Young people from St. Peter Parish in Villeneuve enjoy a lighter moment during a barbecue to raise funds for their World Youth Day pilgrimage at last summer's Catholic Life Conference. From Left: Bernadette Sanche, Andrew Phillips, Hank Kieser, Mark McPeek, Joe Rodgers (not attending WYD) and Sarah Rodgers.

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Young people from St. Peter Parish in Villeneuve enjoy a lighter moment during a barbecue to raise funds for their World Youth Day pilgrimage at last summer's Catholic Life Conference. From Left: Bernadette Sanche, Andrew Phillips, Hank Kieser, Mark McPeek, Joe Rodgers (not attending WYD) and Sarah Rodgers.

THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

A year and a half ago, when Father Miguel Irizar called a meeting at St. Peter Parish in Villeneuve to form a group of pilgrims for World Youth Day, there was immediate interest.

Parish member Sarah Rodgers, 21, had harboured dreams of attending the international meeting of youth since she was 10.

Raised in a strong Catholic family, her parents had formed Rodgers and her eight brothers and sisters in their Catholic faith.

Rodgers at age 19 decided to start taking her faith seriously and striving to make it her own. Irizar's appointment as pastor of St. Peter and its three surrounding parishes at about the same time, and his invitation to attend WYD was providential.

"When the opportunity came up and Father Miguel said he was forming a group, I just knew the Holy Spirit was calling me to do this," said Rodgers.

"Even when I was 10 years old, I always knew I wanted to go to World Youth Day. I just always knew deep down in my heart that it was something that I would one day do."

Irizar, 28, will lead a group of 17 - including himself and eight young men and eight young women - on the pilgrimage to Kraków, Poland, in July.

For the first-time WYD pilgrims, it is hard to know what to expect, but their hopes are high.

Mark McPeek, 18, will be the first of his nine siblings to attend WYD. It will be his first time in Europe, and it will be his first time experiencing Mass with so many people.

"I'm looking forward to World Youth Day as a whole but it's going to be neat to be there with millions of people with the pope in Mass. That's going to be quite an experience," he said.

PRIEST'S PRESENCE

For McPeek, the youngest pilgrim in the Villeneuve group, it is reassuring to have a priest accompany them, which is not the case for every WYD group.

"We have a priest with us so I'm not too nervous about anything," he said. "I know Father Miguel fairly well now. He's been to Europe, studied there in Rome, and he's a really good priest so it's going to be great to be with him and to benefit from what he knows."

Rodgers said "it's huge" that Irizar will lead the group.

"It makes a huge difference because I know that when we go, our experience will be very Christ-centred," she said.

"He's always really trying to bring us closer to Christ and bring us as close to being saints as possible, which is not an easy task. By him coming and leading us, it really makes me feel that we're going to be safe and that Jesus will be watching over us, and we'll be really close to him."

GROWING IN HOLINESs

Irizar has found the young people of his flock to be open to learning more about the faith and growing in holiness.

"This openness - it's just beautiful," he said. "As their pastor, I'm responsible to help them draw closer to Christ and help them discern what the will of God is for them in their lives."

WYD, where his group will join young people from all over the world together with their catechists, priests, bishops and the pope to profess faith in Jesus, will play a big role in this, he says.

Most pilgrims will be in Poland from July 26 to the day of the final Mass, celebrated by Pope Francis on July 31.

The Villeneuve group will also take part in the Days in the Dioceses starting July 20.

For Archdiocese of Edmonton participants, this portion of the pilgrimage will take place in the Archdiocese of Wroclaw, about two hours from Kraków.

"Going to an archdiocese that's over 1,000 years old is going to be pretty incredible," said McPeek.

SHARED CONVICTIONS

Rodgers is also looking forward to seeing Catholic youth from all around the world who share her convictions.

"To see a whole bunch of other Catholic people from all around the world who believe the same things that I do will be such an awesome experience.

"It really helps form you and reassure you that the path that you're on, you're not alone; there's other people that believe the same things that you do and what you believe is true and right."