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They came without their backpacks and sleeping bags, but filled with memories of past World Youth Days. Marking the one-year anniversary since the last WYD in Toronto, several pilgrims met Aug. 3 at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Woburn to celebrate Mass together and share pizza and pilgrimage stories.
Father Jim Achadinha, recently appointed parochial vicar at St. Charles Borromeo, organized the reunion of pilgrims from the cluster of parishes that he helped guide on the 2002 pilgrimage to Toronto. A seminarian at the time, he helped organize the trip for St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Timothy in Norwood, St. Zepherin in Wayland and St. Athanasius in Reading.
Pilgrims from St. Anthony Parish in Cambridge and St. Barbara in Woburn also attended the reunion.
Father Achadinha was inspired to regroup the pilgrims by the words that the Pope John Paul II chose as the theme for the last WYD “You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world,” taken from Mt. 5, 13:14.
"The WYD experience doesn't end there" [in Toronto], Father Achadinha said. "We need to take that experience back with us. We need to bring that experience back for the whole year."
Meeting together, he felt, would help to rekindle some of the feelings, some of the insights and some of the hope that pilgrims received from the meeting with the pope in Toronto.
The eight former pilgrims who attended enthusiastically shared stories of the bus ride to Toronto, delays at the Canadian border and visits to sites in the city. At times, their excitement in recalling the pilgrimage led to two or three people talking at once.
"When we were stuck at customs, I shared a cheese sandwich with Cardinal Law," said Carolyn Hern from St. Timothy Parish.
"An hour into the trip home, our bus broke down and we were stuck in upstate New York for three hours," recalled Paula Pereira, who helped chaperone a group from St. Anthony Parish.
Suzanne Ferguson, of St. Athanasius Parish, was one of many to remember the severe rain storm that passed through Toronto the morning that the pope came to celebrate Mass with the youth, who had been camped out all night at Downsview Park, a former military airport.
"It's perfect that it's raining out today," she said, because it commemorates the night spent sleeping outside in the rain waiting for the pope to come. As the pope arrived, the downpour subsided and the sun began to shine.
Although they were at times cold, hot, soaking wet or other combinations of uncomfortable, the pilgrims who attended all agreed that their experience at a WYD event was one that they would never forget.
"Seeing the pope in Rome (WYD 2000) for the first time was an amazing feeling," said Jennifer Campagna, coordinator of youth ministry at St. Athanasius. "You can feel a holy presence when you're around him."
She was so moved by the encounter and so sure that others would be as well, that she had her camera ready as the pope went by her in Toronto, not to snap a close-up of him, but to catch the reactions and expressions of the young people that she had accompanied.
"It was awesome," said Pereira. "Unfortunately, one of the things that we've seen is the numbers of youth at Masses going down, down and down, but the kids didn't go to Toronto just to go. They were happy to be there. They were running to get a glimpse of the pope."
WYD is a bi-annual event led by the pope to bring young Catholics from around the world together. The 2002 WYD in Toronto attracted approximately 800,000 youth and was the 17th WYD event. About two million attended WYD in Rome two years earlier. The next WYD will be held in Cologne, Germany, in August 2005.