Canada

FAITH AND FERVOUR

Relentlessly cheerful World Youth Day pilgrims transformed Toronto

DANYLO HAWALESHKA August 5 2002
Canada

FAITH AND FERVOUR

Relentlessly cheerful World Youth Day pilgrims transformed Toronto

DANYLO HAWALESHKA August 5 2002

FAITH AND FERVOUR

Canada

DANYLO HAWALESHKA

Relentlessly cheerful World Youth Day pilgrims transformed Toronto

THE OVERWHELMING impression was that they were everywhere—and that they were all so darn happy. The World Youth Day pilgrims from 172 countries had an emotional spark that kindled debates on Roman Catholicism in offices, bars and locker rooms throughout Toronto. They had flocked to the city to attend seminars, do good deeds, enjoy wholesome entertainment and, in particular, catch a glimpse of their beloved pontiff, Pope John Paul II. Just 200,000 of an anticipated 350,000 turned up, but as they migrated from venue to venue, they closed streets, strained transit and jarred typically aloof commuters. On buses, streetcars and subways, the burbling youths broke into song. It was incongruous, occasionally beautiful, and all a bit strange.

Still, the hearts of at least a few cynics had to have been warmed by the exuberance of innocent joy. It was, after all, an unbridled six-day celebration of faith on a biblical scale, with an ailing though stronger-than-expected John Paul, 82, generating pop-star voltage. The Holy

Father’s arrival at Toronto’s international airport, where Prime Minister Jean Chrétien kissed his hand, thrilled the giddy faithful watching on huge screens at Exhibition Place by Lake Ontario. There, two days later, John Paul’s waves and blissful smile unleashed a torrent of tears during an emotional ceremonial welcoming.

For all the professed love, disaffected Catholics were pained. Challenge the Church, a coalition of social-justice groups that handed out condoms, hit a nerve with talk of sexual abuse, ordained women, birth control, premarital sex, married priests and abortion. The pilgrims, says Jane Walsh, a Catholic lesbian organizer, are a minority within the church. “These are young people,” adds Walsh, “who are quite right-wing.”

Whatever you might call them, they were hard to miss. Many wore large wooden crucifixes and red-sashed backpacks sewn for them by Saskatchewan and Quebec prisoners in rehab. The pilgrims came to learn, confess, volunteer and yes, party. Ultimately, they seemed really nice.

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“Religion to me brings division.

I came here to be with different nations and cultures, meet other peoples and share thoughts.”

“I’d like to see the church open up a bit more on sexual abuse, deal with it publicly and not just internally.”

“The Catholic youths here have fun, dance, party, but in a very healthy form. It’s important that people see you can be happy like that. You don’t have to drink to fit in.”

“We love the Pope very much, and we look to him as the model of perfection.”

“When I’m in Korea, I eat vegetables and rice daily, but here it’s bread and beef. It’s kind of strange and salty.”

“After this, what next? Much money is spent to do this, but the youths go back and still they don’t go to church. Why?”