World Youth trip exhilirating, and exhausting
The 46 pilgrims from St. Joseph and other Catholic churches here who traveled to Toronto, Canada, and braved a thunderstorm and lightning to see the Pope John Paul II on World Youth Day returned home exhausted but feeling spiritually blessed by their extraordinary experience.
St. Joseph youth leader Susan Bowman of Corydon, who planned the nine-day bus trip pilgrimage with director of religious education Joe Fey, said everyone got a different kind of blessing, which will manifest itself “in God’s time.”
Perhaps no one in the group feels more blessed than Jason and Michelle Copperwaite, who took their five-month-old son, Theodore, with them.
When the aging and ailing pointiff passed through the throng in his Popemobile, the Copperwaites held their son up high. The pope saw the infant and motioned a blessing. Since that memorable event, Theodore has been known as “Pope John Paul III.”
Wade Bowman, Susan’s 17-year-old son, got to within 10 feet of the Pope. Wade said there was “a little shoving going on,” as he more or less fought his way through the crowd, which numbered about half a million people at Exhibition Place when the Pope arrived on Thursday, July 25. Pope John Paul, 82, was “smiling and waving and looking all right,” said Wade, a senior at Corydon Central High School.
“It was exhilirating to see the Holy Father,” he said. “There were a lot of people crying.”
A couple days later, they saw the Pope again as his helicopter landed for an evening service.
Speaking in French and English, the Pope told the young people that they are the future of the church and they should live by the Beatitudes. It was up to them to spread the Good News throughout the world. The throng cheered when he said they are young while the pope is old. “JP2, we love you!” they yelled in response.
“You could hear in his voice the strength that he got from the youth,” Bowman said. “That was really neat to see.”
The Pope also made his first public comments on the child molesting scandal that has wracked the church. He urged everyone not to concentrate on the charges made against a few bad priests while ignoring the work of many thousands of good priests.
The St. Joseph group left Corydon Saturday evening, July 20, and drove all night on a chartered bus. They watched a film on the life of John Paul, which indicated his great love for youth and included an event in which he risked his life saving someone else at a work camp in Poland during World War II. The film made a big impression on the teenagers on the tour, Bowman said.
On Sunday, they toured a beautiful cathedral outside Lackawanna, N.Y., near Buffalo, and also saw Niagara Falls. They stayed most nights at a Motel 6 in Mississaugua, a suburb of Toronto. Each day, they rose early, heard Mass or prayers said by Father Cyprian, who leads retreats at Mount St. Francis in Floyd County. Then it was off to catechesis classes at the local parish, St. John of the Cross. The topics were “Salt of the Earth,” “Light of the World” and “Reconciliation and Forgiveness.”
Then they would head for Exhibition Place, a large park outside Toronto for afternoon events, like break-out sessions and Christian concerts. The kids especially liked an Hispanic priest who happened to be a rapper.
“They just loved him,” Bowman said.
Everyone was encouraged to bring radios so they could tune in certain channels to hear translations in one of six languages.
Wade said he met people from all over the world, including France, Korea, Australia, Nigeria and Algeria. He now wears a bracelet from Algeria.
The people from St. Joseph took green rubber frog keychains to trade. FROG stands for “Fully Rely on God.” Wade said the frogs were a big hit. They also traded wooden nickels from St. Joe, that said “World Youth Day 2002, Toronto,” and had St. Joe’s address on it.
By Friday, the group was getting tired. However, they made their way that night to the Way of the Cross, a live presentation that stretched for three miles on the main street in downtown Toronto. It depicted the Stations of the Cross that Christ experienced the last day of his life.
Bowman said everyone was polite, and everyone was trying to see the various stations, but the crowd numbered between 400,000 and 500,000. “We were getting squished,” Bowman said, so they decided to try to leave. It took them 1-1/2 to two hours. Then it rained.
The Corydon pilgrims found each other, said the rosary, prayed and sang songs.
Susan said her son bought three rosaries, one for himself and two for his grandmothers.
On Saturday morning, July 27, after Mass at St. John of the Cross and breakfast, the group headed to Downsview Park, a large park outside Toronto, to see the Pope again. Loaded down with sleeping bags and backpacks, they had to trudge exactly 6.7 miles, with only one water stop, to get to the entrance to the park, then walk another mile to where they would see the Pope again and camp for the night, with more than half a million others. They had missed lunch and dinner and were out of water. One pilgrim began to suffer heat exhaustion.
“People were dropping like flies,” Bowman said. It was hot. They had difficulty figuring out the temperature because “everything was in Celsius!”
The Port-a-Potties were half a mile away. When the Popemobile came by, everything was cordoned off, so nearby cornfields were the next bathroom of choice.
They saw the Pope that night from a distance. A large TV screen between them and the stage helped.
It stormed, rained and lightninged early Sunday morning for two hours, and people got drenched in their sleeping bags, despite their tarps (which they shared with others) and rain gear. But when the Pope arrived for a three-hour Sunday morning Mass, the storm was gone and the sun shone brightly. Bowman said the same thing happend when the Pope was in Denver several years ago.
They had communion together, and John Paul II again reminded the youth to live by the Beatitudes.
John Paul addressed the young men in the audience, urging them to be good fathers, either as the spiritual head of their families after marriage or the spiritual head of churches as priests.
The Corydon group waited for an hour to walk the two miles to their bus, where they wolfed down peanut butter sandwiches — they had had no breakfast or lunch — and headed for home. They got back to Corydon on Monday, July 29, about 5:45 in the morning.
Several youngsters are already making plans for the next World Youth Day, which will be held in 2005 in Germany. Bowman, 47, was asked if she would like to go on this pilgrimage, but she said, “I’m getting too old for this. I’ll let someone younger pick up that cross and carry it.”