‘A Little Preview of Heaven’

Seminarians revel in sights, sounds of World Youth Day


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It took a trip to World Youth Day in Australia for seminarian Anthony Saiki to realize that the church was not just big, but REALLY big.

“The biggest thing about World Youth Day [for me] is that it opened my eyes to how big the church really is,” said Saiki, from St. Paul Parish in Olathe and a first-year philosophy student at Cardinal Glennon College in St. Louis.

“As a seminarian, it’s easy to forget that the church is bigger than your parish and your seminary,” he continued. “Once I’m [ordained], I’ll be a priest for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, but I’ll also be a priest forthe universal church.”

World Youth Day 2008 in Australia was the experience of a lifetime for archdiocesan seminarians Saiki, Barry Clayton, Nathan Haverland, and Scott Wallisch. Together, with archdiocesan vocation director Father Mitchel Zimmerman, they witnessed not only the size of the church, but its diversity and vigor.

Culture club

One of the most exciting aspects of World Youth Day, said the pilgrims, was being caught up in the multicultural swirl of tens of thousands of Catholicsfrom all parts of the world.

“It was intense,” said Saiki. “We marched to events with groups from Italy, Spain, France, Africa, South America, and other places. I’d ask them where they were from, and they’d [reply], ‘I don’t speak English.’ It was the first time I’ve experienced that.”

“People spoke different languages and had different customs, and they wore different clothes, but they worshipped the same Christ,” he continued. “It was powerful to experience that universality and live up to the name ‘Catholic.’”

Like “fusion cooking,” the experience of unlikely cultural blends gave World Youth Day a unique flavor, according to Barry Clayton, from St. Pius X Parish in Mission and a thirdyear theology student at KenrickGlennon Seminary in St. Louis.

“We got to visit with some people from Spain, and during the vigil before the final Mass with the Holy Father we met a group from Papua New Guinea,” said Clayton. “They were very enthusiastic. I recall that they stayed up all night, singing and clapping their hands, and creating a beautiful tone of voices. It was diffi- cult to understand, except for a few words like ‘hosanna,’ ‘alleluia,’ and ‘Maria.’”

“[It was like] a little preview of heaven, with the nations gathered with great enthusiasm and genuine love for the church,” said Father Zimmerman. “Especially when we were walking to and from the events, it seemed like there was an endless parade of people. It felt like ‘The Saints Go Marching In’ to heaven.”

Aussie encounters

Home base for Father Zimmerman, the four archdiocesan seminarians, and the other 39 pilgrims from Kansas, was Holy Name Parish in Wahroonga, a northern suburb of Sydney.

Through staying with parish families, walking the streets of Sydney, and mingling with other pilgrims, the Kansans had many close encounters of the Australian kind.

“I think they were surprised at how friendly the Catholics were, especially from America,” said Scott Wallisch, now at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center in Lawrence and a third-year theology student at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago. “But I think they saw a lot of people embrace their faith in a way they haven’t seen for a long time. I think it inspired [the Australians].”

The host families with whom they stayed were warm and welcoming, and the “Sydneysiders,” as residents of the city are called, were caught up in the glow of World Youth Day, said Nathan Haverland, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., and a second-year student in pretheology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

“Sydney was initially very hesitant about hosting that many youths in their city, but I got to see the Sydneysiders fall in love with the pilgrims,” said Haverland. “I could see at the end that they were sad [we] were leaving, because [the pilgrims] brought a joy and happiness to the streets that the city hadn’t seen.”

“The crime rate hit new lows for a while despite the influx of people,” he continued, “and I could see them get exited about the events. Even the protesters couldn’t help but get involved in the activities.”

And about those Aussie accents. . . “They think we have funny accents, too,” said Haverland.

Precious moments

During their six days in Australia, the pilgrimsspent the morningsin catechetical sessions, and the afternoons and evenings at special events and activities. These great experiences became special memories for the seminarians.

“One of my favorite moments after the final Mass with the pope was the three-hour walk back to the train station,” said Wallisch. “Typically in slow crowds people get impatient, but [the pilgrims] were prayerfully quiet orstill had theirjoy and excitement.”

All the seminarians were inspired by the vigil before the papal Mass,said Haverland.

“We spent two hoursin prayer with the pope and the bishops, and more than 250,000 people,” he said. “We prayed for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and we spent moments of prayer in adoration, in complete silence, with candleslit asfar as you could see.”

Like the seminarians, Father Zimmerman was especially moved by the living Stations of the Cross.

“I felt more moved than when I saw Mel Gibson’s movie (‘The Passion of the Christ’),” he said. “I had not been to a living Stations like that, and it was stunning to see the effort and thought that went into that.”

See you in Madrid

This was the third World Youth Day for Father Zimmerman, who went to Denver in 1993, and Paris in 1997. It was the second for Clayton, went to Cologne in 2005. For the three other seminarians, it was their first.

“As someone who was looking at the priesthood, [World Youth Day] had a big impact on me,” said Father Zimmerman. “I hope it increased [the seminarians’] desire to become priests.”

The next World Youth Day will be in Madrid, Spain, in 2011. Some of the Sydney pilgrims are already thinking about going.

“I sure hope so,” said Haverland. “Maybe the second time around I’ll get even more out of it, since I know the ‘tricks of the trade’ of being a pilgrim.”

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