Channelling the WYD spirit in Midland

  • July 22, 2008

{mosimage}MIDLAND, Ont. - As 400 young pilgrims packed the historic Martyrs’ Shrine church, outside the thunder rolled, the rain poured and lightning zigzagged across the sky. Wind from two open doors ruffled the altar cloths providing the only relief in the hot and humid air.

It was close to midnight, July 17, and high school and university-aged pilgrims attending the Ontario Regional World Youth Day event were supposed to be watching footage of the Pope’s arrival in Sydney, Australia, via a large outdoor screen by the Shrine grounds’ main stage. Instead, they were praying the rosary, sharing stories and singing praises to God.

“I think it was a work of God for us bonding,” said Ronald Angervil, 18, a parishioner of St. Kevin’s parish in Welland, Ont. “The next day, we all had something to relate to.”

The agitated night, which extended into a sleep over in the Shrine’s basement, marked the opening of the Office of Catholic Youth’s first weekend-long event commemorating WYD. Since 1998, OCY has hosted shorter rallies in Midland, but they have never paralleled larger WYD events celebrated with the Pope.

The three-night campout was created as an alternative for youth who could not attend WYD in Australia, drawing pilgrims from the dioceses of Toronto, Hamilton, London and St. Catharines.

As a new Canadian from Haiti, this was Angervil’s first WYD event and visit to the shrine. He said the best part was the sense of community over the four days.

“Besides the bugs and the rain it was worth it,” he said. “Everybody is Catholic, understanding each other at the same level and going deeper.”

Activities mirrored some of those taking place down under: morning catechesis, daily Mass, free time to meet other pilgrims, praise and worship, adoration, an evening Vespers service and the Way of the Cross. Evening broadcasts of live WYD footage kept the pilgrims up to date on the Australian version of events and papal messages.

Rosemarie Hoffbauer, 16, from Sacred Heart parish in Guelph, Ont., couldn’t wait to attend her first WYD event. Having been too young for the ones in Toronto and 2005 in Germany, she was a little disappointed that age restrictions prevented her from travelling to Australia too. But she said that in singing the WYD theme song and watching the live footage, she felt a connection with pilgrims from around the world.

“World Youth Day — it’s just one of the most amazing things that our faith leaders put together,” she said. “It shows our faith in a really beautiful way.”

Jamie Harshman, 20, from St. Joseph the Worker parish in Oshawa, Ont., had been to Midland before. She had also made the pilgrimage to 2005’s WYD in Germany. But this year’s theme, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses,” spoke to her more strongly on the topic of faith and action — something she keeps in mind as she completes her development studies program at Queen’s University.

“It’s really nice to have that message that you can use your faith (for action),” she said.

{mosimage}Harshman, like many other pilgrims, felt inspired by the Friday night keynote address by Marc Kielburger. Kielburger, 31, is the chief executive director of Free the Children, an international development and youth empowerment organization founded by his younger brother Craig in 1995. He spoke about poverty in Africa and his own experiences working with AIDS patients in Thailand at the age of 17. “For me, it’s very important living faith through service,” he said.

He also included a few words about his encounter with Mother Teresa and the words she left him and Craig: “Remember boys, we can do no great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

Kielburger said this was his first time speaking at a WYD event about his experiences in the Third World. His address included a presentation by 20-year old Michel Chikwanine from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Chikwanine spoke about hope and perspective, relating his experiences as a six-year-old forced into soldier training, his escape and the atrocities done to his community and his own family later at the age of 10.

Bishop John Boissonneau, auxiliary bishop fof Toronto, said that World Youth Day events play a great part in helping youth to understand the world they live in.

“Wherever it is held, it can sensitize youth to the people of their world and their issues,” he said.

He added that WYD helps youth to see where they fit into the church, while also helping priests to see how youth are part of the church.

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