Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 5, 2000
Young pilgrims transformed
Mexican trek brings them closer to the heart of their faith
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
A recent trip to Mexico, which conjures up images of sunny beaches and tequila, showed three Alberta youth what faith was all about.
On the last day of the youth pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the youth had a chance to experience a gathering of more than 50,000 people, many of whom had walked miles to come to the shrine. Fifty priests celebrated Mass for the crowd.
"The choir section was bigger than my church," said Stephen Good, 17.
Chris Lamontagne, 18 added, "Some of them had walked miles to get there. The level of prayer down there is incredible. In Canada we drive two blocks to church and sometimes we don't want to do it.
"It's saying something about us; it's saying we need a lot of work up here."
Lamontagne of Red Deer and Good of Camrose were among 20 teens and adults who travelled to Guadalupe for a week in February. Also accompanying them was Father Paul Moret, who served as spiritual director.
In 1531 the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to a peasant, Juan Diego on three occasions on a hill called Tepeyac. On her behalf Juan Diego went to the bishop asking him to build a church on that site.
The bishop was skeptical and wanted proof of the apparition. Diego returned to Tepayac where Mary told him to gather roses, not commonly grown in that area of the country, in his cloak and present them to the bishop. When Diego unrolled his cloak to reveal the roses to the bishop, the cloak was emblazoned with an image of Mary standing in front of the sun and on top of a crescent moon.
Our Lady of Guadalupe has become so popular that in 1998 Pope John Paul declared her feast day, Dec. 12, be celebrated each year in all dioceses of the Americas.
This is the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe the young people witnessed in Mexico.
"It's surprising to see all these people here," said Lamontagne, 18. "It's actual living proof that God is still alive today. To see the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe you know (God) is with us."
The pilgrimage wasn't something Lamontagne or Good had planned years for. For Good it "just fell on my lap." He had hear-d about it at the Youth 2000 weekend last fall.
"And I had $2,000 saved up and was wondering what I was going to do with it," said Good, 17. "It sounded like fun.
"I had heard about Lourdes and Fatima but didn't know much about this."
His mother gathered information on the shrine and Our Lady for him, but it didn't prepare him for what he would see.
"It blew me away, it was nothing I had seen before," he said. "There are so many people there from all over and they're all there because of (Our Lady).
"There was the line of people crawling up to her on their knees asking for forgiveness. These people had so little, but it didn't matter. They were so happy to be there. It gave me a different perspective on life."
This different perspective Good said is a higher appreciation for what he's always had - a roof over his head, plenty of food and safe drinking water.
"It was weird. (Mexicans) have nothing, but they give everything. They seem happy; they seem content.
"I'd say I was spiritual before, but after seeing all that, I'm more so now. It just confirms your faith. It's like 'Wow this happened.' It's living proof."
Good's friend Lucian Schulte, also of Camrose, had a transformation of his own after returning from the pilgrimage and nobody notices it more than his mother.
"When (Lucian) came back he talked about learning Spanish and maybe working in an orphanage in Mexico," said Gail Schulte. "Whereas before it was about going to university, getting a job and making lots of money.
"When he left he was your typical (teenager). He was silly and joked around a lot. He came back more mature. I expected it to wear off quite quickly. But he's still that way. He's a little more interested in his faith. It's a good side effect."
Like Good, Lucian Schulte wanted to go to Guadalupe after hearing about it during Youth 2000. He wanted to go "out of curiosity and going to Mexico without your parents sounded pretty cool."
But the experience was one Schulte admits changed him. It's given him a new view of his spiritual life.
"Everyone in Mexico was really more spiritual than anyone I've ever seen," said Schulte, 15. "It strengthens my faith quite a bit. I saw how poor everyone was, but they still had their faith."
Guadalupe provided a sense of peace for Schulte. He knew his week in Mexico meant he was returning to more schoolwork, and make-up exams and quizzes.
"I didn't think about that at all," he said. "I didn't worry about it. I felt a lot more at peace.
"And when I came back I was more considerate of my family. I was a little more anti-social to my family before. Now I'm more friendly and understanding of how they act."
Lamontagne said since the Guadalupe pilgrimage he pays more attention during Mass.
"I'm not just listening, but I pray along during Mass. You get a lot more out of it.
"Some of the words (during Mass) touch me differently now. When I go up for Communion there's so much more presence to it."
While in Mexico, Chris went for Confession with Father Moret.
"I finally confessed something that I had not forgiven myself for for four years. It seems every sin from that point on just lifted off my shoulder."
In Mexico he was also inspired to finish a love song he had written many years ago. He didn't know who it was for then, but when the final verse went in and he titled it Our Lady, the song finally made sense to him.
Lamontagne would like to return to Guadalupe with his family one day, but until then he speaks of his experience to friends and fellow parishioners hoping to encourage them, especially the younger ones, to make the trip.
Another youth pilgrimage to Guadalupe is planned for mid-February 2001 with Father Sylvain Casavant as spiritual director. For more information contact Alice Stelter at 453-3185 or 452-3644.