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Boston pilgrims gear up for WYD

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BRIGHTON — Young pilgrims donned flowery skirts, tacky hats and other oversized articles of clothing in preparation for their trip to Cologne, Germany for World Youth Day XX. Their choice of dress wasn’t for the plane ride to Europe but for a clothing relay race, meant to show travelers what apparel is appropriate for visiting cathedrals — one of a series of events for pilgrims held at St. John’s Seminary on July 31.

The gathering, held before each World Youth Day, brings participants together as an archdiocesan group and starts “momentum” for the pilgrimage, where the youth will represent their families and parishes, said Steve Colella from the Office of Youth Ministry, which organizes the archdiocesan group.

"They are taking those peoples' thoughts, prayer intentions and concerns with them and hopefully delivering them in prayer alongside the archbishop and Pope Benedict," he said.

The event also gives parents the opportunity to meet pilgrimage organizers, ask questions and learn more about the trip their sons and daughters will take, he added.

The 158 pilgrims from the archdiocesan group, and about 300 more from different Boston parishes that have made their own travel arrangements, will be attending the week of events in Germany, beginning Aug. 16. The entire group will attend several Masses together and, along with pilgrims from all over the world, participate in a march Saturday Aug. 20 to the site of the papal Mass, followed by an overnight vigil in preparation for the concluding Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.

Dan Bonsall, a World Youth Day veteran from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Wellesley, said the overnight is the highlight of the entire week. It involves a march in unpredictable, but usually hot weather. The effect is that everyone lets their guard down and becomes more open to a “renewal of faith,” he said.

"Christ brings us all together," he added. "It's all one faith, but there are many ways it's manifested throughout the week."

Bonsall, 24, attended WYD in Rome and Toronto, and will be going to Germany as a group leader. The new pope will add a “new dynamic” to the trip, but Bonsall sees the “different energy” as exciting, he said.

Bonsall’s younger sister, Kate, 18, is on the other end of the spectrum, preparing for her first WYD experience.

"I'm finally excited to go," she said, adding that participants return changed and view life and religion in a different way.

"I'm intrigued to see that," she added.

Joe Tierney, who attended WYD in Toronto and is also a parishioner at St. John’s, said he returned from Toronto with a new perspective on the meaning of being Catholic.

"I had taken it for granted before," he said.

The day’s activities also included Mass celebrated by Archbishop Se├ín P. O’Malley. During the homily, the archbishop spoke about saints who took vows of perpetual pilgrimage. Those saints remind us that we are all pilgrims in this world, he said.

He then encouraged those participating in the World Youth Day pilgrimage to remember that they are going on a “spiritual journey.”

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