Abigail Hartman flips pancakes at a recent fundraiser at Assumption Church to support the 18 youth from Assumption and Resurrection parishes who will attend World Youth Day.

PHOTO SUPPLIED

Abigail Hartman flips pancakes at a recent fundraiser at Assumption Church to support the 18 youth from Assumption and Resurrection parishes who will attend World Youth Day.

March 7, 2016
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

For Abigail Hartman, preparation for this year's World Youth Day started even before she decided to attend.

Hartman, 19, is one of hundreds of young people in the archdiocese getting geared up to go to the international meeting in Krakow, Poland in July.

It is not the first WYD pilgrimage for the University of Alberta student, who also attended the event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2013.

"You get to visit a new country, travel the world, see a pope. But I think to really get the most of it, you have to be mentally prepared for a spiritual experience," said Hartman. "And be there to grow in your faith."

The roughly two-week experience includes spiritual and cultural events such as liturgies, catechesis, concerts and performances, culminating with the final Mass, celebrated by Pope Francis.

"Yes, it's amazing to sleep on the beach with 3.2 million people knowing you're going to wake up and the pope will be there. But it's important to use the awe of those moments to really give thanks to God and to grow in your faith and be thankful you could be there with others who are there for same reason," said Hartman.

Hartman's Assumption Parish, and its twin parish, Resurrection, have a group of 19 young people going.

Her own spiritual preparation began several months ago, when she started praying to discern if God wanted her to attend the 2016 event.

"Is this the right thing to do? I've been to one already; do I need to go to another one? Of course, I wanted to."

As the event gets closer, the anticipation grows, she said.

"At this point, a lot of our prep has been fundraising but we're starting to think as a group about how we can spiritually prepare together as five months turns to four and then three."

Natasha Mahe and her husband Justin are among the pilgrims who will go to Poland in July.

PHOTO SUPPLIED

Natasha Mahe and her husband Justin are among the pilgrims who will go to Poland in July.

One of the more active groups in the archdiocese, Assumption and Resurrection have already held numerous fundraisers for WYD, including a Mardi Gras-themed pancake dinner and festival with the Knights of Columbus which drew more than 200 people; a paint night; and an ongoing bottle drive. CWL bake sales and KofC pancake breakfasts have also provided funds.

Pastoral Assistant Janet Campbell said the fundraising has been successful, dynamic and exciting, largely due to the passion of the young people, who are all involved in ministry at the parish level.

PILGRIMAGE OF FAITH

Father Mitch Fidyka, who also happens to be from Poland, has been a great advocate for WYD and for encouraging young adults to attend, said Campbell.

"He sees it as a pilgrimage of faith."

Married couple Justin, 29, and Natasha Mahe, 26, of Resurrection say their parish's large number of young people also plays a role in its having a large WYD group.

The pastoral team, indeed the entire parish, has been supportive, Justin said.

"Father really wanted to let us know that the fundraising is not about the money in particular," he said.

"It's an investment in ourselves and in the parish - letting people know there is that youthful group that's going to be involved in the parish for years to come.

"We're trying to represent all of them, and not just ourselves."

SPIRITUAL PREPARATION

Now that the bulk of the fundraising is over, emphasis is moving towards the pilgrims' getting to know each other and coming to a greater understanding of the meaning of the pilgrimage. There will be social activities and a retreat in May.

Kira Dawson and Lan Truong are among those gearing up for this year's World Youth Day.

PHOTO SUPPLIED

Kira Dawson and Lan Truong are among those gearing up for this year's World Youth Day.

For Natasha, the community played a large role in her own spiritual growth during her time as a student at St. Joseph's College at the U of A where she regularly attended Mass and met Justin.

"Throughout my whole life it's been really important to be involved and get that community aspect," said Natasha.

The sense of community that the group has locally is experienced on a much larger scale at WYD, said Natasha, who attended the event in Spain in 2011.

"It was a fantastic experience. It was really neat to see all the different cultures together, the similarity in faith and to experience the friendly atmosphere," she recalled.

AHA! MOMENT

Hartman agrees, recalling being amazed at her first WYD by seeing so many young people in one place for the same thing. She recognized that the Catholic Church is the same in every country. "I had an Aha! moment: This really is the Universal Church."

Natasha said she looks forward to experiencing the trip with Justin as a married couple, perhaps for the last time before they start their own family. She is also looking forward to the experience as an individual.

It will be an opportunity to reflect on making faith a bigger part of daily life because, she said, "when life is busy, it's not always front of mind. This is a really good time to make that a priority."