Pilgrims gather for a reunion at Good Shepherd Church to share their stories and inspirational experiences
By Nathan Rumohr
Ten years after World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, pilgrims gathered at Good Shepherd Church in Surrey July 26 to reminisce about the powerful experience. Their stories ranged from challenging to inspiring. One priest revealed that WYD 2002 was the catalyst for his journey to the priesthood.
"I know World Youth Day had a profound experience on my life and led me to the priesthood," said Father Pablo Santa Maria. The archdiocese's newest priest initially planned to travel with his home parish of St. John the Apostle, but the group was too small and merged with Holy Name of Jesus.
"The amalgamation was very important because the priest in residence at Holy Name was the vocations director."
That director, Father Mark Schwab, asked Father Santa Maria if he had ever considered the priesthood.
Father Santa Maria said he also found inspiration watching a feeble yet joyful Pope John Paul II. "He wanted to be with the Church that is young and that is joyful."
Father Santa Maria said he remembered one touching scene when the Pope arrived at the airport. He said Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, WYD national director, recalled that the Pope said, "I made it," when he got off the plane.
"The Pope wanted to be there for the young people and to reaffirm our faith. All the young people were there to see this man. Seeing the Pope really was the highlight for me."
While Father Santa Maria admired the Pope from afar, Analyn Perez, a consultant with the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, welcomed him in person, as she was the representative for English-speaking Canada.
"I was very humbled, very excited, and then very nervous," Perez recalled. "I'm an organizer and like being behind the scenes."
Perez believes Father Rosica picked her to greet the Pope because of her work as the Archdiocese of Vancouver coordinator for WYD 2002.
Welcoming the Pope in front of hundreds of thousands people gathered at Exhibition Place was the first time Perez saw him in person. She had missed her two previous opportunities at other WYD events.
"It was kind of funny in 1997 that I couldn't even get into the vigil," she said, "and in Rome (2000) one of the girls I was with got sick and we had to leave the vigil halfway through. So it was funny by the time Toronto came around I went from being on the outskirts to being on stage welcoming the Holy Father."
While on stage waiting to welcome the Pope and for Mass to begin, Perez watched as the massive crowd assembled.
"It was an incredible experience seeing 800,000 people in front of you. It felt like the 'Living Body of Christ' coming together around the Holy Father."
Perez felt like the only person in the city when she approached the Pope.
"I told him that I was praying for him and that I loved him. He touched my face, and his hands were very soft."
She said the experience was surreal and she knew that she had just met a saint. "I knew I was with God."
Before the WYD pilgrims shared their stories, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, celebrated Mass.
"Many forecast that WYD would be a failure and an embarrassment to both the Pope and the Church," Archbishop said during his homily.
He referred to Father Rosica saying WYD 2002 came to Canada in a world steeped in terror and war since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, while the Church was scandalized by stories of sexual abuse committed by priests. Also Canada had developed a culture of religious indifference.
"But the response from the hundreds of thousands of young people from over 170 countries was overwhelmingly positive," Archbishop Miller said. "Indeed they gave credence to John Paul II's dream and solid hope that young people have a deep and irrepressible yearning for authenticity, truth, and fulfillment."
Archbishop Miller said the "youth owned the podium, showing the world that the Gospel brings joy, and that lives built on faith make an enormous contribution to society."