Palm Sunday celebration takes faith to the streets

By 
  • April 18, 2011
About 300 people wound their way through downtown Toronto April 16 in a Palm Sunday procession. (Photo by Bill Wittman) TORONTO - Barbara Kowalski usually walks through the streets of Toronto without showing outward signs of faith. But that changed on Palm Sunday.

Walking in a procession from St. Paul’s Basilica to St. Michael’s Cathedral as part of the Office of Catholic Youth’s World Youth Day Palm Sunday event on April 16, she helped to carry the World Youth Day commemorative cross down Queen Street.

“It was nice to show others that this is my religion,” said Kowalski, 23, a legal communications clerk at a law firm in Toronto.

Palm Sunday is recognized internationally as the World Day of Youth.

The celebration started at St. Paul’s with praise and worship provided by St. Jude’s United Catholic worship band. Youth were dancing in the pews and clapping in unison while OCY volunteers danced in the aisles. Trivia questions were also asked, with winners receiving copies of Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins’ recently published book, Pathway to our Hearts.

A catechesis session with the archbishop followed.

Collins said he wanted to talk about a hero: assassinated Pakistani minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti. Bhatti was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy law and was assassinated on March 2.

“He was a hero, a martyr and no doubt a saint,” said Collins, who encouraged youth to think about people who are heroes for them.

“Whatever we face in our world, things that aren’t loving — these are the things we have to face,” said Collins.

Reflecting on this year’s World Youth Day theme, “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith,” Collins reminded youth to be rooted in Jesus.

The walk began at St. Paul’s Basilica, before moving up Queen Street to St. Michael’s Cathedral.“We’re called to live to the fullest… To be there with a listening ear and a listening heart and to treat each person with reverence. This life is too important to waste.”

The day’s rainy weather cleared up in time for the procession. A crowd of about 300 people marched up Queen Street to St. Michael’s Cathedral, carrying the World Youth Day cross and praying aloud. Walking on the sidewalk, police cars followed in the closest lane.

“Being at the front of the procession, it was empowering to see so many youth walking in prayer to St. Michael’s,” said Daniela De Ciantis, a first-year humanities student at the University of Toronto. “It was great to see so many people turning their heads and cars honking to support us.”

The event concluded with the celebration of the Lord’s Passion by Collins, with Toronto Bishop William McGrattan concelebrating, among others.

Collins’ homily about fortitude and virtue really struck a chord with De Ciantis.

“He talked about how life is a marathon, not a sprint,” she said. “To take your time in life and really appreciate everything around you.”

In her own life, she’s going to apply this to her upcoming exams — taking her time as she’s writing and really focusing on each question.

And Leeza Shakkouri, a Grade 12 student at Brother André Catholic High School in Markham, Ont., said she really opened herself up to others throughout the event. This Easter, she wants to try to open herself up more to family and those around her. She also had a chance to carry the cross.

“Being able to carry the cross and endure what Jesus endured really helped me to get ready for my pilgrimage to Spain,” said Shakkouri, who will be going to World Youth Day in August.

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