by Katie Hyde
Special to The Leaven
Daniel Warner, a 16-year-old parishioner of Mother Teresa of Calcutta in Topeka, was so excited to go to World Youth Day in Krakow.
But about a month before the group was set to depart, Daniel died tragically in a car accident.
The entire group of pilgrims was devastated, but the loss was especially felt by the group from Mother Teresa.
“Daniel was pretty much synonymous with energy,” said Nancy Ruoff, director of youth ministry at Mother Teresa. “Knowing Daniel made us all better people.”
“I didn’t know Daniel that well, but he was always so happy,” said Anne Ginzel, a parishioner at Mother Teresa and member of the parish’s youth group. “He just had that smile that made you want to smile.”
Ginzel was invited to fill Daniel’s spot in the archdiocesan World Youth Day group following his death on June 27.
“At first, I felt kind of guilty going,” said Ginzel. “It hit really close.”
But Ginzel, along with many other pilgrims, held Daniel in her prayers while in Poland.
Each pilgrim received an orange “Daniel Knot” — a small rope with two knots in it in Daniel’s favorite color — as a physical reminder of his life.
As Daniel’s story spread throughout the archdiocesan group and groups from all over the world, prayers for Daniel and his family increased. One foreign pilgrim, upon seeing the group’s orange “Daniel Knots,” mentioned that they had heard about Daniel’s death and prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet for him.
When the group visited the Jasna Gora Marian shrine, Ruoff — along with thousands of other pilgrims — venerated the miraculous image of Mary on her knees. She took out a picture of Daniel that she carried with her throughout the World Youth Day pilgrimage and held it in her hands.
Then, wanting to take a photo of the beautiful shrine, she reached for her phone.
Daniel’s contact information was lit up on her phone screen.
“It was my ‘Daniel moment,’” said Ruoff, with tears in her eyes. “The whole time I was on my knees, I was bawling. When I pulled out my phone, I gasped so loudly that the kid behind me, Logan (Ruddy), thought something was wrong.”
It was the one-month anniversary of Daniel’s death.
“Daniel has been with us in Poland,” Ruoff said, “just not in the way we imagined he would be.”