Trailblazers: Salt of the Earth, Light of the World
By Monica Majcher
Trailblazers, a local organization for young Catholics who will travel to Cologne, Germany for World Youth Day in August, 2005, are preparing a trip faithful to the events’ scriptural theme: “We have come to worship Him,” (Mt:2:2). They will experience World Youth Day as 21st century pilgrims, with spiritual preparation before the trip and very simple accommodations during their time in Germany. The week of World Youth Day activities will include opportunities to receive the Sacraments, hear the Word of God, participate in outdoor Stations of the Cross, attend live entertainment shows, coffee houses, and spirituality workshops, and share the faith with many other youth from around the world.
Trailblazers was formed in 2002 before the last World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada. The group’s purpose is to plan a pilgrimage, rather than a sight-seeing vacation, to Cologne in 2005. Fr. Tim Ferris, one of the leaders for World Youth Day in Toronto, defined a pilgrimage as “a journey to see the great things God has done for us.” Trailblazers aspires to follow the words of the Holy Father, who said: “It is important for you not only concern yourselves with the practical arrangements for World Youth Day, but first of all, you must carefully prepare yourselves spiritually, in an atmosphere of faith and listening to the Word of God.”
The volunteer team of twenty adults has put together organized, safe, and low-cost travel arrangements, but they have also spent a lot of time spiritually preparing themselves and the young people who will make the journey. The volunteers believe that what is in theirs and the pilgrims’ hearts is far more important than what is their travel bags. Trailblazers began when Fr. Paul Ward, then still a seminarian, asked himself how he could help as many youth as possible to participate. Although there were already some organized groups going to WYD, the prices of hotel accommodations were prohibitive to many who wanted to attend. Inspired by the scenes he had observed on television in the past of World Youth Day coverage, Fr. Ward decided to gather a group that would not have to stay in a five-star hotel in order to have a fulfilling experience at World Youth Day. Fr. Ward was excited about the idea, but thought it impossible to execute with the great amount of work it required. Fr. Ward said that he felt the Holy Spirit urge him, “If you don’t do this, who will? If you don’t start now, then when? The youth, the Church’s future, need this service.”
With only three months to go before World Youth Day in 2002, Fr. Ward, and the three other founders of Trailblazers, Mrs. Debbie Bloomfield, Mr. Rob Schmidt, and Ms. Amy Laczkowski, were able to gather 128 pilgrims for the journey to Toronto. This group included chaperones, parents, and youth group leaders; a newly-ordained priest; a Miles Christi priest; a young man who later entered the seminary; a journalist of the Herald Tribune; a priest from Toledo; three youth from Illinois, one from Florida, about fourteen from Ohio, one from Denver and two from Washington State; and a small group of Philipinos who added so much to the whole experience with their typical joy and deep devotion.
For many who attend, World Youth Day is a life-changing experience. One pilgrim, Robert Slaton, decided, a bit reluctantly, to join the trip to Toronto’s World Youth Day in 2002. At the time, he had recently returned to the practice of the faith. “I figured I’d only have so many chances to do something like this and perhaps only one chance to see Pope John Paul II. I certainly do not regret going. Attending World Youth Day gives the term Catholic (universal) a whole new meaning. Young people from every continent across the world came to pray and celebrate our faith in Christ Jesus. It truly was a spectacle to behold – a little foretaste of Heaven,” Slaton commented. “It continued a period of spiritual growth in my life that has brought me closer to my Lord than I thought I could come, and now I am in the seminary studying for the priesthood. I think every young Catholic should have the opportunity to see the Church from this perspective and witness the universal love for our Lord.”
Since this very life-transforming experience, Robert has joined the Trailblazers volunteer staff and works diligently in promoting the group’s activities to many parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit. He is anxiously awaiting August 2005, when he will again have the chance to deepen his faith and bring it to a whole new level.
The theme of World Youth Day 2005 is ‘the Magi.’ Joachim Cardinal Meisner, the Bishop of Cologne, challenged World Youth Day pilgrims: “‘The Three Kings came as three... come in threes! Bring two others, each of you! “ The Trailblazers series of retreats leading up to their August departure date are also centered on this theme. These retreats are one of the ways that Trailblazers is trying to keep the love of the Lord at the center of World Youth Day. The October retreat, which was held at the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan, featured speakers Fr. Ben Kosnac from Sts. Cyril & Methodius Parish, who spoke about the Three Wise Men, and Dr. Kelly Bowring, who shared his conversion story. Teresa Tomeo of Ave Maria Radio and Fr. Tim Whelan of St. Mary’s Orchard Lake were the featured speakers at the January retreat at Divine Child Parish in Dearborn Heights. Two more faith-enriching retreats are planned for March, and June 2005.
Trailblazers would like to invite any youth between the ages of 16 and 30 to join them for a pilgrimage to Germany, for what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gather with hundreds of thousands of youth from around the world with a common purpose and the binding love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. What could be greater than being in the presence of our Polish Holy Father, John Paul II, the leader of our Catholic Church, who has continually spread the message of Jesus to many around the world? Anne Modic, a pilgrim who traveled with Trailblazers to Toronto for WYD, said, after seeing and hearing from Pope John Paul II, “It’s like I can’t wait…to go to Heaven.” After being overcome with the excitement of seeing the Pope, such a holy individual, Modic wondered what it will one day be like to actually meet Christ face-to-face.
Trailblazers is providing simple accommodations travel. They will sleep in sleeping bags in school gymnasiums, church halls, or other similar locations, a plan that significantly reduces the cost of the trip, but more importantly, brings the pilgrims closer to Christ, who “had not a place on which to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). The cost is $1600 for round-trip airfare, World Youth Day event costs, and Trailblazers operation costs.
For more information on the Trailblazers, visit the website at www.trailblazerswyd.org to view pricing information, retreat dates and locations, the WYD prayer, information about becoming a chaperone, the modest dress code for the pilgrimage, and much more about World Youth Day. The website also includes issues of The Torch, the monthly Trailblazers newsletter containing biographies of different saints, advice based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, information to prepare for World Youth Day, and biographies of some of the Trailblazers volunteer staff. Contact Trailblazers at (248) 722-5808 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. A variety of interesting and creative fundraising ideas to help pilgrims defray the cost of their trip to Germany are also posted on the website. Trailblazers also welcomes donations to cover its operational costs and to keep the traveling cost as low as possible for the pilgrims.
“Worship Christ: He is the Rock on which to build your future and a world of greater justice solidarity. Jesus is the Prince of Peace: the source of forgiveness and reconciliation…” Pope John Paul II