April 11, 2008

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: Youths reflect on pilgrimage to see pope in New York

By John Shaughnessy

Laura MasonLike most people, Laura Mason looks forward to her weekends.

The 17-year-old Shelbyville youth especially had that feeling about an upcoming April weekend that she knew would be filled with music, sports and good times—a weekend that would also be highlighted by her junior prom.

Then Laura received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that tempted her to set aside that special high school event.

If you want, Laura was told, there’s a seat for you on a bus that’s headed from Indianapolis to New York to see Pope Benedict XVI at a youth rally, a bus that holds just 50 people.

“I was really excited,” recalls Laura about the invitation for the trip on April 17-20. “Then I got out my assignment book and saw all the conflicts. I had two tennis matches that Thursday and Friday, a band concert, a band contest and the junior prom that Saturday night.

“It was a very tough decision, but I decided I could go to prom next year. Not many people get to see the pope at all, let alone attend a rally with him. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Laura will be one of the 44 youths and six adult chaperones on the bus that will be filled with Catholics from across the archdiocese. Some of the young people were recommended by their youth ministers and others were invited because of their service with the Archdiocesan Youth Council.

“I think the trip will be amazing,” says Laura, a student at Shelbyville High School and member of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville. “It’s a good idea [that the pope is meeting with young people]. During this past year, my confirmation sponsor made me realize we are the future of the Church. It’s in our hands.”

The Criterion contacted Laura and three other youths to share their thoughts—and their stories of faith—about making the trip to see the pope on April 19 at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., where about 22,000 people are expected to attend the historic rally.

Here are their stories:

Sparking the fire inside

Kyle FieldFor 16-year-old Kyle Field, the trip to New York to see Pope Benedict XVI will be another amazing part of a longer, incredible journey that has led him to consider the priesthood.

In fact, this will be the second time in less than two years that Field will experience being in the pope’s presence. In the fall of 2006, he was part of a pilgrimage to Italy that was led by Father Michael Fritsch, his pastor at St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington.

“A guardian angel helped to pay for me to go on that trip,” Kyle recalls. “Before the trip, Father Mike asked me to come visit him at the rectory. He said, ‘How would you like to go to Rome?’ He said there was a person who was paying for my trip. It was an awesome opportunity. I heard the pope’s Wednesday address. Any opportunity to hear him and see him again, I’m going to take. I’m not sure what he’ll say to the American youth, but I’m sure it will be amazing.”

Kyle has the same excitement as he talks about another recent journey of faith he made to Washington, D.C., in January for the annual March for Life.

“It was amazing,” says Kyle, who is home-schooled. “I had never been before. Just to see how many people care about how evil abortion and euthanasia are. You know they’re trying to get Roe v. Wade overturned. It makes you want to work hard to get it overturned.”

Those trips and the spiritual retreats he has experienced have shown him how deeply people care about their faith and made him think seriously about his own.

“If they care that much, why shouldn’t I?” he says. “It’s sparked a fire inside me to care about my faith. People want me to think about the priesthood. I’ve been praying about it, and I’m open to it, to see if that’s where I’m supposed to be.”

A prayer for the future

Jessica PetersJessica Peters’ senior year in high school already had been marked with great moments.

Her senior retreat at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis this year drew her even closer to her faith and her friends. She enjoyed playing in the band during her school’s football and basketball games. She also rejoiced in being accepted at Xavier University in Cincinnati to continue her education in college.

Recently, her senior year took another special turn when she was invited on the New York trip to see the pope.

“He’s the symbol of our faith,” says Jessica, 18, a member of the Archdiocesan Youth Council.

“I’m just thinking of how I admire anyone who has devoted their life to the Catholic faith. It will be great to be there with the other youth who are excited to see him.”

She believes the experience will help strengthen her faith even more.

“I feel pretty good about my faith right now,” says Jessica, a member of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

“With all the good things in my life now, it’s easy to be strong in my faith. But sometimes it’s difficult for me to stand up for my faith. That’s why I think this trip will be so good—to be surrounded by people who feel the same way and will stand up for what they believe in.”

Jessica is counting on that spiritual growth to help her when she starts college.

“I’ll be on my own in college,” she says. “There will be a lot of temptations. Once I see it’s OK to be strong in my faith, I think it will be a lot easier. I think I’ll be able to look to God and trust that he’ll help me make the right choices. I think I’ve gotten better at putting my faith in him. God will take care of me.”

‘This is my faith. This is my belief.’

Ian BarnsteadWhen he steps on the bus to see the pope in New York, Ian Barnstead will think of another trip that changed his life and his faith.

It was on spring break in 2006 when he was part of a youth group from St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis that traveled to Biloxi, Miss., to help people whose lives and homes had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

“Going to Biloxi took me out of my comfort zone and helped me experience my faith in the real world,” says Ian, 17, a member of the Archdiocesan Youth Council.

“It really was me breaking out of my shell. It helped me experience the love of Christ.”

One moment from that trip especially made a difference.

“There was a eucharistic procession we did late at night from the church to the gym where we were staying. It was the first time I was in that kind of procession. It was a quiet night, and we were all walking down the street holding candles and singing. I had never experienced the Eucharist in that way. That was the climax of the week. It made me think, ‘This is my faith. This is my belief. I have to take it seriously and take action.’ ”

He’s tried to follow that approach for two years.

“My faith is growing,” says Ian, a junior at North Central High School in Indianapolis. “I’ve grown a lot since I started taking my faith seriously, but I still have a long way to go.”

He views the trip to see the pope as a special part of that journey.

“I think it’s awesome. It shows the Holy Father really cares about youth. He’s carrying on the message of Pope John Paul II—that we are the future of the Church and he cares about us.

“I’m going on this trip with the same attitude I’ve learned from a lot of retreats—to go in with an open heart and an open mind and see what the Lord provides for me.”†

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