by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — Families who visited Holy Spirit Parish here on the evening of Oct. 30 were taken on a journey through space and time — from Auschwitz concentration camp in 1941 to Mesero, Italy, in 1962.
The event, known as Saints and Sweets Luminary Walk, brought well-known saints to life in the form of youth group members who dressed up in costumes and shared the saints’ stories.
“There’s nothing better than the witness of the saints to inspire people to strive for holiness in their daily life,” said youth minister and confirmation coordinator Doug Leikam.
“This is a little foretaste of not only heaven, but of the community we could have [after the pandemic],” he added.
It was the parish’s first-ever Saints and Sweets event, and more than 100 families and 300 children attended.
The saints spread out at several stations along a sidewalk outside the church, where families, many dressed in their own costumes, approached them to hear about the saints’ lives and receive candy.
At the end of the walkway, families had the chance to look at and read about real saints’ relics on display.
The event evolved from Holy Spirit’s annual Trunk or Treat event, which parish staff worried would be too crowded to host during COVID-19, said Leikam.
This year’s event allowed each family to arrive during a specific time slot so they could spread out on the sidewalk.
Leikam wanted the event to “put some beautiful Catholic culture back into the feast of All Saints, rather than just celebrating Halloween,” he said. “We wanted to enliven it a little bit with our faith.”
For the youth helping out, the event was a chance to create a happy memory for families during a year that’s brought all sorts of challenges.
“I’m just really excited to make the saints feel more real to children,” said Kristina Levich, a home-schooled high school junior who portrayed St. Catherine of Alexandria, a martyr who was tortured for her faith.
“They can often feel like paintings in a book,” she continued. “I’m hoping if they see them as real people, it’ll make it more personal and they’ll be able to develop a relationship with them.”
Levich was eager to brighten up the lives of parishioners this year.
“2020 isn’t all bad,” she said. “There’s light in the darkness.”
St. Maximilian Kolbe was also present, portrayed by Shawnee Mission South sophomore James Wannamaker.
“When the Nazis invaded Poland, he was taken into concentration camps and moved to Auschwitz,” said Wannamaker. “There, he was starved. After a couple of weeks, he wouldn’t die, so they had to inject him with an acid to end his life.”
Wannamaker was grateful to share the story of a saint like Maximilian Kolbe, whose courage and strength can serve as an inspiration for the suffering today, he said.
Like Levich, Wannamaker believes the event was one positive of this year.
“Good things can come out of bad situations,” he said. “We would’ve had Trunk or Treat if it wasn’t for COVID, and this never would’ve happened.”
Standing beside Wannamaker to hand out candy was Olathe East sophomore Baxter Pascarelli, who was excited to play a role in a unique evening at the parish.
“Right now, there isn’t a lot of stuff you can do,” he said. “So, I’m just hoping [the families] have a little bit of fun and learn more about the Catholic faith.”
For Shawnee Mission South senior Chloe Wannamaker, portraying St. Gianna Molla and sharing her story was personal.
“I’m taking some classes this year that have to do with health care,” she said. “I love Gianna’s story.”
Chloe hopes to be a nurse one day and looks up to Gianna Molla’s example.
“Sometimes, you feel like the whole world is against you, especially in the way of being pro-life,” she said. “I feel like her story was so uplifting.”
The evening for her was a way to inspire the adults and children present to strive for sainthood.
“I hope these families take away that saints are people like us,” she said. “They’re people that walked on this earth. They made mistakes.
“What they did [after] they learned from those mistakes is what brought them to sainthood. I hope that’s a reminder of how we can all be saints.”