From fear to faith at World Youth Day
September 8, 2016
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Standing in the middle of an unexpected terrorist attack by a lone gunman ranked as the last activity two Cathedral Catholic students thought they would experience on their two-week youth ministry pilgrimage to Kraków, Poland in late July.
“I saw these girls standing by the window and I thought they said it was raining outside,” CCHS student Nicky Shanks ‘17 said. “I went out to look and all of a sudden someone yelled, ‘There’s a shooter!'”
Shanks, a member of the Gathering Youth Ministry from La Jolla, which works to bring teens together to promote a faith community, remembered her doubts and fears throughout the trip, but she emphasized the power of God’s redemption, causing her to share her story.
Shanks’ initial World Youth Day experience in Poland took a turn for the worse while visiting Munich, Germany.
“In such a time of fear, this was the best time to stand up to people and show how strong our faith is,” Shanks said.
The pilgrimage for World Youth Day begins differently for many youth groups across the entire country. For Shanks and CCHS alumna Devany Harrell ’16, the pilgrimage began in Munich.
“There was nothing more that I wanted except to get on the next plane back home,” Harrell said. “The love I felt back home really helped and I often asked for peace from God when I started to have panic attacks from a loud noise late at night.
“Coming back was hard, but it also opened doors for me. I have been able to get close to people through it and let them see that this really is a problem in our world even though it’s not at home.”
The World Youth Day trip left the Gathering Youth Group in fear of the danger they witnessed and the danger that might come. However, the group of high school teens and young adults all agreed that their faith was greater than their fear, a message they carried with them throughout their pilgrimage and into the school year.
Among the Southern California youth groups attending World Youth Day was CCHS teacher Ms. Christine LaPorte from the San Luis Rey Mission Church.
“We all stopped and gathered our group in the hallway of the hotel and prayed the rosary for them,” Ms. LaPorte said. “The pilgrimage itself is such a joyous experience and then to have that stark contrast of being in an act of terrorism is something that no one expected, but that everyone knew was a possibility.”
Ms. LaPorte said the walk of faith they took focused on the power of prayer, which lead the San Diego youth group to safety, allowing the students who experienced the European pilgrimage to be witnesses of faith on their school campuses.
“Our strength is our faith,” Ms. LaPorte said. “There’s always moments in the school year that need more prayer than others. In the moments where there is tragedy, destruction, and heartbreak, that’s the time where I try to weave in the idea that faith is bigger than fear.”
Shanks, Harrell, and Ms. LaPorte’s experiences turned to triumph after coming home to a supportive circle of peers and family.
Bringing the terror home made it understandable to people that terrorism in the world not only affects the CCHS community when abroad, but it continues to affect those people at home.
“We’re not going to be scared to continue this walk in our faith. We’re not going to back out and go home. But, we will just try to stay mindful that it is God who’s in control,” Ms. LaPorte said.