Thursday, April 06, 2006

World Youth Day : Touching Hearts, Changing Lives

During the summer of 2002, I traveled with my youth group (and a handful of other youth groups from parishes in my area) to Canada for World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II. It was the most amazing trip I have ever been on. I saw more churches in two weeks than I had seen in my whole life, most of them absolutely stunning. I climbed the steps of St. Joseph's Oratory on my knees and watched living stations downtown at sunset. We stayed for a while in Montreal with host families. I will never forget mine. We had just enough girls staying there to make up the family from "A Sound of Music" and we had a good time immitating them. Our "parents" spoiled us to death and we were sad to go. We made our way by bus to Toronto where we celebrated with youth from around the world. It was a life changing experience and one I doubt I will ever forget.

A short time after returning home, this was mailed to me. It was written by a woman from another youth group that I had traveled with. It still warms my heart to read it.

By Elizabeth Victory, Monday, August 5, 2002

It was after the Vigil ceremony, Saturday, July 27, about midnight at Downsview Lands, when Sarah Richard and Vanessa Aboud appeared at our make shift campsite. Some of the 500,000 were getting ready to bed down for the night. "We just had to find you!!" they exclaimed with huge relief. We were mutually amazed that they had found us!

They were camped way in the back in the new green section, about 135 degrees angle from the main stage. Finding us was like looking for a needle in 500,000 haystacks, in low lighting, at midnight! "We just had to find you and tell you what you all have done for us this past week! You have inspired us not only to be better Catholics, but to be better people," said Vanessa and Sarah with tear filled eyes. Then we fell into each other's arms and were crying and sharing this past week's experiences. "You Texans came into our lives and turned us upside down."

"Like what? What did we do?"

"You don't understand, this week I went to confession for the first time since third grade. I'm twenty years old. I just felt that I had to do that if I were going to be a better person. We're ready to move to Texas, we just want to be around you all!"

For Vanessa, Sarah, and the other college aged Quebecers, it all started on Thursday, July 18, 2002, when 92 Texans from the Fort Worth and Dallas Dioceses arrived at Montreal's Dorval airport. The group was made up of thirty-seven from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Keller, seventeen from Our Lady of Lourdes, Dallas, twelve from St. Thomas Aquinas, Dallas, twelve members of Matt Gill's Christian band, Remnant, four from St. Patrick Cathedral, Fort Worth, two from Our Lady Queen of Peace, Wichita Falls, two from St. Rose of Lima, Glen Rose, and four from individual parishes.

The group was hosted in the homes of families from St. Mary's in Greenfield Park, and Good Shepherd in the neighboring city of Brossard, both in the Diocease of Ste. Jean Longeuil. This beginning three and one-half day segment of the WYD pilgrimage was called Days of the Dioceses. The bishops of Canada has asked the Canadians to open their hearts and homes to pilgrims, and invited pilgrims to come experience life with Canadian families.

The Fort Worth group chose the Montreal area in the province of Quebec because research showed that is where most of the shrines were located. Then we chose the neighboring diocease of Ste. Jean Longeuil because of it's proximity to many shrines. This was obviously guided by the Spirit. Vanessa explained, "We were expecting to host a German group, with some reservations because we did not speak German. Then the diocesan contact told us about this large group from Texas who had requested an English speaking parish." There are only about four English speaking parishes in the whole diocease. "It was so much work getting ready to host you all, but now we're glad we did," said Sarah.

"The first thing we noticed was your ninety blue shirts, and I thought, 'Wow. They're organized' and that everyone was friendly," said Elissa DeSouza who with Keith Villamor, Jane Parayno and Tricia DelCampo waited with welcome signs at the airport. At the parish, the Texans were warmly greeted with food, and welcome gifts and were also impressed with the Quebecers' organization.

For the Texans, the three days that followed with the families were very brief, since most of the time was spend traveling to the shrines of Bl. Kateri Tekawitha, Marie-Reine-du-Monde (Mary Queen of the World) Basilica which is a 1/3 replica of St. Peter's Basilica, extraordinarily beautiful St. Patrick CHurch, Notre Dame Basilica, and St. Joseph's Oratory, which houses the tomb of Bl. Andre. The diocese of Longueil hosted a welcome for the international groups on Saturday evening, and on Sunday night before we left, our parishes hosted a large goodbye reception with talent show and a moving candlelight blessing service.

Their talent was witty, quality and varied. The Texans' music was supplied by the band Remnant led by Matt Gill. Everyone agreed that the band and jugglers Jonathan and Jeremy Demma were awesome. One Texan group also did a skit on the life of Bl. Andre. The talent show ended with a group that introduced themselves as The Wannabes. The wannabe Texans were all the adults/parents who had hosted a Texan. They serendaded us with Yellow Rose of Texas, and thanked us for being "angels in thier midst this past week."

On Monday, July 22, the Texans said thank you for their generosity and hospitality and goodbyes and boarded their buses to head to Toronto. Blocking the driveway with arms locked in a human chain were the young Quebecers that had become family these past three days.

Saturday night at Downsview, Vanessa continued to explain, "We really meant that, we didn't want you all to leave. We actually considered laying on the ground to stop the buses from leaving!"

"What did we do?"

"You all were different from any group we ever met."

"But you went to WYD 2000 in Rome."

"Yes, we had a good time, and when we came back we started a youth group. But we never saw our peers praying, wanting to pray. In the bus going to St. Joseph's Oratory, when you invited everyone to pray (the Chaplet of Divine Mercy), we expected everyone to groan, instead they reached for their rosaries. They knew the prayer which we had never heard, and they wanted to pray," said Elissa. "We noticed that. It really moved us."

We were traveling in two hot, noisy buses with the windows open. Our bus, the one on which the Quebecers rode, came to a quick stop shortly after we started out. There was smoke coming from the front section, and we all quickly piled out lest it burst into flames. It turned out that the emergency brake had not been released before taking off, and was easily fixed. We had more reason to pray.

Elissa continued, "I used to groan when my mom asked me to pray the rosary, but yesterday for the first time I didn't complain, I needed to pray, I enjoyed praying! ... It's an incredible feeling! I really think that I will try and start a young adult prayer group."

At Marie-Reine-du-Monde Basilica, with wide eyes, the Quebecers observed the young Texans praying morning prayers after the 8:00 AM Mass. Matt Kalina on guitar led the group in song. Going to the shrines that Saturday morning, July 20, was an extraordinary challenge because of traffic and transportation obstacles. It required leaving at 7:00 AM. Everyone cooperated. Keith, Elissa, Sarah, Natalie Duponsel and Vanessa volunteered to be our guides. Sarah said, "Ninety-two yellow shirts wanting to pray together, we've never seen anything like this before. My mother is so happy that now I want to pray." Before Mass began, a woman turned to Olivia of our group and inquired where we were from. She burst into tears, "This Mass is for my father. My father died in Mexico. Some of you are of Mexican heritage. You've been sent by Our Blessed Mother." At the beginning of the trip, we had encouraged the young people that a pilgrimage is a good chance to pray for the souls in purgatory of our family tree.

Keith and Elissa insisted that we just had to see St. Patrick Church, but that we had only five minutes there if we were also going to make it to Notre Dame Basilica. The curved wooden staircases are only a hint of this extraordinarily beautiful church. As we rushed out the pastor caught a glimpse of Matt Gill carrying his guitar and begged us to come in for donuts and juice. They had a Pilgrim Cafe set up! The quality of the fare was just as extraordinary! Ninety-seven of us dropped in, ate, and there was still plenty of food remaining! Upon the pastor's insistence, Matt Gill led us in some songs while we ate!

At Notre Dame Basilica and St. Joseph's Oratory, everyone was on their own. Again the Quebecers noticed that the young Texans prayed, they wanted to pray. "We had never seen such faith, young people praying, singing and working together. When you all left us in Montreal, we didn't know what to do with ourselves. We sat and talked for two hours about the way you all had lived your faith the short time you were here. We decided that we just had to find you all when we got to Toronto. We looked for every Texas flag and cowboy hat. God helped us find you," said Vanessa.

The Quebec group was there for Remnant's Wednesday, July 24th concert at Exhibition Place where the WYD activities took place. "We thought, how awesome to use your talent to praise God!" That evening, Bro Simon Dankoski CFR and Jonathan and Jeremy Demma's small group took the Quebecers to the NET adoration. "We had never been to adoration before. Wow! Jesus was so real to the Texans! We got this over all sense that this is real. It inspired us to want to grow spiritually," said Elissa.

On Friday, July 26, about 11 PM, after the amazing Stations of the Cross in the downtown streets of Toronto, Jonathan and Jeremy Demma's group were waiting on the subway platform when someone remarked, "Hey, we didn't see the Canadians (Quebecers) today!" There are countless subway lines and cars from which to choose. Shortly after they got on the subway, they heard these voices scream, "The Texans!!"

Thus finding the Texans on Saturday, July 27, after the vigil ceremony was very necessary. We were all running out of time to be together. The Quebecers had many questions about how and why. They were in disbelief when Jonathan Demma shared his story. He encouraged them to surrender their life to Christ. "Make Him a part of your life everyday, and He can make you a completely new person. Pray to discern the difference between what you want and what it is that God wants for you."

Sunday, July 28, was the closing Mass with Holy Father, after which, everyone was leaving town. It rained for about an hour before Mass began. The ground tarps were collecting water and soaked our sleeping bags. We prayed for a Fatima miracle, that the sun would come out and dry our clothes. We were grateful that the rain was not cold as we huddled under the umbrellas amidst the 800,000 that were present for Mass. As the entrance hymn began sunlight started peeping out from the west while the skies on the east were still gray. When the Holy Father arrived on stage, a brisk wind came up. Again, we were grateful that it was not cold, and hoped it would blow away the rain clouds. As Mass progressed, so too did the sunlight. And yes, our clothes dried, adn the rest of the day was sunny and hot.

Our Quebec family reluctantly said goodbye after Mass. We know that we will see them again soon. We've been home about a week and in touch with them. Vanessa said, "I've been reborn into the Catholic faith. Now I'm constantly praying. Now we talk about our faith among ourselves instead of the stuff girls talk about. Now we want to go to church and now we make it a point to sit together. My grandfather died last November and I was mad at God, we didn't have a good relationship. Now I realize my relationship with God cannot be this way. I cannot say enough, Young People praying together, what a remarkable sight to see!"

And from Elissa, "I'm really determined to try to come to Texas for that YOUTH 2000 Retreat ... I think it's something I need to experience spiritually and who better to experience that with than you guys. I keep on saying this, but I'll say it again, Matt and Angela Gill and all of you are so inspiring ... you've probably received an email from Sarah telling you how you've inspired her and I know she's been really moved! ... I can tell you that there are four young girls here in Canada that needed what you Texans brought to us!"

The Texans went to Quebec following the early French saints who had evangelized the natives of Canada, leaving their bodies, minds, souls and hearts in tangible shrines. Like these saints, the Texans went armed with the intercession of the Blessed Mother and accompanied by their guardian angels. At Mary Queen of the World Basilica, the French speaking priest said, in English, to the Texans after the Saturday 8:00 AM Mass, "I pray that your enthusiasm for the faith will be a light to the young people of Canada." Little did we know how much we had in common with those early French evangelizers!

It's amazing what wonders the Holy Spirit can work when you only allow Him the opportunity. I miss all of our young hosts dearly and I pray someday I will be able to make the trip again.


Anonymous Sarah said...

My name is Sarah, and I'm one of the girls in the WYD 2002 story written by Elizabeth Victory. I was sent this link by a friend I had attended WYD 2000 with, and couldn't resist posting. So much has happened in the 4 yrs since the Texans visit, but I am still moved to think about the experience. Unfortunately, some ties and bonds that were built in those days did not survive, but we're all grown spiritually and emotionally, albeit apart. I can report that Jonathan Demma joined a seminary 2 years ago, and last I heard, he was very happy. I am also in touch with some other Texans, one of whom is presently deployed with the Marines.
Through turmoils and ups & downs, my faith has not wavered. I still see WYD 2002 in Toronto as a turning point in my life. You can reach me at

5/15/2006 04:59:00 PM  

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