Taylor Houle, Devan Jaeger and Angela Merkosky are cousins who will attend World Youth Day as part of the group from Edmonton's St. Dominic Savio Parish.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Taylor Houle, Devan Jaeger and Angela Merkosky are cousins who will attend World Youth Day as part of the group from Edmonton's St. Dominic Savio Parish.

May 2, 2016
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

World Youth Day is a family affair for the young pilgrims from St. Dominic Savio Parish in Edmonton.

"Just over half the group is related to me, one way or another," said Kiara Smyth, 23, a leader of the group of 13 heading to this year's pilgrimage in Kraków, Poland. "I've got a big family."

Spending time with her friends and relatives as they gear up for this year's WYD has been nice, said Smyth.

But some young Catholics feel alone in their faith.

For WYD pilgrim Taylor Houle, 20, who did not have many Catholic friends in school, staying strong in her faith was no easy feat.

Events and groups for young adults are hardly in abundance, she said, which is why World Youth Day is a big deal.

"I've always kind of been on the fence," said Houle. "But it's just that support from other youth my age, knowing that there are others that still follow this faith and find it a really important part of their lives, that helps me grow in my faith."

Devan Jaeger, 21, a seminarian and also a first-time WYD pilgrim, sees World Youth Day as an opportunity for young people to see how big the Church is, with a few million other young people.

"That can be really encouraging," he said.

Fellow pilgrim Angela Merkosky, 20, agrees. She is excited to open a window to a whole world of other youth who share their passion for the faith.

"First of all seeing that there's lots of people our age that are dedicated to our faith, the sense of communion among the whole world, the opportunity to see the pope, and build relationships with other young Catholics, is such an amazing opportunity," said Merkosky.

WYD fundraising at St. Dominic started immediately after the last pilgrimage in 2013. Having already met their fundraising goal for this year's pilgrimage is a great relief, said Smyth, who also attended WYD 2011 in Madrid, Spain, and 2013 in Rio de Janeiro.

"Rio was hectic - making sure we were financially ready," she said.

Not having to panic about finances is increasing the excitement for this year's pilgrimage because the group is able to focus on spiritual preparation and the reasons for attending.

Their main focus is to encounter Jesus.

"It's a pilgrimage and not a vacation that we're going on," said Houle.

"We're going there to experience Christ and obviously, that involves meeting the world Catholic community, but essentially the main goal is to encounter Christ."

Mass with the pope is the climax of the pilgrimage, but as a whole, it is like climbing a mountain, said Jaeger.

MOVING FORWARD

"We're pilgrim people; we always need to be moving forward, but we need the spiritual tools," he said. "It wouldn't be anything other than a vacation if people were not coming as Christians wanting to have a conversion."

Like any pilgrimage, there are challenges, said Smyth, reflecting on her past WYD experiences, including a vigil walk in 40C heat.

"There were challenges, tired days, days when we were low on patience, but despite that, the whole event - the energy there - was incredible."

EXCITED TO BE CATHOLIC

Smyth has gotten different things out of each WYD. Every time she comes back, she feels excited to be a Catholic.

"That feeling never disappears. But every time I go, it kind of revives that."

Despite how hectic WYD can be, Smyth, who is a teacher, is looking forward to having time to just slow down and be present with God.

"There are those moments of just being present, which is neat. And hopefully, I'll be a good leader so the other pilgrims will want to go back too."