Local youths return home from World Youth Day

Surrounded by a sea of cheering young people, eight local youths stood just feet away from Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day celebrations in Toronto two weeks ago, and have returned to say it was the experience of a lifetime.
“It was amazing,” chaperone Colette Fafard said Thursday, desperately searching for the right words to match her experience.
“It was kind of indescribable . . . A once in a lifetime thing to see,” she added.
“It was getting closer to God and learning a little bit about myself,” said Danielle Lee. “The whole experience was amazing.”
Lee, Kenneth Desjardins, James Ring, Andrew Mueller, Andrew George, John Leschinski, and Chris Boon, joined by Colette Fafard, embarked on the pilgrimage in Toronto last month along with thousands of young Catholics from around the world.
They returned home last Wednesday from the event.
“The best part was seeing the Pope,” explained Kenny Desjardins. “At the mass Sunday, seeing him stand up, using no one to help him–no one expected he would be able to do that.”
Desjardins said he was particularly moved by the pontiff’s message praising youth.
“He acknowledged that we were supposed to, as youths, go on with his work,” Desjardins said.
Fafard was also touched by Pope John Paul II’s mention of the recent sex scandals that have rocked the church.
“He talked to all of us about how special it was that we were all there, and don’t be ashamed of your Catholic faith,” she explained.
Perhaps the most moving aspect of the journey was watching the strength exhibited by the ailing pontiff, who suffers from a range of health problems from Parkinson’s Disease to arthritis, as he completed a host of activities as part of the week-long celebration.
“Seeing the Pope walk up the stairs to the airplane without help . . . It gave me a new sense of hope,” Lee said.
“He just really surprised us how strong he was. It made it even more special,” Fafard added.
Due to reports of his failing health, Fafard wasn’t even sure they would get to see the Pope once at World Youth Day, let alone three times during the pilgrimage.
Instead, the Fort Frances group found themselves just one metre away from the Pope during the welcoming ceremony, and less than 100 metres away from him during the Sunday mass.
“He was absolutely amazing. Every once and while, you would see him with this huge smile on his face,” Fafard enthused. “His voice was so strong and powerful. It shocked me.”
There was more to World Youth Day than just an audience with the Pope. The group navigated huge crowds and met a host of youths from around the world.
“Just being in such a big crowd with so many different people. It was loud, confusing, crazy,” said Andrew George.
“The vigil Saturday night, we slept outside in the crowd. It was crazy but for some reason, it was fun,” he continued. “People from all corners of the world. There were more people from other countries there than from Canada.”
“I learned I wasn’t as patient as I thought I was,” admitted Lee, who said the long bus and train rides to Toronto from the Catholic school in Mississauga where they were staying, was a bit trying.
What took even more patience was waiting in line for the bathroom.
“It took us four hours to get to the bathroom, so you had to get in line four hours before you knew you had to go to the bathroom,” she said.
Enjoying a nice shower was also a test of endurance for the troop.
“There were four showers for 300 people, but we just kept saying this is a pilgrimage, not a vacation,” Fafard joked.
Just hours after they arrived home, all seemed happy they had made the journey to World Youth Day.
“It was an excellent experience. I am so grateful I was at one,” said Lee, who wanted to thank everyone for helping them get there, and the volunteers in Toronto for hosting the event.
“I’m probably more spiritual, and also planning to go to World Youth Day 2005 in Germany,” added Desjardins, who urged other youths to make the journey with him.