Kansas Welcomed Down Under

Host Families Relish Time Spent with Kansas Contingent


by Jill Ragar Esfeld
jill.esfeld@theleaven.org

SYDNEY, Australia — The town of “Wahroonga” lived up to its name — abor iginal for “our home” — when Catholics there opened their hearts and homes to more than 40 young visitors from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas this past month.

The suburb on the Upper North Shore of Sydney, Australia, is home to Holy Name Catholic Church, one of the parishes that volunteered, as part of World Youth Day’s innovative Home-Stay program, to house pilgrims from all over the world in parishioners’ homes.

Holy Name pastor Father Stephen Hume is proud of the fact that his parish was the first in Sydney to meet its HomeStay quota. Ninety-two families hosted 130 pilgrims, including 44 from Kansas.

Not only was the program successful, but it turned into an experience as emotionally and spiritually charged as World Youth Day itself.

“It was both a privilege and honor to share the joy, peace, love and faith of the pilgrims,” said Father Hume. “This was truly a Christocentric event!”

Open hearts

Dona Gilbert, Home-Stay coordinator for Holy Name, began recruiting and interviewing host families as early as 2006. As the commencement of World Youth Day activities drew near, she was joined by fellow parishioners Marie D’Cruz and Michelle LePatourel, who helped her finalize plans and con- firm hosts.

Volunteer host families knew nothing about the pilgrims they would house until just a few days before their arrival.

But they didn’t mind the mystery, said Pat MacMillan, who hosted Benedictine Father Meinrad Miller of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison and archdiocesan vocation director Father Mitchel Zimmerman.

“We were more than happy to invite pilgrims into our home, wherever they might come from and whatever their background,” he said. “We knew the blessings they would bring with them.”

Roman Pazniewski and his wife Helena volunteered as hosts because their daughters were too young to officially participate in World Youth Day activities. They hoped that as hosts, their children could meet some of the thousands of young people traveling to their country for this once-in-a- lifetime experience.

It turned out even better than that. The couple and their daughters wound up sharing tea with their international guests each night as they traded stories about the day’s events.

The Pazniewskis, who hosted six young women from Germany, said their house seemed empty when WYD ended and their pilgrims returned home.

“We spent every evening with them,” said Roman. “We also had breakfast together, and they joined in our family prayer at the table.”

Kansas spirit

Gilbert said the Kansas pilgrims, in particular, earned a reputation for their friendliness and enthusiasm.

“They were fantastic — open and generous with their experiences,” she said. “They were interested in the parish and community — which made things perfect.”

Kelly Edmunds, who was the parish WYD coordinator and leader of the team that ran daily catechesis sessions at Holy Name, said she counted on the Kansas pilgrims to keep her spirits up during the trying week.

“I couldn’t get enough of the KCK pilgrims. I was exhausted before the week even started, but a moment with any of them was always as good as several hours sleep!”

“Each morning at catechesis,” concurred Gilbert, “their enthusiasm and energy got me started for the day, and reminded me of why we were putting in all this effort. “Each night, as we all got off our separate train carriages on arrival at Wahroonga station, they would greet me with huge shouts and grins, passing on their infectious excitement and lifting my spirits.”

Above and beyond

Host families were only required to provide pilgrims with bed and breakfast, but rarely did their hospitality end there.

Julie and John Kelly, along with their children — Tim, Anthony and Kate — hosted Rick Peterson and his daughter Jessica, parishioners of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan. Julie said she was thrilled to have Jessica as an example for her own children of someone who is “young, trendy and alive in her faith.” And the family will always treasure an evening meal they shared with their pilgrims.

“Together with the children we sat in the dining room with a fire and a few good Australian red wines and steaks,” she said. “It was lovely to share stories of our different lives and histories. We made them try a few Aussie tastes like Vegemite, beetroot dip and crumpets!”

MacMillan found himself inspired by his guest’s commitment to morning prayer.

“[Especially in light of ] the big time difference,” he said, “it was inspirational to see the priests up in good time for morning prayer and meditation, and to have Father Mitchel always ensure that he was at the parish church in time for morning prayer with the seminarians who had accompanied him.”

He also said he would always remember the opportunity he had to show Father Meinrad some of the inner-city chapels and St. Mary Cathedral.

“At one, St. Patrick’s on Church Hill, Father Meinrad concelebrated Mass with the local parish priest, a Marist, and six other priests, including the cardinal archbishop of Barcelona, Spain,” he said. “Sitting down in the congregation I could not help but be aware of the universality of the church.”

One church

In the end, the heightened awareness of the universality of the faith was an experience shared by pilgrims and hosts alike. Edmunds echoed the sentiments of many when she described how moving she found the evening vigil at Randwick Racecourse on the last night of the pilgrimage.

“At around 2 a.m., I sought some quiet time in one of the adoration tents and couldn’t believe what I found there — well over 100 young adults, silently praying,” she said. “It was so encouraging to see that, across the world, there are other young people who love Jesus and the church asI do.”

Holy Name Parish was truly immersed in that universality of faith. In addition to 130 Home-Stay pilgrims, Holy Name’s school, Prouille, hosted 140 local pilgrims, and the church accommodated 600 pilgrims at each catechesis session.

“Faith was the pivotal element,” said Father Hume. “To be excited by the Spirit and see so many pilgrims here did a great deal to lift the parish. The more mature people in our parish could not help but be infectiously moved by the joy of the young.”

Saying goodbye

As the WYD pilgrimage came to a close and visitors packed up for home, many hosts felt like they were bidding farewell to family.

“One of our grandchildren had a birthday on the final Sunday of WYD week,” recalled MacMillan. “Our two pilgrim priests joined in as if they were longtime family, and it really made a terrific impression on the younger people there.”

In the aftermath of WYD, Gilbert has received many e-mails from host families exclaiming how much they enjoyed their experience and how privileged they felt to be a part of the Home-Stay program.

Father Hume has had similar feedback.

“I know lasting friendships were formed,” he said. “Some have planned to meet up in Madrid in 2011.” In the end, Edmunds had a special message from Holy Name parishioners to their pilgrims from Kansas.

“The witness of all the pilgrims will certainly remain with Sydney for a long time to come,” she said. “And for that, we cannot thank you all enough.”

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