CHARLESTON — When World Youth Day 2008 convenes in Sydney, Australia, in July, 37 people from the Diocese of Charleston will be there to celebrate.
Youth groups from Precious Blood of Christ Church on Pawleys Island and St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken make up the bulk of the pilgrims, with 12 and 20 respectively. The rest of the number comes from a smattering of individuals and chaperones, according to Jerry White, director of the Youth and Young Adults Ministry Office.
For White, who is in charge of organization, the trip is about the details, but for the youth it is a journey full of spiritual promise.
“The big thing I tell my kids is don’t anticipate, just participate,” said Kate Bonnar, youth director at Precious Blood.
Bonnar said she went to World Youth Day events in Canada and Germany, and learned that with millions of people and dozens of events, plans have a way of unraveling. “You really need to just go with the flow and the Holy Spirit,” she said. Otherwise, participants risk missing out on the splendor of God right there in the moment.
All the pilgrims will meet in Atlanta on July 8 and fly as a group to L.A. and then Australia, where day is night and summer is winter, but Catholic faith is the same.
Bonnar said they will spend the first six days as tourists and visit the Great Barrier Reef, the Outback, zoos dedicated to kangaroos and koalas, Melbourne and more.
“If we’re going that far, we’d like to see a few things,” Bonnar said.
But the purpose is World Youth Day, and that is what the youths are looking forward to the most.
The event was established by Pope John Paul II in 1986 as a way to reach out to the youth of the world. He said he wanted to bring young Catholics together from around the globe to celebrate and learn about their faith.
Joan LaBone, St. Mary’s youth director, said seeing the pope will be the highlight of the journey for her group. Every one of them, she said, is looking forward to the last night when they get to camp under the stars and rise in the morning to celebrate Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.
“They have worked hard not only to prepare themselves financially, but also to prepare themselves spiritually,” LaBone said.
Raising money for the trip was a huge undertaking, and both youth leaders said they held one fund-raiser after another for about two years. The price of the all-inclusive pilgrimage rose from $3,700 to $5,200 due to skyrocketing oil costs and a sluggish U.S. dollar overseas.
Bonnar and LaBone said they did everything they could think of to raise money. They sold every imaginable product, cleaned, collected aluminum cans and held numerous dinners. In Aiken, they even created and sold a cookbook. Fittingly, Outback Steakhouse was one of the largest donors to the fund-raising efforts.
It paid off. The Precious Blood group has about $2,600 per person while the larger group from St. Mary has $2,000 each. White said they can always use more donations, and noted that originally, 60 people were slated to attend but had to drop out when the cost jumped.
Bonnar said the young people from Pawleys Island are excited about the vocations exhibit, where they will get to witness orders of nuns, cardinals and bishops from around the world.
The first World Youth Day was held in Rome in 1986 on Palm Sunday. Each year since, the event has been celebrated at a diocesan level on Palm Sunday. World Youth Day also has been held in Argentina, Spain, Poland, the United States, the Philippines, France, Italy, Canada and Germany.
For more information on World Youth Day in Sydney, visit www.wyd2008.org.