July 8, 2016

Unique fundraising, grants and Holy Spirit make World Youth Day dream a reality

By John Shaughnessy

Father John Hollowell calls it one of his “wildest dreams.”

He hoped that as many young people as possible from the two small, rural Indiana parishes where he serves as pastor could have the most defining spiritual experience of their lives—attending World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, on July 25-31.

So two years ago, Father Hollowell shared his dream with the members of Annunciation Parish in Brazil and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle.

“I didn’t know if people would be laughing when I mentioned it would be $4,200 a kid for the trip,” he recalls. “We worked our tails off for two years. It was pretty cool when we [recently] told the parents that the $200 deposit they made at the beginning would be all they had to pay to get their kid to Rome and Poland for 11 days.”

The dramatically-reduced cost for the 26 youths who will make the journey was made possible through a combination of faith, generosity and creativity, including a beer festival.

“We call that the Wabash Valley Beer Fest,” Father Hollowell says. “When different breweries found out it was helping kids get to something worthwhile, they were on board. We had more than enough beer donated to pull it off.”

Two ideas from Father Jonathan Meyer of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County—which was planning a similar trip for its young parishioners—also helped.

“He had his kids write a letter to people who might want to contribute to the trip,” Father Hollowell says. “One of our kids from St. Paul’s sent a letter to his grandmother, and she sent it to a friend in Indianapolis. Her friend loved the mission of World Youth Day and thought it would be great for our kids to see Pope Francis, so he donated $25,000.”

Father Meyer also informed Father Hollowell that the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, which is funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc., was accepting proposals for competitive grants related to youth ministry.

The two groups led by Father Hollowell and Father Meyer each received $30,000 for their World Youth Day proposals, including $5,000 to create follow-up meetings and retreats so that the World Youth Day participants can share their experience with other members of their parishes.

As incredible as the fundraising effort has been, Father Hollowell believes the experience of World Youth Day will be even more amazing for the youths from his parishes.

“In the two parishes, there are seven different public high schools our kids can go to,” he says. “I have small pockets of kids in each school. A lot of times, they feel they’re the only Catholics in the world.

“When I went to World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, in 2005, it blew my mind. You can’t comprehend a million young people your age who share your faith—and that people all over the world are on fire for your faith. I don’t know of any other experience that comes close to World Youth Day.”

That belief is shared by Father Meyer, who will lead 34 young people from All Saints Parish on the journey to World Youth Day.

“To have that many young people participate is profound,” Father Meyer says. “It has a tremendous capacity to make a huge difference in the long haul.”

He believes that difference will come because of the experiences the mostly high school and college-aged students in his group will have during their pilgrimage to Rome and Krakow.

“To be with people of every skin color, language and socio-economic background will have a profound impact on them. The whole fullness of the Church is there,” Father Meyer says. “And they will have the opportunity to grow in a deeper love of the sacraments and, within that, just a love for the Holy Father. The opportunities for the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist are prevalent, and daily Mass is always part of the schedule.”

Beyond the grant for youth ministry and a letter-writing campaign that went to 1,000 people, the All Saints group also benefitted from a car raffle at the parish.

Father Meyer approached the cost of the journey as a lesson in stewardship, asking participants to pray about how much they could contribute, according to their means. Anyone who requested assistance was given it.

Whatever the cost for each participant, Father Meyer figures the value of the World Youth Day journey will be priceless.

“When we put out the invitation for World Youth Day, never in my dreams did I expect to get this kind of response,” Father Meyer says. “I believe this is the Holy Spirit working in the newly-formed parish of All Saints. This will be an experience of faith that will stay with them.

“Our hope is that they come back and share this experience, and that it confirms with them that being a disciple of Christ and being a part of the Church will define who they are for the rest of their lives.” †


Related story: Focusing on Jesus: Teens, young adults hope World Youth Day pilgrimage deepens their life of faith

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