World Youth Day enchants diocesan youth
Seeing the pope and being with two million Catholics listed as the top highlights
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
Kristin Wild of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish, Oshkosh, had her choice of two summer trips. She could visit Hawaii with her orchestra or travel to Rome for World Youth Day. She put the islands on hold in favor of the latter and enjoyed an experience she will never forget.
"Hawaii doesn't even compare," she said. "To be surrounded by two million Catholics was amazing."
Wild, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, majoring in elementary education, was one of 25 pilgrims from the Diocese of Green Bay who made the journey to Italy for a week of World Youth Day festivities. The group went to Florence before going to Rome, where Bp. Robert Morneau, auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese, joined them.
Festivities included Mass, catechesis sessions, concerts, tours of the sites of Rome and making a pilgrimage by walking through the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica. The group also visited Assisi.
Seeing the pope was a highlight for many participants.
"It was overwhelming just being in St. Peter's," said Ellen Mommaerts, youth minister at
St. Agnes Parish, Green Bay, and one of the trip organizers. "I will never forget the
cheers for the pope. I have great respect for how he is commissioning the young people
to carry on the mission of the church. He is not afraid to challenge young people."
"It was unbelievable," said Wild. "The pope was only 10 feet away from me."
Attending a LifeTeen concert and seeing Matt Smith of MTV's The Real World, the
national spokesperson for the World Youth Day concerts, were other highlights for Wild,
as was getting to know the other members of the diocesan group.
"We became a family of 26 people," she said. "We grew so close. I have so many new
"The group really stuck together well," said Mommaerts. "The heat (temperatures topped
100 degrees) was difficult, but if one person was not feeling very well, the others pitched
in to help. Bp. Morneau was a calming influence. I am grateful for his availability to the
Walking through the Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica was a powerful experience for Jake
Wagner of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, Weyauwega.
"I realized that the Jubilee gave me this wonderful opportunity to have my life's sins
forgiven," he said.
Wagner, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, majoring in business, made
the faith journey with his mother, Kathy, and sister, Anna. He celebrated his 21st
birthday in Rome.
"I will never forget it," said Jake. "I celebrated my birthday in the Sistine Chapel."
"Being among so many young Catholics reaffirmed my religion," he added. "To see so
many people from around the world searching for God is really positive."
Wild, who designed the group's t-shirts, found the experience reaffirming.
"I am the type of person who looks for signs," she said. "I look for something to jump out
at me, but in looking for a sign, I nearly missed the complete point. I was able to see God
in other people. I found God in people's kindness and witnessing their faith."
"Standing with two million people who come together to profess the same faith is a
blessing," said Mommaerts. "There were people from around the world who came to
share their faith and their culture. God comes to us in so many different ways, but we all
come together around the Eucharist."
The next World Youth Day will be in Toronto in 2002.