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New York—The visit and message of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States affected millions of Catholics in America.
For a group of 44 young people and six chaperones from the archdiocese, the journey to New York to see the pope became a pilgrimage of hope and faith. (Click here to see a blog and photos from the youth’s pilgrimage to New York)
The trip started on the morning of April 17 in the parking lot of the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. While television cameras captured the scene, parents and other well-wishers sent the group off on the 14-hour bus ride to Sacred Heart High School in Yonkers, N.Y.
The group arrived at the high school at 10:30 p.m., weary and tired. Still, the anticipation and excitement for the trip remained strong.
“I came on the trip because I thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” explained Andrew Defeo, 17, of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis. “I went on the Biloxi [Mississippi] trip and ever since that point I have grown in my faith. This trip is a continuation of that faith.”
The group spent the next day, April 18, touring sites in New York. On the warm, sunny day, the group visited Times Square, Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Plaza, St. Patrick’s Cathedral (where Mass was celebrated), St. Peter’s Church, ground zero, Radio City Music Hall and the home of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The youths also experienced a glimpse of the life of a typical New Yorker by riding the subway and eating authentic New York pizza at John’s Pizzeria.
Kent Clady, principal of Our Lady of the Greenwood School in Greenwood, served as a chaperone and was impressed by the deep faith of the youths.
“One moment that blew me away was at St. Peter’s Church when the youths were given the option of going inside to pray [in the church] or to sit outside on the church steps,” Clady said. “One young person was sitting in St. Peter’s and praying. His friends were calling for him to come outside and sit on the steps. His response was ‘Why would I go outside when I could stay here with Jesus?’ I thought that was such a profound thing for a young person to say. There was nothing held back on this trip.”
Sarah Watson, principal of St. Gabriel School in Indianapolis, agreed with Clady.
“The moments the high school students gave to God through prayer and silence really impressed me,” Watson noted.
The main event, the youth rally with Pope Benedict XVI, came on April 19.
Once again, the youths rose early in the morning and shuttled to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. They arrived at Chidwick Field at about 10 a.m. and claimed their space in the front section of the crowd. While the crowd of 25,000 waited for the pope’s arrival, people were entertained by bands, dancers, choirs and singers, including “American Idol” and Grammy Award winner Kelly Clarkson.
Stephen Hawkins, 18, of St. Thomas More Parish in Mooresville, was impressed with the diversity of the crowd.
“I think it shows that the Church is truly universal,” Stephen explained.
The Holy Father entered the seminary’s gates at about 4:30 p.m. and addressed the crowd at 5 p.m. His message centered on hope in Jesus Christ.
“If we walk in the footsteps of Christ, we are led on a journey of hope,” Pope Benedict said.
The message of hope resonated with David Schroeder, 15, from St. Andrew Parish in Richmond.
“It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life,” David noted. “In our world right now, there is a lot of crisis, and to hear the word ‘hope’ gives you comfort.”
The rally concluded that night near 7:30 p.m. The size of the crowd did not allow the archdiocesan youths to arrive at Sacred Heart High School until about 10 p.m. Despite the long, tiring day, the youths were nourished by the message of hope and guidance from Pope Benedict.
When the youths returned to Sacred Heart, they celebrated Mass. The celebrant was Father Rick Nagel, associate pastor of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood. He reminded the youths not to lose any opportunities to spread the pope’s message of hope when they returned to Indianapolis.
“Each of you has an opportunity. What will you do with it?” Father Nagel asked.
That invitation was also expressed by Father Jonathan Meyer, director of youth ministry for the archdiocese. He was confident in the faith-sharing abilities of this group of young people.
“These young people get it. They are living it. Their faith is very real,” Father Meyer said. “These young people have the grace in not just Christ, but also in the fullness of his Church.”
The group made the return trip to Indianapolis on April 20. On the drive home, they made a special stop at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pa., which is a replica of an original shrine in Poland.
During the visit, Pauline Father Bartlomiej Marciniak talked about the history of the shrine. He also gave the youths a message—one that was shared constantly by the pope and others during the four-day pilgrimage—of faith and hope in the grace of Christ.
“Don’t worry,” Father Bartlomiej said in his Polish accent. “Put hope in Jesus Christ always.” †