Pilgrims from OLPH Parish in Sherwood Park formed a pyramid while waiting for an activity at World Youth Day to begin.

PHOTO SUPPLIED

Pilgrims from OLPH Parish in Sherwood Park formed a pyramid while waiting for an activity at World Youth Day to begin.

August 15, 2016
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Young pilgrims from the Edmonton Archdiocese who took part in World Youth Day in Poland came back renewed and with a sense of mission.

Beaming with energy, they say the massive Catholic youth festival was the ultimate experience as it allowed them to witness the universality of the Church, to share their faith with the world and to grow closer to Christ.

Thousands of young people from around the world took part in the festival in Kraków July 25-31.

"It was incredible; it was so awesome," said Lucy Cook, one of 16 young pilgrims from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park. "I met people from around the world. Now I have lots of friends from Italy, Germany and Poland too."

Cook plans to keep in touch with all of them.

She spoke of many little moments of fun. One time while waiting for an event, her group made a human pyramid on the grass and people started gathering around and showing their flags and taking pictures.

"Everyone was shouting, laughing and giggling and having fun."

However, she learned that pilgrimages are not comfortable and include lots of walking. In the vigil the group ran out of food and sent Lucy and three others for groceries. They had to walk 2.5 kms to get backpacks filled with food for each member of the group.

"However, when we came back at 11 p.m., it was really rewarding. People were so happy to see that finally we had brought back food; everyone was so hungry. They hadn't had any lunch or supper that day."

Cook said the pilgrimage changed her idea of the Church. "I can definitely say during this pilgrimage I felt a sense of welcome from people. I felt like I was a part of this massive group. I felt like one of them. It was a good feeling."

She said WYD has encouraged her to become more involved in her parish. Since she came back from Poland, Cook has been attending Mass and receiving Communion every day.

Luke Sekulic, a Catholic teacher who was one of 18 pilgrims from St. Dominic Savio Parish, called from a town in Switzerland Aug. 9. He said the pilgrimage was amazing. "The site, the people and the whole atmosphere were really inspiring."

The arrival of Pope Francis was the highlight for Sekulic. "It was cool to see how excited everyone was for the pope to come to World Youth Day."

Sekulic said WYD confirmed his belief that "the youth can play an important role in our Church moving forward and therefore we really have to support their faith."

LIFE CHOICES

Julianna Deutscher, one of 18 who went to Kraków from Assumption-Resurrection Parish, described WYD as a "really positive experience that definitely is going to help me going forward with my career choices and life choices."

The 18 pilgrims from Edmonton's Resurrection and Assumption parishes took this selfie during World Youth Day in Kraków.

PHOTO SUPPLIED

The 18 pilgrims from Edmonton's Resurrection and Assumption parishes took this selfie during World Youth Day in Kraków.

The medical student says the world needs to know that WYD takes place. Prior to the event, she did some quick research and realized people, even young Catholics, were unaware of the event.

"It was very shocking to see the blank expressions on people's faces when we would tell them we were going to WYD."

Deutscher says WYD is something both Catholics and non-Catholics need to be aware of "because it's more than just coming together to practise our faith.

"It's was really about people from around the world coming together not just to tolerate one another but to actually celebrate our diversity as the peacemakers God has called us to become."

While she was there, Deutscher kept thinking about the message of hope for the world that WYD sends in the face of the recent terrorist attacks. "It was millions of people from different countries waving their flags and singing together and celebrating and just having peace in their hearts."

Getting to meet people from so many different countries who share a common belief was definitely a highlight for Deutscher. "Feeling supported in your beliefs is definitely gratifying."

Deutscher said WYD encouraged her to blend her faith with her future career as a physician. "I am definitely going to want to be servicing the poor and people that really need medical assistance."

The event also led her to the realization that the Church is still made of a lot of young people. "And the pope was amazing. Our whole group instantly fell in love with the pope."

STRANDED NEAR KRAKÓW

For Abigail Hartman, also from Assumption-Resurrection Parish, the pilgrimage to Kraków was her second, having attended the event in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

She had a few low points on her journey which she says contributed to a great experience. Nine members of her group were stranded in a small town on their way back to Kraków after the concluding Mass.

Buses were not running, and all the roads were closed. It started to rain, but they found shelter in a church.

"All we could do was sit there and wait," related Hartman.

"A few hours into our wait, we were introduced to this priest who ended up being the bishop of Ghana. He blessed us and blessed the rest of our trip. That was a highlight because we got to meet this amazing man."