Seven of the 11 World Youth Day pilgrims from St. Maria Goretti Parish in Devon watch a WYD slideshow at a planning meeting in the church's hospitality area.


Seven of the 11 World Youth Day pilgrims from St. Maria Goretti Parish in Devon watch a WYD slideshow at a planning meeting in the church's hospitality area.

May16, 2016

When it comes to anticipation for this year's World Youth Day, few groups match that of the pilgrims from St. Maria Goretti Parish in Devon.

For the 11 pilgrims, including eight young adults, two pilgrim moms and pastor Father James Banu Bodula, the opportunity to join hundreds of thousands of young impassioned followers of Christ from around the world and the chance to see the pope is a dream come true.

It has been a long time coming.

The last time the parish sent a group to World Youth Day was in 2002, when the international pilgrimage took place in Toronto.

"This is the first group since then, so everybody's excited," said pilgrim mom Nicole Howrish. "Even our parish is just so supportive in our fundraising; they're just wanting to get us there too."

The parishioners are just as excited and involved as the pilgrims, said Howrish, because many of the young adults, who range in age from 18 to 31, have been members of the parish since they were babies.

Baptized in the church and having taken their First Communion there - they've taken "all the steps," she said. "This is just another thing they're doing together and it's so important because this parish is our family."


When Bodula first arrived in Devon five years ago with the hope of immediately taking a group to World Youth Day, the parish youth were a small group, many of whom had not yet reached the age of 18 required to attend the pilgrimage.

They had raised $11,000 to go to the last WYD in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil when their plans fell through as the size of the group was too small and too young. Everyone was disappointed but held high hopes for this year's WYD in Kraków, Poland - a goal made easier by the funds already raised for Rio and a larger, older group.

The pilgrimage, which will be preceded by a visit to Rome where the group will pass through the Door of Mercy, will have a great impact on the parish's youth, said Bodula.

The young people have great potential and dedication, he said. They come together regularly to pray and sing praise and worship before their WYD meetings, even though many are undertaking rigorous university studies.

"I really appreciate the commitment and the zeal they're having for the World Youth Day," he said. "It will enable them for their whole life, and they also will in turn encourage many other friends that come into their lives with the importance of God and the importance of Jesus in their lives."

Pilgrim Laura Fehr, 31, called World Youth Day a "once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience."


Ever since she got a glimpse of the pilgrimage at the One Rock Festival's WYD "at home" retreat in 2013, she has seen the possibility of attending the international pilgrimage as a "dream come true.

"I got a glimpse of just the faith of so many young people being ignited through World Youth Day," said Fehr. "When I was asked to go, it was a dream come true, an answered prayer.

"I know many people have gone to several, but for most people, this would be like a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Fehr is looking forward to seeing the pope and going to witness in Poland, but coming back to witness what they experienced on the pilgrimage will be tenfold, she said.


"Just to make the young kids more excited about God and Jesus and know that this is possible - that dreams to encounter God more closely can happen."

Howrish said younger groups coming up are already getting excited about one day going to World Youth Day themselves.

"They're getting excited too because they see this group and they're like, 'We wanna do this too; we wanna be a part of this eventually too.' So it's kind of neat how you see this group affecting the group coming up too."

"How can somebody go to something like this and not be changed?"

Howrish believes that after their 14-year World Youth Day drought, the parish will have a group attending the next WYD pilgrimage as well.

"I honestly do because it's already being talked about," she said.