At an early 8 a.m. on May 16, a contingent from Newfane began a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima Shine in Lewiston, 15 miles away. The journey was to prepare, both physically and spiritually, for the welcoming of the graces of World Youth Day.
Parishioners from St. Brendan on the Lake Parish, St. Peter Parish in Lewiston, and St. Pius X in Getzville will travel to Krakow, Poland, July 2016, for the international gathering of Catholics. There they will participate in catechesis sessions and join in a Mass with Pope Francis.
Father Jozef Dudzik, pastor of St. Brendan's, and Mary Palmer, youth minister, made it clear that the trek to the Fatima Shrine was not just a hike, but a spiritual pilgrimage, a time of prayer and contemplation.
"You take yourself out of the everyday," said Palmer. "It's not going to work. It's not going to the movies. It's not driving in your car. You made a conscious choice to go out, walk and suffer for your faith. It's a conscious choice to suffer and it's nothing that you do in your everyday life. So it's different and it's special."
The weather, which began with temperatures in the comfortable low 60s became a challenge once the sun came out.
"In the morning it was cloudy; there was no sun. It was nice and cool," said Danielle Kline, 16, one of nearly 40 pilgrims traveling with the Newfane group. "We made record time going in the morning, but then as the sun came out and the humidity started coming, we started to slow down and take longer breaks. It was hot and your feet hurt a lot."
"I have a greater appreciation for everyone in the Bible. You always read the stories about how everyone walked for 40 years or they walked these insane distances. So, I have a greater appreciation for all of those people," said Jennifer Kovach, 22, another pilgrim.
As they marched down Youngstown Road to Porter Center Road, cars driving by honked their horns and drivers applauded the group, who wore their WYD T-shirts and carried the official diocesan WYD cross.
Father Dudzik explained that a pilgrimage rebels against the materialistic attitude of society, which desires fast cars and big houses.
"We walk to show people that we don't have a house forever here. We have to think about our spirit, faith, soul," he said. "We are really going to live forever in heaven, not here in this world. This is the meaning of the walk. We prove to people that spiritual life matters."
During rest periods they refueled with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and rehydrated with water. Some talked about Poland and others slept.
The walk took exactly 9 hours, 8 minutes and 22 seconds. Although physically exhausted by the time they reached the shrine, the pilgrimage did boost their spirit level. Carrying a cross put them in the frame of mind of Jesus walking through the Stations of the Cross.
"As you keep walking, you feel like you want to stop, but something is pushing you. It's that faith of, you can do this, and how Jesus picked up His cross and walked to Calvary. This is nothing compared to what He did. So, it's the least I can do," Kline said.
"A great example is in the Stations when Jesus fell and got up. That's when you take that break. But it's deciding to move forward that helps you go deeper into your faith and realize, I'm doing this to suffer because Jesus suffered for me," added Zack Lundy, 15.
As with every international WYD in the past, the pope is a big draw. Father Dudzik, who has brought his young parishioners to several gatherings in the past, sees the event, founded by St. John Paul II, as important to show the full scope of the Catholic Church to people who rarely see beyond their own parish.
"There they see the Catholic Church, millions, bishops, pope, priests, sisters, lay people, youth praying the same way; one hundred eighty countries come together," he said. "You see the strength of the Church, the future of the Church. And then the Holy Spirit works. Always when more people gather together in faith, He works. This is why they like it so much, because they encounter Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They experience His grace. This is why I like to take the youth because this is the place where you can regain or even start to strengthen your faith."
The next pre-pilgrimage event will be held Aug. 1-2, 2015 at Camp Turner. All pilgrims from the Diocese of Buffalo are encouraged to attend.
For more information visit www.dobyouth.org.