As a half million people flooded St. Peter's Square in Rome for the canonization of two popes on the morning of April 27, much smaller celebrations took place in the Diocese of Buffalo. Both St. John Paul Parish in Lake View and Blessed John XXIII Parish in West Seneca carried the spirit of sainthood throughout the weekend.
St. John Paul II Parish held a celebratory concert on Friday night performed by the Canisius College Chorale. Saturday saw a reunion of World Youth Day travelers that sparked fond memories. Four participants of the international event stood next to the altar and recalled how attending WYD provided direction and purpose in their lives.
Seminarian Michael LaMarca received his vocational call in Cologne, Germany in 2005. His trip to Madrid, Spain, in 201,1 provided nutrition for his spiritual journey. He recalled Pope Benedict telling the million-plus youth who gathered that the world needs the witness of their faith.
"The way the world gets God is through us, by taking our World Youth Day experience home with us, sharing it, and never letting the excitement die," LaMarca said. "World Youth Day not only showed me that I do not walk the street alone and not on a crowded sidewalk, but it taught me through the Holy Father's words that we cannot, not want to make Christ known to others."
It was WYD Denver in 1993 that guided Kathryn Goller to a career in youth ministry. Between her freshman and sophomore years in college, Goller pondered her future, knowing she wanted to serve the Church in some form, but unsure as to where she was being called.
In Denver, she and other young adults were asked to prepare Mile High Stadium for the papal welcome. They spread out chairs and set up the stage, then got out of the way so the Holy Spirit could work.
"I couldn't possibly have seen it at the time, but now I look back and see how I was living my way into the answer to my vocation," she said.
Now she serves as director of the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, where she teaches, guides and listens to youth; but a lot of what she does is set the stage, then get out of the way.
Deacon Mark Hooper, who traveled to Toronto in 2002 as a chaperone, spoke about his daughter Andrea discovering her vocation during that trip and gave an overview of the impact of the event.
"World Youth Day was and is amazing. One hundred thousand people may attend a football game. A couple hundred thousand will do the World Cup soccer games. But hundreds of thousands or a million young people gather from around the world at the invitation of a little old pope," he said of the experience.
Deacon Hooper said he saw no violence during the weeklong World Youth Day. People could leave their belongings unattended only to find them untouched hours later.
"World Youth Day was a taste of what the world could be. Don't let that hope die," Deacon Hooper said.
For Erin Tyler, it was not attending WYD Toronto that led her to see that God holds the map to each person's life.
After her confirmation in 2001, she began preparing for World Youth Day in Ontario, but her life took an unexpected turn. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Her faith steeled her until the cancer went into remission. Busy with college she let Cologne pass by in 2005. But, while saving up to study in Ireland, she heard about WYD Sydney in 2008. With some financial help from a friend she finally made it to a World Youth Day celebration.
"The trip did not end when we got home. It was a life-changing experience that shaped who I am and had affected myself and many other pilgrims forever," she said.
Father Peter Karalus, pastor of St. John Paul II Parish had planned a bonfire and fireworks presentation to cap off the evening, but cold rainy weather forced those to be canceled.
In West Seneca, Blessed John XXIII Parish celebrated the canonization with a look to the past after Sunday Mass on April 27. The parish buried a time capsule with photos and news clippings of St. Bonaventure and St. William parishes, which merged to form Blessed John XXIII in 2008.
Msgr. Kevin T. O'Neill, who filled in for the ailing pastor Father Dennis Wolf, remembers St. John as the first pope he ever saw installed. The year was 1958, and television was still a novelty. When the name of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was announced people asked, "Who?"
"John XXIII always struck you as the grandfatherly type really," said Msgr. O'Neill. "He always had kind of a smile, sort of a gracious type man. People loved him. Not everybody in the (Second Vatican Council) loved him, but people loved him."
Blessed John XXIII Parish is currently in the middle of changing its name to St. John XXIII Parish.
Other parishes in the diocese holding special celebrations to mark the canonizations were St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr Church in Buffalo, which held a Divine Mercy Chaplet, Litany to John Paul II and veneration of a John Paul II relic (a drop of his blood); and St. Casimir Church in Buffalo held an organ concert and the public opening of the Papal Post-It Prayer Room dedicated to St. John Paul II.