by Kara Hansen
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When someone leaves the blazing heat of mid-July in Kansas for a vacation to a cooler spot, it’s easy to come back refreshed.
But a group of teens from the archdiocese came back from such a trip on fire — for their Catholic faith, that is.
The group of over 40 teens and adult sponsors that attended World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, July 15-20, found it to be winter down under. But the welcome they received was a warm one, and their experience nothing short of inspiring.
“I will always remember the spirits that the pilgrims had,” said 17- year-old Kimberlee Hurla, a parishioner of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka.
“They were all so dedicated to their Catholic faith,” she said, “and it was so amazing to see that many people that devoted to their church.”
Nancy Luna, a 17-year-old parishioner of All Saints Church in Kansas City, Kan., agreed.
“It’s really fascinating to see how many out there believe and have the same faith as you,” said Luna. “Sharing my faith with so many different people was unforgettable.”
World Youth Day is a bit of a misnomer, since it is actually a series of youth events lasting the course of an entire week and sometimes taking advantage of multiple venues. Events range from eucharistic adoration and outdoor Masses to concerts and cookouts. But every event of the international gathering is geared toward helping youth and young adults from around the world celebrate their Catholic faith.
This year’s World Youth Day activities culminated in a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI on the last day.
“My favorite thing would hands down have to be the Stations of the Cross,” said Hurla. “It was so moving. To see the contrast in the way people were behaving the day before when they were yelling and screaming for the pope to arrive — at the Stations they were sitting there, listening, paying attention. Some were crying. That was amazing to see.”
Meeting members of the religious order founded by her parish’s namesake particularly moved Diana Oelke, a sponsor from Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
“The concert by Matt Maher was also great,” said Oelke, “listening to the words he sang to God while having eucharistic adoration during his concert.”
Though the group from the archdiocese traveled together to Sydney and attended each day’s events as a group, each night they split up to head to the homes of their individual hosts, all parishioners of Holy Name Church in Wahroonga.
“We were so blessed to live with a family,” said Hurla.
“I was lucky enough to have two different families and both of them were so sweet,” she added. “I really felt like I was a part of their families for those two weeks.”
“The host families were awesome,” Oelke concurred. “They provided transportation, great meals, and time out of their schedules to accommodate our scheduled events — like the 5 a.m. transportation to the location where we were assigned to walk to Randwick Racecourse (where the day’s events were being held).”
The group also had some opportunities for sightseeing while in Australia, though the focus was always on their faith experience. Many in the group say the trip was just the fuel they needed to get more involved in their faith and parish.
“This trip has helped me realize that it is very easy to be close to God and the church,” said Hurla. “It was a turning point for me. I’m making sure to change because I want to have a close relationship with my faith like I know I’m supposed to.”
“I’m planning to get more involved at my church. I’d love to get a bigger group together and go back to World Youth Day next time, so everyone has the chance to experience their faith like that,” she said.
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