by Jack Figge
Special to The Leaven
“It’s called soccer!” Ethan McLenon shouted at the group of Italians.
Ethan, his two brothers and other Kansans took on the Italians during a friendly competition on Aug. 1.
The challenge came after an Italian sat down next to Kolbe McLenon, Ethan’s younger brother, and asked if he wanted to play American football.
Eagerly, Kolbe agreed and gathered a team. Upon seeing the tall Americans, the Italians switched the game to soccer.
“The Italians said that they all played soccer, but we set up on a tiny field, so the 12-inch difference in height and shoe size really played to our advantage,” said Ethan. “If we were on a normal sized field, we would have gotten creamed.”
The Kansas team emerged victorious in the 1-0 upset. But the literal journey to the victory was not an easy one.
After morning Mass and eucharistic adoration, the 89 pilgrims crammed onto a metro bus and began the last leg to Lisbon.
Queen of the Holy Rosary, Wea, parishioner AJ Hastings embraced the crowded ride as a bonding experience.
“The bus was so much more adventurous than just walking there,” said Hastings. “We had trains to meet, and 90 people to move. Every little bump everybody moved, but it was great.”
Once they arrived at their destination — the City of Joy, one of the festival grounds — the pilgrims encountered people from across the world.
To cool off from the heat, a group of girls jumped in a fountain. Immediately, two French girls started splashing and laughing with them.
“Whether we knew each other or not, we all got along,” said Elizabeth Ginzel of Mother Teresa Church in Topeka. “We just had a party altogether whether we understood each other or not — often we didn’t.”
Each person they met left a lasting impression on the Kansans.
“It’s just interesting to learn about other cultures and hear the way they relate to us through a lot of different things,” said Ethan. “It’s kind of crazy — we started singing ‘Party in the USA,’ and the Italians we were with jumped right in.”
To view the full album of photos from World Youth Day, click here.