Pope John Paul II was dissatisfied with the Polish Marian piety of his youth, added Weigel. That changed through the influence of Jan Tyranowski, a tailor who had studied Carmelite Scripture. Weigel explained how Tyranowski created living rosary groups for youth and named Karol Wojtyla a group animator. He also introduced the young man to the book, “True Devotion to Mary,” by St. Louis de Montfort.
“All true devotion to Our Lady is necessarily Christ-centered and thus Trinitarian,” said Weigel in reference to the book. “Mary points us to the two great mysteries, the Incarnation and the Trinity.”
Weigel also noted the importance of the Marian shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska to Pope John Paul II’s devotion to Mary.
“The shrine was very close to his heart during his time as archbishop of Krakow,” said Weigel. “Wojtyla went there at least once a month and every decision he made as archbishop was made as he walked those paths.”
According to Weigel, Pope John Paul II’s Marian theology was also strongly influenced by Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swedish priest and later cardinal, who was considered one of the most important theologians of the 20th century. Urs von Balthasar emphasized Mary as the paradigm of all Christian discipleship.
The conference attracted a large number of young adults, including members of the Catholic Youth Expeditions staff and the Spiritus team from Mount Tabor Center, Menasha.
Mark Rose of Spiritus, a group of eight young adults who facilitate retreats and programs for youth, said that any opportunity for the team to grow in their own faith helps them unite youth with their Catholic identity.
“We try to inspire them in the faith,” said Rose. “Mary is a huge part of our personal relationships with Jesus.”
He praised Weigel’s talk.
“I’m a huge fan of Pope John Paul II and it’s really nice to get a behind-the-scenes look,” he said. “I love how he said the Eucharist is food for the mission and we are all missionaries.”
Bishop David Ricken led the congregation in praying the Angelus and the rosary and welcomed all in attendance on Friday evening. Fr. Rocky Hoffman, executive director of Relevant Radio, served as facilitator at the conference, providing opening remarks and introducing the speakers.
Immaculée Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwanda genocide of 1994 and author of the New York Times bestseller “Left to Tell,” was among Saturday’s speakers, who also included Fr. John Girotti, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception and Mother Assumpta Long of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.
Ilibagiza told her story about hiding from Hutu gangs in a three-by-four-foot bathroom with seven other women for three months. Most of her family, including her parents, was killed.
“I’ve been Catholic since I was born, prayed every night, attended Mass every Sunday, but during the genocide, God became real,” she said.
Ilibagiza explained how she prayed the rosary during her days in hiding and how she pushed through the pain to find forgiveness. She also discussed Our Lady of Kibeho, the Marian site where apparitions appeared to young people in the 1980s warning of violence and hatred.
“(Mary) said, ‘I’m giving you advice. I can’t help you if you don’t listen. The message I’m giving you doesn’t only concern Africa, but the whole world,'” said Ilibagiza.
“She gave true testament of having faith and trust and God,” said Rose, who was not familiar with Ilibagiza’s story prior to the conference. “It’s awesome how she was used as an instrument to spread the message of forgiveness.”
The lineup of speakers drew Michael Davison of St. Joseph Parish, Crandon, to the conference. Weigel’s connection to Pope John Paul II stood out, he said.
“Just thinking about that is enough to come, to listen to a guy who had that gift to be with John Paul II,” said Davison.
He added that his wife is a proponent of the Divine Mercy chaplet, which added to their interest. Fr. Michalenko led the chaplet prayer prior to Mass with Bishop Ricken on Saturday afternoon.
Fr. Girotti, pastor and rector of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Green Bay, said that he didn’t realize the magnitude of the event when he agreed to speak 14 months ago. He added that following Ilibagiza was a daunting task. Fr. Girotti spoke about the words of Mary in recorded Scripture. His mother, Margaret Anshuf, died seven-and-a-half months ago. Her words will always stay with him and so should the words of the Blessed Mother, he said.
“Jesus’ mother is our mother too,” he said. “Mary always draws us closer to her son.”
Fr. Girotti reflected on all six phrases from Mary. Among her example was her humility, he said.
“Pride is the common denominator in any sin we commit,” said Fr. Girotti. “The only thing we made ourselves is our sin. Everything else is a gift. (Mary) thanked the Lord for her many blessings.”
When reflecting on Mary’s phrase “They have no more wine,” Fr. Girotti suggested that people follow her example.
“Mary looks out on the world, sees a problem and does something about it,” he said. “It’s one thing to point out a problem, but another thing to do something about it. Mary went to Jesus, first prayer then action.”
Speakers were on hand for meet-and-greet sessions and to sign books. The conference also featured vendor displays and exhibits. The event closed on Saturday evening with a rosary procession and eucharistic adoration at The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, Champion. Irish tenor Mark Forrest sang for Saturday’s Mass and at adoration.
Rose Schauer, donor listener relations manager at Relevant Radio and a member of the conference planning committee, said that 98 percent of conference participants indicated that they were taking part in the shrine celebrations. Ten shuttle buses were required to transport guests. The conference attracted people from other states, including Illinois, Montana, South Dakota, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa.
“It was a great mix,” said Schauer. “We don’t know how much the shrine pulled in the people or if the conference is pulling in people to the shrine.