La Joya

When 14 teens from Our Lady of Sorrows parish in La Joya headed off to Toronto, Canada, for World Youth Day, they packed their sleeping bags, expecting to sleep on a gym floor somewhere.

Instead, members of Toronto’s St. Mark’s parish opened up their hearts and homes to the group; two to three teens stayed with each of the volunteer families.

“We had expected to sleep on a gym floor, but we were greeted by host families,” said Deacon Edwin Esquibel of Our Lady of Sorrows. “The kids loved it. They were completely surprised by the generosity of people they had never met before.”

Esquibel was told that a large percentage of Toronto is Polish, so the teens encountered English-speaking hosts rather than French-speaking ones, which some had expected.

For most of the teens, it was their first time to fly, first visit to a foreign country and first subway ride. For Victor Ortiz, 15, a sophomore at Belen High School, it was definitely his first subway ride, and that experience turned out OK. He encountered many friendly people, who helped him with directions.

“There were a lot of Polish people, and they were really nice,” Ortiz said.

With crowds averaging 500,000 during the six-day visit, the opportunity for Ortiz and his group to get close to Pope John Paul II was next to impossible. However, the Pope’s vehicle did pass within 25 feet of the group from Our Lady of Sorrows on the first day, according to Esquibel.

The Papal Mass on Sunday drew a crowd of 1.5 million that started entering Downsview Park in northwest Toronto at 4 a.m. Ortiz still recalls part of the Pope’s message.

“One of the things I really remember he said is for the young people to not be affected by what’s happening in the church,” Ortiz said.

The world gathering of young people had the theme “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.” Ortiz summed up the pilgrimage as a “good experience” and recalled seeing people from Italy, France, Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, Spain and Germany.

“It helped me realize that things just don’t come to you. You have to go look for them,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz and his fellow teens walked four miles in 90-degree weather with high humidity from downtown Toronto to Downs-view Park to attend the Papal Mass. They spent Saturday night before the Mass camping out in sleeping bags on park grounds. The teens loved it, according to Esquibel, but some of the six chaperones were not as thrilled by the experience of being outdoors with the frogs and the rest of nature.

The trip was made possible by parish donations and gifts from elsewhere.

The youth group also raised money with a raffle and a matanza in April.

Other teens from Our Lady of Sorrows who made the pilgrimage included: Gabe Baca, Amanda Carrillo, Melissa Carrillo, David Cordova, Nathan Garcia, Phillip Garcia, Rick Gonzales, Pat Pino, Alex Ortiz, Jana Romero, Adam Sanchez and Samantha Via. Chaperones were Delma Carrillo, Sandra Garcia, Kim Griego, Roselyn Romero, Marie Pino and Esquibel.

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Bruce Warren