Youth from Toronto’s St. Gabriel’s Parish host a talent night to raise funds for the eight pilgrims who will attend World Youth Day in Panama in January. Photo by Jean Ko Din

Toronto parish steps up for Panama World Youth Day pilgrims

  • November 29, 2018

Alicia Escobar was 10 years old when Pope St. John Paul II came to Toronto in 2002 for World Youth Day. She was too young to participate but remembers the excitement, and now she’s looking forward to experiencing that for herself.

Now 26, Escobar and her twin sister Patricia will be joining six other pilgrims from Toronto’s St. Gabriel’s Parish going to Panama City in January for World Youth Day.

The sisters have been talking with their fellow pilgrims about what it will be like to pray and sing with hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from around the world. 

“Having done Steubenville conferences for the past couple of years, I think this is going to be like that on a very large scale,” said Escobar. “And I know how inspired I was after those conferences, just how fulfilled in my own faith and how I felt renewed with a new purpose.”

Escobar can’t remember much from Pope St. John Paul II’s visit to Toronto for WYD 2002. 

“Pope John Paul II was staying really close by so I remember waiting outside the gates with a lot of people just to catch a glimpse of him,” she said. 

None of the eight young adults from St. Gabriel’s has been to any of the previous World Youth Days. They have been working all year to make their dream a reality. 

“It’s been really amazing to see how the parish supports us because they really, really do. They come out for us every time and that’s incredible that we are so blessed with that,” said Escobar. 

On Nov. 25 the group held a talent night to raise money for their trip. About 200 friends and family came to support them. So far, they’ve raised more than $7,000, which isn’t much compared to the $3,700 it will cost each pilgrim, but lay youth minister Nikki Malunas said every little bit counts. 

“Our parish community has been so generous and there are a number of parishioners who have continuously been donating to our cause,” said Malunas. “Just having this kind of support from the adults of the parish is more than enough motivation to save and sacrifice as much as we can — and hopefully, bring back the graces from the trip back to them.”

Music director Mary Calderone is one of two chaperones travelling with the group. Like the young adults, she has never been to a World Youth Day. But in 1984 Calderone was a youth choir member who sang for Pope St. John Paul II when he visited Canada for the first time. 

“I think our young people have a tough time going from the safe environment of belonging in a church community to having to live their lives in the secular community as well,” said Calderone. “So to go to a world event and really experience the universality of what Catholic means... it’s just a transcendent experience that you can’t just tell someone about.”

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Last modified on January 16, 2019