WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Shelagh Schiller brought a flag to be signed by all the at-home participants and will wave the banner at her three children at the airport when they return from Madrid.
Erwin Fung has been to World Youth Day four times. He went to Paris in 1997, Toronto in 2002, Germany in 2005 and Australia in 2008.
"It's hard to describe the feeling that you get when you're with so many other hundreds of thousands of Catholic young people," said Fung. "It's truly amazing what can bring us together.
"At the beginning it was an opportunity to see the pope, but as time goes on you realize that's not why you're there. We were there to have an encounter with Christ."
Fung wanted to give those young people who could not attend this year's World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, an opportunity to join in the celebration at home in Edmonton.
World Youth Day at Home was an inaugural celebration held Aug. 20 at Newman Theological College.
Celebrations began with a tree-planting ceremony to illustrate this year's theme, Planted and Built Up.
Father Stephen Hero, vice-rector of St. Joseph Seminary, blessed the tree outside of the college, and then celebrated Mass afterwards in the seminary chapel, attended by more than 50 people. Adoration and music followed.
Hero said during his homily that World Youth Day is a public sign of faith in Jesus and one's commitment to him.
"The first World Youth Day that I participated in — 2002 in Toronto — I'll never forget the effects of that experience, meeting all these groups of young people from all over the world that instantly bonded and became friends," said Hero.
"Overnight the city was transformed by the presence of all these joyful, believing people. Our presence provoked all kinds of responses and questions, just like what is happening in Madrid right now," said Hero.
Later he added, "Something is happening there and that's the point of World Youth Day. Jesus is the point."
For those who stayed late, the celebration wrapped up at 1:30 a.m. with a live broadcast of the closing Mass in Madrid. Pope Benedict thanked the 14,000 volunteers from around the world for giving World Youth Day a face of kindness, sympathy and commitment to others.
"In previous years there have been smaller gatherings, like a church would organize a celebration for themselves, but nothing really as a diocese. This is something new," said Fung who, along with Amanda Lutes, was a main organizer of the archdiocesan event.
"I really wanted to make sure that people who weren't going to Madrid had an opportunity to have something here, especially for families," he said.
"I wanted people who for whatever reason could not go to Madrid still had something here that they could tap into and take part in."
Through Skype, email and social networking sites, Fung has communicated with friends over in Spain. They told him that Madrid is a city well designed for hosting an enormous event such as World Youth Day. Amenities are centralized and easy to access, and the locals are cordial.
"My friend was walking down the street and a small church was there. The doors were open, so she stopped in and participated in adoration. After that, she continued on her way again. Those kinds of small moments and experiences that people have are just amazing," said Fung.
Following Mass, Adam Urkow, a University of Alberta student, gave a testimony of his World Youth Day experiences. Overcoming many obstacles, he went to Sydney, Australia, in 2008.
At home, he did not know if he could get three weeks off work, enroll for university courses, secure a visa in time, and save enough money for airfare. As much as he wanted to go, he faced countless stumbling blocks. Registrations for World Youth Day had already closed, and he considered going to Our Lady of Victory Camp for the summer instead.
Urkow said God paved the way for him to go to Australia. His parents won about $20,000 in a lottery, and his boss granted him time off work. Everything else that was required to make the trip a reality fell into place.
"I wired $1,500 to Australia to someone I'd never met. I found airline tickets at this travel agent for $1,000 cheaper than anywhere else. I managed to get a travel visa for free," he said.
The whole World Youth Day event was a blessing for Urkow, from beginning to end.
"We went to the opening Mass and it was awesome. There are just seas of people, and you see flags from China, Vietnam, France, Italy, America, Canada — the Church. It was so cool to see the Body of Christ," he said.
Highlights for him included going to various apparition sites, the papal Mass, and taking part in the Stations of the Cross. He met a Presbyterian group of youth from Scotland. Another highlight was watching Hillsong, a Pentecostal worship band, perform on stage.
"It was amazing to see people from all these Third World countries and they were giving what seemed like all that they had just to come to World Youth Day. They absolutely poured themselves out and said yes," said Urkow.
Shelagh Schiller's eldest son went to World Youth Day in Toronto, again with his wife to Germany, and three of her children went to Australia. Now those same three children are in Madrid.
One of her sons travelled with his girlfriend and got engaged over there, making their experience even more meaningful. Schiller was happy to celebrate along with them in Edmonton.
"I think it's fabulous because we're uniting with them, we're coming together with them, and we're bringing the joy of the Holy Spirit. We are one Church," said Schiller.
Staying in contact with her children, she hears only positive comments. They were thrilled to be among masses of people all sharing the same common goal of encountering Jesus.
"They are saying that it's wonderful and the people are so hospitable. The catechesis and the sharing are just amazing. Our oldest boy said the Masses are wonderful, and they are just having an overall great time."