WARREN— A group of young pilgrims from St. Mary of the Bay Parish who attended World Youth Day held in Spain said they returned home with a stronger faith and a greater understanding of different cultures. The group visited Madrid and the ancient city of Avila.
Twelve pilgrims, accompanied by four chaperones and Father Peter Gower, pastor of St. Mary of the Bay Church, traveled to Spain from Aug. 14-21 for the celebration of faith that attracted more than a million faithful pilgrims from across the globe.
Father Gower said that youth who attended WYD from St. Mary are thrilled to have had a forum in which to express their faith so openly.
“I believe that all the young pilgrims were profoundly transformed by the WYD experience,” he noted. “They are in awe that so many young people feel the same way they do about their faith. … Their faith is strengthened and they see that the church is so much larger than our small town of Warren and our small state of Rhode Island.”
Aryn Pryor, a 16 year-old senior at La Salle Academy, was surprised to see so many nations represented at the event. “People were shouting in every language and waving their country’s flag,” she said.
Pryor said she met pilgrims from Italy, France and Iraq who shared their enthusiasm about seeing Pope Benedict XVI and their great love of Christ.
“It felt really cool that there were so many kids our own age invested in their faith,” she said.
Pryor described attending World Youth Day as a “powerful experience” and emphasized that one important lesson that she learned was to always maintain her convictions as she continues her faith journey.
Benjamin Keating, 25, described himself as a “veteran,” having previously attended World Youth Day events in Toronto in 2002, and Cologne, Germany in 2005.
“It was very enlightening and a great experience to see youth from all over the world,” Keating said, adding that some members of the Warren entourage befriended and posed for pictures with some young Iraqi pilgrims – an encounter that helped dispel many misconceptions about a nationality whose members are often misjudged based on the actions of a few members.
Keating described camping with more than one million anxious pilgrims at Cuatro Vientos airbase waiting for the World Youth Day vigil as “the world’s largest slumber party.” He added that despite the crowds and sometimes pouring rain, the atmosphere remained tranquil and prayerful.
In a homily offered Aug. 20, the Holy Father told the young people and their chaperones to be proud of their faith and that they should “gather with others to deepen it, be faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist, the mystery of faith par excellence.”
Pope Benedict encouraged the pilgrims to seek their vocation and “to persevere in it with joy and fidelity, knowing he never abandons you or betrays you.
“Guard the flame which God has lit in your hearts tonight. Never let it go out, renew it each day, share it with your contemporaries who live in darkness and who are seeking a light for their way,” the pope urged the massive crowd.
Traveling to Spain to see and listen to the Holy Father was one experience that Steven Ouellette said he would never forget.
“It was an amazing time, “ the Johnson and Wales University culinary arts student recalled, adding that he was also impressed with the country’s culture and cuisine.
Describing the pilgrimage a being both “educational and spiritual,” Ouellette said he enjoyed visiting Madrid’s historic museums and churches where he saw beautiful works of art, and also relished the opportunity to sample local fare.
Ouellette added that he was inspired by the great love that the pontiff had for the youth who represented both the universality and future of the Catholic Church.
“You could tell that the Holy Spirit was present,” Ouellette observed.
“Our parish has a history of pilgrimages to WYD,” said Father Gower. “The graces from each of the WYD events will change our parish far into the future. I find that the youth and young adults who have attended past World Youth Days are the ones who continue to be active in parish life. They are the future leaders of our parish.”
The pilgrims raised funds for the trip by conducting a letter appeal and though the sale of homemade wooden crosses. They also held bake sales, a craft fair, parish suppers, a silent auction, and candy and Christmas wreath sales. Each pilgrim also personally contributed a portion of the cost of the pilgrimage.