Pilgrim Stories

World Youth Day 2011 A Pilgrim’s Perspective

Dear Parishioners of St. Luke the Evangelist,

I regret that I am not able to address you in person, but immediately after returning from Spain, I left Raleigh to start my college career at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I returned from my World Youth Day pilgrimage on the 22nd of August having completed one of the most incredible and inspirational journeys of my life. Thank you parishioners of St. Luke for assisting and enabling me to go on this journey, you were in my heart and prayers. The hundreds of prayer intentions you graced me with were with me every step of the way, and they now all sit at the feet of Our Lady of Lourdes with a perpetual candle burning brightly for them in her grotto. As I prayed for all of your intentions I asked for some message or lesson to bring back and share with all of you. The message came in a strange and unexpected way.

On the last days of World Youth Day, the pilgrims walk to a site where the Holy Father holds an overnight vigil of adoration and the World Youth Day closing mass. Saturday afternoon the Diocese of Raleigh pilgrims set out for the airfield where the vigil would be; half of us took a metro, and the other half, of which I was a part, walked the eight mile path through the mountains and in 105 degree heat. It was a grueling but beautiful walk.

About a mile from the airfield we receive a call from Patrick, the leader of the group that took the metro. He told us that the field was dangerously crowded, he feared for the safety of the group, and had decided to leave the airfield. There was a miscommunication among those working at the gates and un-ticketed pilgrims were being allowed to enter the ticket-only event. The result was two million people in a location with space and provisions for 700,000 people. The vigil had become a kind of Woodstock where there was neither food nor water, and the crowds were so thick our group inside couldn’t move, much less stake out a place to bed for the night. Patrick surveyed the situation and the desperateness of the crowds, and decided to leave the vigil for reason of safety. I cannot express the heartbreak, frustration, and anger this caused all of us, for we so dearly longed to have this vigil and mass with our Holy Father. We regrouped outside the field where the decision to abandon the vigil was finalized and we turned around to head back into Madrid. I never did get to have mass with Pope Benedict XVI.

The next morning we went to a local church for Sunday mass, and it was in the priest’s homily that I and the rest of the group found meaning in the ordeal we had suffered. Father spoke of the pilgrims, acknowledged all we had endured, and then asked why. He said a true pilgrim would not endure the hardship for the sake of the experience, or the people around them, or even for the Holy Father, that rather a true pilgrim would only be concerned with the pursuit of Christ. He knew hundreds of thousands of us never made it to the airfield and he said that a true pilgrim would remain joyful and determined in his pursuit of Christ. He then reminded us that the Pope was not the pinnacle of the pilgrimage, that the Sunday mass was. The Holy Eucharist was where pilgrims would find their fulfillment, not in the beautiful vigil with Catholic brothers and sisters. After mass we found out that no pilgrim at the papal mass received the Eucharist because wind and lightning had destroyed all of the Communion stations during the night. Had we pursued the experience of the vigil rather than the beauty of the mass the next day in this local church, we would have never received the Holy Eucharist. We would have missed Jesus Christ in our pursuit of something beautiful, the Pope, but far less important than our pursuit of Christ. The priest’s message was to pursue Jesus in the way He has us pursue him, not in the manner that we assume to be best. The pursuit of the vigil with the Pope was a holy one, but it was not one that would end in Christ. The pursuit of the will of God was one that landed us in a position we did not understand nor see as good, but was indeed good, holy, and filled with Christ.

So the message I received is this:
“Follow the will of God, and direct all thoughts, actions, and intentions to Him for love and pursuit of His holy presence. Humbly accept and pursue the will of God above your own, even when it makes little sense. He is a God of integrity and promise, who has pledged to love and take care of you. Pursue Him restlessly in all things, especially in the sacraments.”

May God Bless and keep you parishioners of St. Luke, with courage and trust in Christ.

Your Brother in Christ,

Jonathan McGee


Viva el Papa

Yesterday we were walking to dinner in a common plaza when we found ourselves turning around and retreating from a huge anti-pope mob. We know (and the Pope certainly knows) that there are people who are against the Catholic church, our Pope, and how it effects the economy. Being told to stay in our hotel for the rest of the night and hearing police planes above us, we were nervous of what could happen, but we knew that God was there for us and my roommates and two other girls prayed and just talked until about 2 in the morning. In the morning we got up and went to breakfast with everyone (as opposed to whoever gets up) and the Bishop. My church decided to go to a talk on The Theology of the Body which required taking a metro and walking a ton. The highlight of that event (other than the information) was the fact that I bumped into one of of the staff members from a mission trip several of us went to a month ago! We finally got back to the hotel and relaxed for about ten minutes, then we went to save a seat for us to see the POPE. We all cheered for the Pope as we saw him driving down the road to where we were, shouting ¨VIVA EL PAPA! VIVA! VIVA!¨ He spoke beautiful words in every language he knew to be attending, and I shared a radio with a friend to listen to the English translation. All I can say is, it was impossible to comprehend. In the midst of all the madness that happened yesterday, we managed to have such a blessing today. It was a life changing experience to see our own Pope, to shout ¨Benedicto!¨ repeatedly, and just put myself in Gods grace. It was a great day.


-Emma Nichole

So Far So Good

Hey all! I have not been able to post for a little while, we have been super busy!


Lourdes was beautiful, we got to see the stations of the cross in life size and it was amazing. It is so important to remember all the time the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Mass in the grotto was cool too; it was in many languages but it was still very clearly mass.


Madrid has been crowded and crazy, but moving. It’s awesome to be totally focused on God for this time, and with other people too! The other groups are fun to see. If we spot them we all ask where they’re from and take pictures with them. The WYD opening mass was a little hectic but we’re all doing great. What was worse were the Anti-Pope protesters. However, we are all safe and the police in Madrid are on it! We’ve been reminded that Jesus was persecuted too.


Today we’re going to a talk with Jason Evert (a chastity speaker) and then to welcome the Pope to Madrid! We were also reminded to pray lots and have prayer buddies to pray for each other.


That’s all for now, we’ve gotta get to some talks! God bless you!


Lauren G, 15

The Packing Challenge

Can you believe that there is only 1 more day until we leave for Europe?! I sure can’t. Every time I start thinking about it, I begin to feel the same butterflies (from the day I heard we were going) re-enter my stomach.

Well it’s Thursday and I haven’t even started packing (until this morning), unless you want to count getting all my laundry washed. However, I have “met” my two awesome roomies; Emma and Lauren. Well, met them on Facebook, at least. I think they both said that they too are posting blogs, so you should read what they have to write! I cant wait to meet them on Friday!

Ok, I went off track for a second there. So I do have reason for being late in my packing process. As some of you may not know, I’m a lifeguard at one of the pools in Hampstead. Well, due to one of the guard’s sudden departure, there are now only two of us to watch the pool. Therefore, a lot more shifts. Oh, and to top that off, I just got another job as a waitress at a newly opened restaurant. So, that too has been time consuming. You may be asking yourself, “Why doesn’t she just pack when she gets home from work?” Haha, it’s not all that easy. I’m a very organized person, thus in order to arrange and plan in an organizing fashion, I have to be in a clean and organized environment. My room, however, is not. Those of you who know me, are well aware that I would never allow anything to remain out of it’s place any longer than a day (at most). So what could be the cause of such a chaotic mess? Well, think about what usually happens around this time of the year, when supplies are bought, boxes are out, clothes are laid out, and old junk is “sorted.”. Have you guessed it yet? If I said that it has to do with a certain family member who comes home for holidays, and takes over your room all summer, would that help your guess a little more?? Ok if you haven’t guessed it, then I’ll just tell you. My complete opposite in almost every way, Mary Kate. Yes, just about everything imaginable that a college student should (and shouldn’t bring) is all over the floor, bed, dresser, and even the bookshelves. Haha, the ironic thing is, despite both of our differences, my sister and I are surprising very close, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She told me today that she will have the room “right as rain” by the time I get home from work (I sure hope so) :p

So far I’ve told three of my friends (who won’t be able to go) that, if they want to come, they would have to travel via my suitcase. BIG mistake! Why? Because, when I was at our WYD meeting, last Wednesday, all the pilgrims were informed that the weight limit (for the ONE checked bag) will be limited to 50lbs!! How on earth am I going to fit ten days worth of clothes, and other essentials, along with three friends in one bag, under 50lbs?!?! This may sound impossible, but that’s what I live for, to make the impossible possible!…well, all that is within my ability.

One of my friends, Molly, lives further south and told me that if I don’t get her to fit in my suitcase, then there is nooo way I’ll be able to fit in hers, when she visits her home in Kazakstan, Russia. “Oh you of little faith” I will make this packing process a prelude to the “Adventure,” and I will be happy!!! 😀

My break is well over, so I will leave you (for now).

Haha!! I just thought of something. How awesome would it be to end every blog with “To Be Continued”?!?! It may sound corny, but oh who cares!

To Be Continued…

~*Emily Seymour*~

Final days of Packing and Prepping!

Well here goes!  My first attempt at blogging. I can’t promise you it will be entertaining or funny but rather a first hand recap of my experiences on this trip of a life-time to Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day.  Just 3 days to go and I am already feeling tired from the mental preparation for the trip, the planning, pre-packing, packing, unpacking, repacking.  So many decisions to make!  Should I wear skirts, shorts (over the knee), pants, long shorts or short pants? Which shoes? Let me tell you, this has been the topic of discussion amongst our little group from St. Thomas More for at least 6 months!  We will be doing a lot of walking and have been warned (rather strongly encouraged) to bring very comfortable shoes.  So, take a break cute sandals and bring out the tennis shoes and Clark sandals with air vents and lots of cushion.  My feet will thank me later.

As with the other chaperones on the trip, many of us are leaving behind some part of our family, whether it be a spouse, as in my case, or 4 children and a husband, as in Georgie’s case.  There are bills to pay ahead of time, laundry to do (so we have clothes to pack), frigs to clean out, desks to clean off, school supplies to get (school starts just 3 days after we get back!), sports practices to get to, pets to arrange boarding,…you get the picture.

Regardless of all the preparation and planning to get to this point that we plotted and planned a year and a half go, I am truly looking forward to this journey and pilgrimage.  A friend of mine at work said that maybe it will light a fire in my faith.  Though I feel I already have a strong faith, I think we all get to a point in our lives where we need that extra “umph”.   We sometimes need to step away from the everyday normal  to see the big picture, to see if we are on the right path and to gain some focus.  I don’t know what to expect and have no real expectations other than to be tired, somewhat overwhelmed, completely open to experience new things, HOT, and somehow knowing I will be changed from this trip.

I take this trip with my daughter, Emma (who is also blogging at tendaysinspain.wordpress.com), 3 other lady friends and 7 other kids from St. Thomas More along with a great group of  pilgrims from the Diocese of Raleigh.  Please keep us all in your prayers as we make this journey as we will keep you in ours especially during our visit to Lourdes, France.



The Begining of a Whole New Adventure

Ok, this being my first blog EVER, I think it fair to warn y’all that I have a very bad habit of writing whatever tends to pop into my head, and how I would most likely say them.  That being said, these blogs are most likely going to be very lengthy.  However, that could be a good thing…I think.

To “kick off,” I figured it would appropriate to describe how and when Travis and I were giving the opportunity to attend such an amazing “Adventure” at World Youth Day, in Madrid Spain.

Well, it all started about two years ago  when my family was stationed in Prattville, Alabama. It was during this time when the thought of going to WYD was more of a vague idea rather than a finalized plan (It was soon left in the forgotten past). However, about a year later we heard from some friends that the Raleigh Diocese of North Carolina was taking a large group to WYD.  This, unfortunately, was during the time we lived in Virginia. At this time we had no inclination that we may or may not be moving back to our beloved home in NC.  The idea of attending WYD was once again– forgotten.  About two months after our happy move back to Hampstead, NC my mom approached us with the question of whether or not we would like to join the Raleigh group to WYD. Of course we would be put on the waiting list, due to our very very late entry.  With that in mind: I decided “Why not?” feeling that if I didn’t think about it I wouldn’t be so disappointed when told that we would  not be able to go.

On the  Eleventh of July, some good friends of ours from Rocky Mt., NC, were visiting us (as well as having the intent to steal some UVB rays from the sun) at the sandy beaches of Topsail. These are also the very friends who not only were going to WYD, but were trying very hard to help us get on the trip.  Shortly after their arrival, Mrs. Love received a phone call.  All I know is that she was talking and running around the house with my mom for a long time.  Then, all of a sudden, I got a tap on my shoulder, and as I turned around to face my mother handing me my passport, she said, “Your going to need this.”  Honestly, I had nooooo idea what she was implying.  So after about three minutes of my mom smiling at me, while I sat there stupefied, trying to figure out what was going on, it hit me; I WAS GOING TO WORLD YOUTH DAY IN MADRID, SPAIN!!!!  At first it came out as several of the same question, “Really, we’re really going, and this isn’t some kind of sick joke???”  After being reassured  several times it sank in that I was indeed going!

It wasn’t until the excitement settled down a notch, when the realization of $6,500 hit us, and that we only had about four weeks to raise that much, where-as everyone else had three years.  However, Travis and I have been truly blessed with wonderful selfless family and friends, and we can hardly find words to describe our gratitude toward every single one of them. It is because of them that we not only reached  our goal, but everyday the mail brings more and more donations that will go towards food, trip insurance, phone rent, and so much more.  As we have mentioned before, your special intentions will be in our prayers, as well as all of our seminarians, and whoever may be discerning the religious life.

I think that is about it.  Oh, and do you believe me now, when I said that I tend to write/talk too much?? Haha! Well, there are four more days till take off, and I still have a lot of packing to do.  So I will leave you for now, and I hope you all will be following me during this upcoming pilgrimage at Lourdes, Avala, and Madrid.


~*Emily Seymour*~

6 more days and counting!

Well, we leave for Spain Friday of next week. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s finally here! I’m halfway done packing (or at least, I have all my stuff laid out) and I’m spiritually prepared. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while now, but it’s finally sinking in that I’m going to another country for the first time in my life. Even better, I’ll be going with other Catholics on a pilgrimage for World Youth Day! It’s too much to sink in all at once. I’ll be logging both how I’m preparing for this mission and how the pilgrimage is going on this blog- so stay tuned!