Eleven Star of the Sea parishioners are currently making a pilgrimage to Madrid, Spain, where they are to join more than 1 million people for World Youth Day celebrations Aug. 16-21.
The pilgrims, who are between the ages of 18 and 29, have spent the past year preparing for the Catholic Church event, which is held in a different location every three years.
The Pope chooses the theme for each gathering, and calls together youth from around the world to celebrate and learn about their faith.
For the local pilgrims, such an opportunity is an invaluable growth experience, according to co-ordinator Stacey Rhodes-Nesset.
“I think the motivation for the young people to attend and participate in a pilgrimage like World Youth Day is to meet other Catholics and young people from all over the world, and have a stronger connection to their Catholic faith,” she said. “It’s about young people committing themselves to Christ and the service of others. And it’s not just for Catholics; it’s open to all young people who want to experience something centred on Christ.”
The Star of the Sea group – which also includes two leaders – departed for Barcelona Aug. 10, and planned to bus to Tarragona for Days in the Dioceses, in which dioceses from Spain offer programs to World Youth Day participants ahead of the actual event.
The travellers were to meet with European and South American pilgrims, and stay with local families.
For World Youth Day itself, the South Surrey group will have modest accommodations, being housed in a gymnasium with outdoor showers.
Throughout the event, they are to take part in cultural programs and Catechesis sessions, which are organized by language groups and led by Catholic bishops from around the world.
On the weekend the event ends, the group will walk eight kilometres to the final mass at the Cuatro Vientos aerodome for an evening vigil with Pope Benedict XVI.
Three of the local pilgrims have been selected to have special seating near the Pope, Rhodes-Nesset said.
The Star of the Sea group – which is to return home Aug. 28 – raised more than $14,000 for the trip through various fundraisers, including a bottle drive, and pasta and salmon sales.
They also contributed to World Youth Day’s Solidarity Fund, which helps young people from countries with less financial resources to attend.
Around 500 pilgrims will be participating from the Archdiocese of Vancouver, said Rhodes-Nesset, who has spent the past 15 months organizing the local trip so “my own adult children and other young adults today could be part of this fabulous pilgrim experience.”
The opportunity can transform lives and strengthen participants’ commitment to the Catholic faith, she added.
“World Youth Day helps young people have the tools to live in right relationship with God and with humanity.”