Friday, July 25, 2008

Pilgrim Blog: Last Day

I still don't know what day it is, exactly. I'm not quite sure what day I got home, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was yesterday morning. It feels like I got home either an hour ago or a week ago, and my internal clock is still indecisive on which it is. Anyways, seeing as how Mrs. Willits posted about July 23rd, I think I am supposed to comment on July 24th, yesterday, the day we all arrived home. The first thing I remember about July 24th is waking up to the shock of the Airtran pilot turning all the cabin lights on. This was at four something in the morning as we arrived at the Atlanta airport. After hearing the simultaneous groans and yelps of all the rudely awakened passengers, we landed and deboarded in the Atlanta airport, which was the first official stop of our pilgrimage. Most of us walked directly to concourse A, where nearly two weeks ago many of the pilgrims had their very first experience with Chick-fil-a. We saw the area where all of the pilgrims played apples to apples together. That silly game, which was so instrumental in our team building, seemed like it took place ages ago. It was five in the morning at this point, however, so Cinnabon, which was located next to Chick-fil-a, seemed to be the better breakfast choice. So we sat, inhaling our unhealthy breakfasts while we talked and laughed with mouths that stuck with Cinnabon icing. We all tried to savor the last few hours we would be spending together. Each of us knew that we would be home in mere hours, but nobody wanted to say it. See, one of the interesting things about going on a pilgrimage is that you can become quite close to those who experience it with you. I've made life-long friends on this trip and it was, in the truest sense of the cliché, a bittersweet experience to be with them in those last few hours. Three of us will be going to college soon. Two others will be entering the service. I am quite jealous of those pilgrims who will continue to attend Framingham High together, as they will continue to see each other nearly every day. Hopefully those friendships will only strengthen in the years to come. The time came to leave concourse A and we trekked back to concourse C, where our plane was waiting for us. After some personal words of appreciation from the chaperones and pilgrims alike, we boarded our flight to Boston and started on our trip home. I don't have much to write about that flight, as I slept through pretty much the entire thing. In the words of Joanne Connolly, I am the sleeping champion. Our plane arrived in Boston and we made our way to baggage claim. Joanne and I tried to hide Damian, the Dragaroo flag, so we could keep him for ourselves. The chaperone's clearer heads prevailed, however, and Damian was taken from his hiding place in my bag so he could be given his last two signatures, from Fr. Matt and Steve Colella. From there, Bill took custody of the flag so that St. George's can have a concrete piece of evidence of the life-changing experience that is World Youth Day. Eventually, the time came. We all said our goodbyes, with handshakes, hugs, and fist pounds. Promises of "Madrid, 2011" were made. We all went our separate ways, some of us going home from the airport with our families, some of us taking the Logan Express to Framingham. As for myself, I arrived home, hugged my mom for the first time in two weeks, and looked through some of the pictures from our pilgrimage. Then, true to character, I took a nap.As much as I would have preferred to keep the flag for myself, it is quite appropriate that it goes to St. George's, if for no other reason than as a token of appreciation from the pilgrims to the congregation of the parish. Make no mistake; this was a life-changing experience, and we appreciate the sacrifices and donations you all made to get us here. I say "here" and not "there," because World Youth Day hasn't simply finished upon our arrival home. It never ends. It has transformed each and every one of us. We've all grown in our spiritual lives. Even if that growth was something so miniscule as a pilgrim realizing that he or she doesn't have to groan every time someone wants to start a rosary, or realizing that confession doesn't actually hurt, or simply that mass is something that should be appreciated and not avoided, the pilgrimage was worth it. It is difficult to gage the change that happens in the hearts of the pilgrims. As the priest from the New York group said, the change that happens with this pilgrimage is very real, very deep, and very personal. I am certain, though, that there is not one pilgrim who has remained spiritually static in these two weeks. So to the St. George congregation, to those who helped us get to Australia, enjoy Damian, the Dragaroo flag. Know that some of us pilgrims have become very attached to him, and give him to you with grave seriousness. We all realize, however, that there is nothing in this world that we could give to you that equals the experience you have given us. It may be comforting to know that some of us have vocalized our desire to be pilgrims and chaperones for the next World Youth Day. So until next time, in Madrid, 2011,Thank you from the bottom of our heartsPeter Bowman and the Dragaroos.

Pilgrim Blog: Day 13

Mrs. Willitts’ Blog - July 23, 2008

Whew! By the time this is posted, the pilgrims have landed and sleeping in their own beds. Of course these are the beds that they have not seen for 12 nights.

As I considered the date assigned me, I thought: “This is great, a no-brainer, all we are doing on this day is flying.” Sounds pretty simple…

Absolutely nothing is simple with the Dragaroos: example: am I writing about today – maybe today is yesterday or today could be tomorrow – whatever. Really, this dateline crossing is wrecking havoc on the calendar, after all, we completed a 43-hour Sunday!

But here is what transpired on this day of flight from Hawaii to Boston. Let’s see, we got up at 4:00 A.M. Luggage collected in the hotel pickup area at 5:00 A.M. I point out that no breakfast is included. But to the rescue is a bag with crackers and some fruit supplied by Fr. Matt. The baggage was loaded onto a truck and off it went to the airport as we waited now for our 5:30 bus. And yes the bus was on time. We boarded, prayed and off we go for a lazy day of flying.

Such a piece of cake – through checking-in luggage with no additional charges for the extremely over-weight baggage, through the security check with no one sounding off bells and whistles and off to get Burger King, Chinese or anything for breakfast. Then we begin our venture of take-offs and landings that will eventually bring us to Boston.

We had a scheduled 5-hour layover at the Los Angeles airport. Now here is where things get interesting. As pilgrims on a faith-filled journey, we had celebrated daily Mass for the past 12 days. With time on our hands, Fr. Matt seized the moment and searched out airport personal. He wanted to know where the airport chapel was so that we could celebrate Mass. Well, lo and behold, the city of angels has no chapel in the airport. Did that stop this energetic young priest and 126 pilgrims? No way!

Here at LAX, in the Air Tran luggage check-in area with no airport personal to check-in our bags, Mass was celebrated. An oversized suitcase was laid down on the floor. A large plastic airport tray was placed over the luggage and waa-la and altar was built. Christin, the performer that did the Mother Theresa segment in Sydney, provided a green Hawaiian print cloth to cover our altar. Sean Longden volunteered to do the reading. As Fr. Matt dressed for Mass, Deacon Roshan set the altar. And we were ready to begin. We sang, we prayed, we worshiped all in an airport baggage area. This was an extra-ordinary moment of what we were called to Sydney to do – “…be my witnesses”. Even the reading of the day spoke directly to the youth – “don’t be afraid because of your youth…”

And back to take-off, eating, sleeping, and landing. Take-off, eating, sleeping, landing. And take-off, eating, sleeping, landing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

WYD by the Numbers

For a breakdown on the WYD numbers, here are a few:
223,000 total pilgrims
110,000 overseas pilgrims from 170 nations (86 nations were identified by Kevin Cory and his booooys Sean E and Kevin J)
3.5 million meals served in 400 venues
8,000 volunteers
2,000 accredited media
4,000 priests and deacons
420 bishops and 26 cardinals
Pilgrims consumed 215,000 meat pies (Kevin Cory had 2), 360,000 lamingtons, and 100,000 litres of milk.
1.1 million communion hosts were produced for WYD Masses and 1,000 priests heard confessions

Pilgrim Blog: Day 12

Today was the day to relax for the pilgrims going to Boston. Most people slept until ten o’clock except for Steve and me who slept until one o’clock. While most of us hung out playing Mr.Willitts’s favorite game “hit the old guy in the face when he’s not looking” Steve and I went with Mrs. Jazec to go surfing. Surfing in Hawaiian waters is more pleasurable than surfing in the Atlantic because you do not have the incentive to not wipe out and land in a ice cold ocean. At 4:30 everyone joined in the lobby to attend St. Augustine’s for mass, and though the mass was simple without music, it was a good mass all the same. After mass we disputed over the place to have dinner and finally agreed on the food court at the mall which turned out to sell outrageously large portions of food. The prayer service turned out to be a contest to best show a theme found in WYD with props and a speech, the scores were one to five based on how deep and how creative the presentation was. The winner received free ice cream from Fr. Matt and Stephen Collela.
Peter, Joanne, Joanna, Phin, Sean Egan, Sean Longden, Mrs. Shorey-Jones, Mrs. Hebert, and the Willitt’s went to Puka Dog. A local hotdog shop that sold their hotdogs in a special lemon sauce and a relish of your choice of mango, banana, pineapple, starfruit, and other unknown flavors. I first ordered fresh squeezed lemonade which they prepare while you watch and actually put the lemon half they used in to your drink, it was amazing. The hotdogs were delicious and we walked through the late night street market of Hawaii with street performers, carts selling trinkets, and ABC stores. While Phin shopped for a present for his mom, the rest of use discovered a couple of parrots sitting on the rocks that were part of a water fall Mrs. Willitts began trying to get one on her finger and Joanna followed suit. I managed to get an 11 year old bird named Pettie while Peter talked with a white bird named Charlie and Sean Egan and Joanna switched off holding Buddy. The owner was very nice about letting us hold his birds and when Phin was done shopping we left and after a quick stop at the ABC store for t-shirts we made it to the hotel to meet up with Bill, Steve, Charlotte, and the Kevins. We have to have our luggage down by 5am tomorrow in order to catch a plane at 8:10.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pilgrim Blog: Day 11

After a double dose of Sunday ended with the adult leaders meeting until after midnight, we got a few hours sleep and were up for a 6 AM grab and go breakfast, on to a shuttle bus, and off to Pearl Harbor. Fr. Matt gathered the young pilgrims to ask them to reflect on their experiences from World Youth Day in Australia and to continue the Pilgrimage in Hawaii. They were to reflect upon who they are and why the Holy Spirit directed them to be here and how the Holy Spirit may direct them to where they need to be in order to help preserve peace on Earth and block conflicts they may encounter. Pope John Paul II said “The Holy Spirit speaks through prayer and bears witness through the people” The experiences we encountered and learned from at Pearl Harbor were far beyond anything that could have been taught in the classroom or learned from any literary form. As a former teacher, I can attest to the fact that students learn far more through concrete examples and participation in group activities than through textbooks and lectures. After seeing a film with actual footage from WW II and the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was hardly a dry eye in the auditorium. A boat trip took us to see the remains of the sunken ships and memorial sites on the harbor during which silence prevailed as we all were moved by this experience of contemplating good vs. evil and military men and women giving their lives to protect Americans. Oil slicks continue to surface from the sunken ships from decades ago; some believe the tears of those who gave their lives for their country are still rising to the surface. It was no coincidence that the song playing on the radio in our mini-van trip home was Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American”. The Holy Spirit again directed this message to us. Upon our return to the hotel, we regrouped to visit St. Augustine by the Sea church to pray the Rosary together. Our decision was to visit the Church first, get lunch, and spend some time on the beach. Again, the Holy Spirit directed us to arrive just before the group from NY was having a Mass celebrated by their priest, Fr. Rick. Our arch rival NY football Giant fans and NY Yankee fans, united in prayer with Red Sox Nation. Fr. Rick’s homily reinforced the “you had to be there” idea of what our Pilgrims really absorbed today. Most important was the fact that a Pilgrimage is a personal encounter with Jesus and very private, even though over 200,000 Pilgrims were all together at the Pope’s Mass. We then hit Burger King for lunch and fun in the sun on Waikakee Beach. I joined in with the kids in a water soccer ball game created by Bill. I’ve renamed the game “hit the old guy in the face with the ball when he’s not looking”. I can honestly say the participation in the game made my entire body pain free this afternoon, which I haven’t experienced in 2 years. As the Pilgrims reflected on where they are headed and how the Holy Spirit may guide them, I felt “been there, done that”. As I reflected through my past I began to realize that maybe I’m not ready for full retirement; being with these awesome, caring kids has made me think I really need to get back into something related to working with kids. I think the Jesus has spoken to me through the Holy Spirit to look to the future with a positive attitude and to put me back where I belong—with the youth—I love them all. Thank you Dragaroos for your encouragement and thoughtfulness over the last 10 days. Oh yeah , went to a luau tonight and came back to meet on the beach with Fr. Matt and our traveling buddies from other parishes to share our experiences of the day. I have to go nighty-bye now so you can just imagine for yourself the fun at the luau and the bus ride tomorrow.
Charlotte arriving in Hawaii on Sunday.
Our Pilgrims taking in the enormity of Pearl Harbor
Old Glory standing proud from inside the memorial.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pilgrim Blog: Day 10 (and day 10 again)

Sunday, July 20, 2008
Today was and will forever remain the longest day of our lives. It started on a crisp morning in the middle of a race track in Sydney, Australia, and ended on a sunny beach in Honolulu, Hawaii coming to a grand total of a full forty-three hour day.
The day began when we were rudely awakened this morning to the chant of “WAKE UP PILGRIMS!” and a banging drum at 5:30am. It was a bit chilly out and we were all a little sad to crawl out of our warm sleeping bags. However, we persevered and managed to all be semi- awake and fed in time for the Morning Prayer service. We saw the Pope up close in his “Popemobile” as he drove around the track to start the final Mass. The Mass was amazing; for those who did not watch it on television, the music was beautiful and the Pope’s message to the youth and pilgrims was that of hope and prayer for the youth and to not be afraid in this materialistic world to say “yes” to God and your faith and to never be embarrassed about what you believe in. Although tired, we all understood his message and we all became very reflective about our time in Sydney, a city we had all come to love and would miss, and about the pilgrimage we had just experienced. However we had to pack up our stuff early because we were on a tight time table. It was noon and we had to have everything packed and ready for our departure as well as showered and dressed not only for the other people on our plane but also for our “Farewell Dinner” with Cardinal Sean O’Malley. At 12:30pm we set off for the buses that were to take us back to the hotel so that we would have plenty of time to get ready- checkout was at 4pm and dinner was at 4:45pm. Unfortunately what was supposed to cut down on our walk back to the hotel cost us even more time due to some miscommunication and we suddenly found ourselves at 2:30pm bus-less and a bit pressed for time. We made it though, packed, checked out and squeaky clean, just in time for dinner. Steven Jones was nominated from our group to sit with the Cardinal, however, due to our departure time we had to cut dinner short so that we could make it to the airport. However, there was also a slight miscommunication between this bus company as well, but after a mini van, cab, and bus that looked like something straight out of the 1970’s we all managed to make it to the Sydney airport on time, breeze through security and make it on the plane headed for Hawaii. We were absolutely exhausted and all fell asleep almost immediately.
A nine hour nap was in order and we all gave in to our fatigue, many of us missing dinner, breakfast, or even both. When we landed in Honolulu we hit the ground running. It was Sunday, again, 11am Honolulu time, and we had to get through customs and make our way to our hotel. Despite Joanne’s passport debacle everyone made it back into the U.S. with no problems and after each receiving his or her lei we headed for the hotel. We entered our beautiful hotel and immediately headed for the shops and beach after quickly tossing our stuff in our rooms. It rained a little when we arrived but the sun was soon shining and we enjoyed our first relaxing day in Honolulu.
It was a great last day in Sydney and we are all going to miss our time in Australia. The pilgrimage was a success and we all came to know a lot more about ourselves and our Faith. And many of us cannot wait for World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid!

Pilgrim Blog: Day 9

Today defined the “pilgrimage” part of this pilgrimage. It started “later” than usual. We woke at 0715 for breakfast, our last real meal before our journey. We savored every last bit of it and then prepared our stuff for the walk. We all met downstairs and departed for St. Patrick’s church for our mass with the rest of Boston, Cardinal Sean included. After the beautiful ceremony, we gathered in the courtyard with the rest of Boston for a photo opportunity with the Cardinal. After our quick photo-op, we departed. As we began walking back in the direction of our hotel, we caught glimpse of the other 938,924,374,298 people slowly filing across the bridge. We walked towards Darling harbor and joined the 938,924,374,298 pilgrims on the exciting tour. We took a quick break at the Darling Harbor Convention Center to make use of the facilities and were quickly on our way. There’s not much to continue writing about about the next three hours; walking is walking no matter which way you look at it. Our next real challenge came about a mile away from the end of our journey. We came up on heartbreak hill; rightfully named so because of a 1/10 mile, 40° inclined hill that greeted us. With minimum struggle, from us “young” people that is, we conquered the hill. We were finally met by smiling, ever-so-happy, volunteers that made everything seem better with their words of encouragement. As we continued to get closer and closer to the racetrack, morale began to rise quickly. Upon entering the racetrack, we were quickly greeted be more volunteers who handed us our green bags containing our food. As we journeyed deeper into the racetrack, we came upon our plot of land. It may have been one of the further plots, but it was perfect nonetheless. We claimed our spots of where we were to sleep for the night, surrounded by Germans, Philippines, Hawaiians, and even more Germans. We opened our food and began to eat. Some devoured the whole box of food while others ate sparingly. We later learned that this box was meant to feed us for the next three meals. After food, I decided to take a nap for 3 hours (what else is new??). I awake to the sound of my name being used in a conversation between Sean Longden and a couple of the Philippines. I don’t quite remember much immediately after that, but soon enough, the evening candle-lit vigil began. After the vigil concluded, various groups, including an AMAZING group from Washington D.C., performed on stage raising the morale and getting people dancing and moving. All this activity warmed not only the soul, but the body too for it was a mere 48° outside. After the groups all finished, things began to die down, and people started sleeping. However, the fire of the Holy Spirit (and the fire of all those candles) kept some of us awake. All but two, Bill and I were asleep on the ground when the Germans began to (as usual) mess everything up and speak unnecessarily loud all around us. Ms. Hebert awoke and, with much agitation, SHUSHED the silly Germans. As those who were woken by this nuisance, another arouse when a large crowd of people from all over the world began to chant and clap and pound and carry on with their jolly selves. Despite this disruption, our fatigue of our long hike was enough to put us all back into a deep sleep.
The walk was a true test of faith for all of us especially when it came to working as a well-oiled machine in even the toughest of times; whether it was distributing the gear of the “older” pilgrims amongst the younglings, or providing simple moral support when morale began to run low. All-in-all, today was definitely a journey-and-a-half.