As this year’s World Youth Day unfolds in Lisbon, Mary Lou Laramee from Pickering, Ont. reflects on her experience at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto – recounting various moments during this extraordinary event. From the arrival of Pope Saint John Paul II to participating throughout the event and after, her reflections capture the spirit of World Youth Day and all of the blessings and memories that come with it.
1. What was your experience leading up to World Youth Day?
The day that the Saint Pope John Paul II arrived in Toronto, I was volunteering at the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) where many events were being held. It was fun to commute from home by GO Train as many volunteers, pilgrims, and youth were also on the trains. Volunteers were equipped with one-shoulder back packs, scarves, and name tags and were easy to spot. World Youth Day participants were coming from all over the world. They could be seen meeting and greeting each other, exchanging pins, praying together and having fun.
“Tears of joy and admiration were flowing from faces young and old. Our Papa was here.”
The Pope was arriving soon, and a large screen was erected where we could gather to see the televised landing and the greeting of His Holiness. The door of the plane opened and there stood JPII. This was the moment. Cheers and chants were heard everywhere. His Holiness had been having health issues, but in spite of that, he was going to descend from the plane on his own. Tears of joy and admiration were flowing from faces young and old. Our Papa was here.
2. What was your experience in getting to see the Pope?
“This is what World Youth Day is about! This is meeting each other in Christ!”
Crowds lined up and pushed forward to get a glimpse of JPII passing by. Groups of youth from all over the world were waving flags, singing, chanting and holding each other up to get a better view as the popemobile passed by. My 12-year-old daughter accompanied me that day, and we were several rows back from the fence so it was difficult to see. A group of youth from Italy motioned to us and put my daughter right in front of their group just as His Holiness passed by. My daughter turned and shouted back to me, "I just got chills!" What a wonderful moment. How kind of that group to let her have that special moment. This is what World Youth Day is about! This is meeting each other in Christ!
3. What was your experience with Mass in such a setting?
“I looked out after the sea of people surrounding me, I truly was in awe of the greatness of this event. We were sharing One Bread, One Body, One Lord of all with our sisters and brothers.”
The procession into the Opening Mass by the Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Sisters, and religious clergy from all over the world was amazing! Rows upon rows passed by to take their places. As an Extraordinary Minister of Communion, I had volunteered to help distribute communion and I was seated towards the front near these special guests. The mass was beautiful and many languages were heard. As I looked out after the sea of people surrounding me, I truly was in awe of the greatness of this event. We were sharing One Bread, One Body, One Lord of all with our sisters and brothers. What an inspiration for the youth! What an inspiration the youth were to us!
4. What was one of your highlights?
“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”
We are a family of seven and four of our children were able to attend the Sunday Mass at Downsview Park. We got up early to take the GO Train, then a bus, and then walk to where the Mass was held. When we got there it was pouring rain. Youth were camping overnight using cardboard boxes and they were soaked, but they were still happy. When Saint Pope John Paul II was coming to say the Mass, we saw on the large screen he looked radiant and as he travelled, he raised his hands and looked at the sky. He must have been talking directly to God. In minutes, the rain stopped and the sun came out! We had a beautiful day for the Mass. The message His Holiness gave to the youth was: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
5. What happened after the Mass?
As you can imagine, there was quite a mess that was left the next day after the downpour of rain and the thousands who were fed at Downsview Park. I was listening to the radio stations talking about how terrible it was that the World Youth Day event left the place with garbage all over. I wasn't happy to hear that and decided I would do my part to help. I asked two of my children and their friend to join me. We were going back to Downsview Park that morning, and we were going to help. We got there and as it happened, we met up again with the group who were already at work picking up garbage. We joined in and worked together to clean up. We had a great time and had lots of fun! We left the place better than we found it, and said goodbye to the wonderful experience called World Youth Day.
A final note, as it happened this was JPII's last World Youth Day. He died in 2005. We thank God for the blessings we received from this event, the memories that were made, and the privilege to see God's children coming together to pray and celebrate. What a blessing and a privilege it was to participate in this event. May all those who are attending WYD 2023 in Portugal be drawn closer to Christ and share their experiences some day 20 years from now!
Banner photo from Catholic News Service