsteps of St. John of the Cross' escape from prison in Toledo, Spain. Credit: Alexis Love
Thomas and Josie Love at the footsteps of St. John of the Cross’ escape from prison in Toledo, Spain. Credit: Alexis Love

‘Daughterhood with Mary’

Alexis added that as she prepares for a new season of motherhood — as she and John prepare to drop off their oldest son, Anthony, at Franciscan University — visiting Fátima had a profound impact on her.

“Being there [Fátima] really deepened my daughterhood with Mary. I feel like she’s much more my mother now. The fact that she appeared in the same century I was born in… she feels very close,” Alexis expressed.

“At this point in my motherhood and dropping Anthony off, I found going to Mary as my mother to be profound and what I need in this season,” she added.

Now, as they enter into this new season, the married couple views this trip as an experience that will always help the family to “stay unified.”

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