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Catholic Pilgrimages for Youth and Young Adults

Where Trailblazers Came From

             Some people ask me from time to time, “Where did Trailblazers come from?” So I will offer here a small history of how we got started.
            One day while I was still a seminarian, I was strolling through the halls of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. I was on the way somewhere. As I passed by each of the big windows of the hallway leading to the building entrance, my mind had been occupied with an important question.
            How is the Catholic Church going to effectively pass on the Gospel message, in its entirety of teaching, practice and tradition, to the youth of today?
            It takes no genius, of course, to look around in our cultural and civilizational milieu and realize that, frankly, the deck is stacked against the youth. They have few leaders to look up to, few examples of life, few supports, and lots of spiritual enemies. But these are youth, filled with all those great things proper to the age: high aspirations, the desire to go and leave an imprint on the world and society, profound hopes to make something great of their lives, a longing to help others and to improve things.
            I had just proposed to the rector of our seminary, Bishop Allen Vigneron, a man worthy of great esteem, that the seminary do something to participate in World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, Canada, just four hours up the road from Detroit. Imagine: the Pope is calling all the youth of the world there, and it’s only a stone’s throw away.
            My proposal had dreams attached to it… I was imagining all the seminarians manning tables and booths about seminary life, answering young peoples’ questions about what it is to be a seminarian, and maybe some more important questions besides. A real youth-to-youth, peer-to-peer enterprise.
            The rector informed me and the whole student body of theology that the faculty decided not to do anything. The difficulties of various diocese, other plans some of the classes had for the summer, and so forth, made the logistics too complicated. And the local Archdiocesan plan for WYD 2002 was way too expensive for me to sign up.
          And so there I was, walking in the sun of the huge windows at the seminary, thinking about all this. Nothing? They will do nothing? Well, that simply won’t do. We can’t leave the Pope to do all that evangelizing all by himself… why, there will be a million people there! Shall I sit here and enjoy a summer vacation, loosing this great opportunity to spread the faith and encourage vocations? Then it hit me: “If not you, who? If not now, when?” And so I decided right there and then to found an enterprise to muster the youth of the Archdiocese, to offer a vastly more affordable venue, to have seminarians get involved, and so forth.
            I spoke with some of my brother seminarians about the idea, and we decided to meet at a local, cheap restaurant to discuss the matter further. I was moved deeply to see that there were twelve seminarians, including myself, which reminded me of the twelve Apostles, and to see their zeal and enthusiasm to help the youth.
            Throughout the months and years, my idea and focus for Trailblazers has developed in a wonderful way. I have seen the youth interested in more pilgrimages, not just WYD, so Trailblazers has expanded to yearly pilgrimages. And I think the pilgrimage from which I have the fondest memories to date was our trip to Mexico to visit Our Lady of Guadalupe. I have found the best volunteers one could hope for, not just seminarians, men and women of every walk and state of life. Then I was ordained a priest, which enabled me to offer many more services, specifically the sacramental services, which up to then I could not have offered.
            The name “Trailblazers” came from a discussion about what to call this pilgrimage-enterprise as we prepared to go to World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. For that WYD, the motto was, “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world” (from Mt 5:13-14). Trying to combine the elements of this motto, with the idea of both pilgrimage and of our youth being a true light shining in the darkness, we came up with the name. “Trail” corresponded to “salt of the earth,” “blazers” to the light of the world, and the two terms together indicated pilgrimage and journey.
            The name is particularly apt, because I am discovering no one does quite what Trailblazers does, in so many ways.
            From our alumni, there have come many fruits beyond telling. Among perhaps the most interesting ones, are those who entered into religious life or some form of consecrated life after their experience with us: RJ Slaton, Julissa Vazquez, Jill Thelen, Ben Pohl, Teresa Youanes and Gina Nuculaj to mention a few… and I think a few of our alumni have yet to make that move. We pray for all of you, and support you as you give your lives to God and the Church in this special way!
        We have been blessed with more than 350 pilgrims through the years so far, and are eager to blaze more trails where youth pilgrimages have never gone before!

    Fr. Paul Ward

 Contact us:
Virginia: editor of The Compass -
Amy : Trailblazers Secretary-
(248) 722-5808     *
Mailing Address: Trailblazers, WYD, Inc., c/o Bovitz, CPA, C.P., P.O. Box 445 , Trenton, MI 48183