The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 1, 2000 Issue
Local News

Difficulties accent experience

World Youth Day includes the holy, the fun and the trying all in one

By Kathy Berken

ROME - If it weren't for the bed bugs, sunburn, dehydration, blisters, sore legs and backs, lack of sleep, 100-plus temperatures, dust, short tempers, sweat and lack of experience in a foreign country, the 11 days of World Youth Day just wouldn't have been as much fun.

I was with 24 young adults from the Green Bay Diocese who came to this 2,753-year-old city with 1.5 million pilgrims for the 15th World Youth Day, which Pope John Paul hosted to encourage the world's youth to live their faith and pass it on.

When 700,000 of us packed into St. Peter's Square on opening night, after waiting three hours in the hot sun, we ended up close enough to the barricade to see the pope as he rode by.

"There he is! Did you see him?!" echoed most of our group. During the pope's address, he asked who we really came to Rome to see. Someone yelled out, "Christo!" Yet we knew that the pope was the main attraction for many.

We came as both pilgrims and tourists. It seemed we spent most of our time walking - about five miles a day - waiting, and drinking gallons of water, which kept us alive - and sweating.

We walked and waited for three hours to see St. Peter's only to be rushed like cattle through the largest church in the world. "Avanti! Avanti!"("Move on!") the guards kept saying - refusing to let anyone stop for even a second - so on the run we snapped pictures of Michaelangelo's Pieta and di Cambio's bronze statue of St. Peter and Bernini's 10-story canopy over the altar.

We waited another three hours to get into the Sistine Chapel and then could stay only a few minutes staring at the ceiling, disbelieving that we were here, while wondering how Michelangelo painted all of it.

It was great that Bp. Robert Morneau met us for the week, and even better that he celebrated Mass with us twice and showed us around the North American College, a seminary for diocesan priests.

But the best part of the pilgrimage was seeing how God was alive here. I watched a man push someone in a wheelchair up a narrow, steep and crowded cobblestone street on a 100-degree day. A woman walked up and without saying a word, she helped push. He looked over, smiled and said, "Grazie."

I learned that people packed their integrity and their weaknesses along with their sunscreen and water bottles. Two young people walked across a street near the Spanish Steps, already littered with garbage, to place their apple cores in an overfull trash can.

I also learned that a little kindness goes a long way. Pam Marsh, religious ed coordinator at St. Joseph in Sturgeon Bay, gave me a square of moleskin which cut my foot blister pain by half.

Mike Golden, a group leader from St. Raphael in Oshkosh sat on college football tackle Marshall Paschke's shoulders with his video camera on opening night to tape the pope. Golden said he couldn't stop shaking. "I was so excited. I want to be like (the pope). I want to share my life like that."

Ellen Mommaerts, a group leader from St. Agnes Parish in Green Bay, was at her third World Youth Day. She said she will continue to go because the experiences have changed her life. It "helps you dig deeper and hunger and thirst for God in new ways," she said.

Kristin Wild of St. Raphael told a few hundred pilgrims at our catechetical session "not to binge on God" only to forget him when this is over. Instead, she said, "carry God with you all the time."

Dan Maul of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, De Pere, said he expected to be "blown away by St. Peter's or the frescoes," but instead he found God in our little band of 25. He hopes to become a Norbertine priest and said the trip affirmed his vocation. "Everything we needed for life we found here - patience, compassion, forgiveness."

Tracy Ertl of Nativity Parish, Ashwaubenon, said the trip gave her a stronger faith, a new group of friends and a feeling of belonging.

She said when she and the 2.1 million other pilgrims lit their candles at a vigil Mass with the pope, "it was like the whole world was lit up."

(Berken, former marketing manager for The Compass, is on the staff of The Arch, a L'Arche community in Clinton, Iowa.)

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