From Pope John Paul II…

“‘We have come to worship him’ (Mt 2:2): this is the theme of the next World Youth Day. It is a theme that enables young people from every continent to follow in spirit the path taken by the Magi whose relics, according to a pious tradition, are venerated in this very city, and to meet, as they did, the Messiah of all nations.”

-- Pope John Paul II in a letter written Aug. 6, 2004 on World Youth Day 2005.

Coming to worship Him

Whether going to Germany or staying home, local youths look with hope and prepare with fervor for World Youth Day in August

By Joe Kohn

Of The Michigan Catholic

            METRO AREA – It’s coming down to how much love they can pack into their hearts and how many essentials they can pack into their knapsacks.

            World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, is now less than two months away and hundreds of young people from local parishes are entering the final stages of preparation for their pilgrimage either across the ocean or, for those going on a local pilgrimage, across the Archdiocese of Detroit.

            “You have all the youngsters of the world come together to celebrate God, and just Catholicism and Christianity in general,” says Marie Andrews, a 17-year-old from St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms, who last weekend attended a retreat to prepare for the pilgrimage. “It’s a wonderful thing. It’s like we’re setting an example for people out there, saying it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can make a difference and bring peace to everyone.”

            World Youth Day, a gathering of youths from all over the world to celebrate Christian unity and the Eucharist, was started in 1984 by Pope John Paul II. It is celebrated each year at local levels and every two or three years with a global gathering at a different large city.

            The last World Youth Day took place in 2002 in Toronto and drew one of the largest crowds in recorded history. About 20,000 volunteers in the Archdiocese of Cologne are expecting nearly 1 million participants in World Youth Day 2005.

Going to Cologne

            As of mid-June, more than 800 pilgrims from the Detroit area have made arrangements to be in Cologne for World Youth Day 2005. This number only reflects those who have made arrangements through a travel agency associated with the Archdiocese of Detroit, or through Trailblazers, a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization that supports the pilgrimage. Others have made their own arrangements.

            Why are so many pilgrims going?

            “To enhance my faith life,” says 17-year-old Stephen Van Hamme of St Louis Parish in Clinton Township. “To get a better perspective that there are more youth around the world who are like me. Going out and trying to find faith, find the Lord, and to be with people from all around the world is a pretty unique experience that only happens a couple times in a lifetime.”

            Like many youths, Van Hamme has attended retreats conducted by Trailblazers at Detroit-area parishes to help prepare himself spiritually for the pilgrimage.

            Youth ministers say “pilgrimage” is a key word, too – unlike a vacation, World Youth Day promises to be physically grueling and spiritually exciting.

            Mike Kelly, a 15-year-old from St. Ambrose Parish in Grosse Pointe Park, explains that it’s not like a camping trip with friends.

            “When you go up north with your friends, you don’t go to church,” Kelly says. “But when you’re with a whole bunch of other Catholics, you don’t feel pressured. You don’t feel like you’re under fire when you say you want to go do something religious.”

            Many youths say the preparation for the pilgrimage has strengthened their personal relationships with Christ.

            “Each (retreat) helps you more and more. Each of them talks about something we should focus on,” said Jessica Vasquez, a youth from Our Lady of the Woods in Woodhaven, at a Trailblazers World Youth Day retreat at Our Lady of Refuge, Orchard Lake, last weekend. “For example, today they gave us the letter of Pope John Paul and it talks about how the three wise kings followed the star without knowing what they were going to.

            “It’s like us. We’re searching for something. That’s why we’re going to Germany – to get a closer relationship with God.”

Staying at home

            World Youth Day organizers haven’t forgotten the Lord’s presence everywhere – or the fact that not everyone can afford to fly to Europe for two weeks, a pilgrimage that typically carries a price tag upwards of $1,600.

            That’s why there’s “Cologne-at-Home,” a closer-to-home pilgrimage that celebrates the spirit of World Youth Day within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Detroit.

            The pilgrimage, open to high school and college-aged students, begins at a farm in North Branch and ends up at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.

Like the youths in Germany, its participants will be put through a tiring, yet enlightening, experience. They’ll sleep in tents, ride on busses, sleep on floors, and carry a World Youth Day cross through the streets of the city. All the while, they’ll strengthen their faith with intense prayer and by sharing it with their friends.

“World Youth Day is about bringing together the universal Church and it’s an opportunity for Catholics from all over the world to see their faith,” said Marilyn Trumper-Samra, youth minister from St. Raphael the Archangel Parish, Garden City,  and chairwoman of Cologne-at-Home. “The one thing we have in common is our beautiful tradition and beautiful faith.

“We are trying very hard to give them a taste and a flavor of what that means.”

The local pilgrimage will feature keynote speaker Jesuit Bro. Guy Consolmango from the Vatican Observatory in Tuscon, Ariz., who will talk about the star that appeared the night Christ was born. It also will feature a service trip to Focus Home in Detroit, Reconciliation, charismatic prayer, veneration of the cross, Taize prayer and Eucharistic adoration.

As of mid-June, more than 200 youths were signed up to attend the Cologne-at-Home pilgrimage, most of them through their youth groups. Trumper-Samra says the local pilgrimage has a capacity of 300 youths (see box for details on cost, timetable and how to sign up).

Old pope, new pope

            To pilgrims who are going abroad or staying home, the pope has always been the shepherd of the World Youth Day celebrations.

            The pope always has been John Paul II, too.

            Since John Paul II’s death in April and the election of the German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, many Catholics have wondered what would become of the World Youth Day.

            Detroit-area youths preparing for the World Youth Day pilgrimage appear eager to see what it will be like having Pope Benedict preside at World Youth Day – though many of them will miss the late pontiff.

            “I was looking forward to seeing Pope John Paul II because I have heard so much about him and I thought it would be wonderful to meet him, and I was saddened by the fact that he died,” says Elizabeth Bielski, a 15-year-old from St. Paul on the Lake Parish who will be attending her first World Youth Day. “But I think (Benedict XVI) is going to do just fine – it’s just that we haven’t heard much from him. He’s only been the pope for a few months now.”

            Alessandra Bresnan, a fellow pilgrim from St. Paul on the Lake Parish, sees it as an opportunity to get to know the new pope.

            “It’s a good experience to get to know him better, to see how he works and how he’s going to make a difference and put his own beliefs and own changes into it.” says Bresnan, 15. “It will be interesting to see how it’s different.”

            Others, such as 18-year-old Matt Chung from Prince of Peace Parish, West Bloomfield, are taking a wait-and-see approach.

            “I think we’ll have to see when we get there, because John Paul II really set up World Youth Day and he set the tone for it,” says Chung. “So we’ll have to see how this pope continues it, and if he’ll continue to make it the same experience that it was.”

Though John Paul II’s charisma energized past celebrations, the youths concur that World Youth Day is about growing closer to God. And the Pope, whomever it is, is His representative

“I don’t think there’s a difference,” said Amada Kakos, 18, of Prince of Peace Parish. “Essentially, they’re one in the same. They’re both representing God, pretty much.”

 - Article published in the Michigan Catholic, and reprinted here with permission.