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Pilgrims to World Youth Day Visit Our Lady of Victory

By Eileen Buckley

Lackawanna, NY – Those making the pilgrimage for World Youth Day to see Pope John Paul, II in Toronto are making a stop at the National Shine of Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna.

Inside the Basilica on Ridge Road Monday, a send off Mass was being held for about 500 parishioners from the Diocese of Erie heading to World Youth Day. As part of the pilgrimage to Toronto, the Basilica was a tourist stop for the Erie group. The Bishop of Erie and a native of Buffalo, the Rev. Donald Trautman, celebrated the Mass.

0Every two years, the international event is held in a city selected by the Pope. World Youth Day kicks off in Toronto Tuesday. It attracts Catholic youth from more than 150 countries. Despite poor health, the aging Pope has vowed to attend the event.

Father Rich Toohey says visiting the Basilica, where Msgr. Nelson Baker made remarkable accomplishments, is an inspiration as they head to see the Pope.

"I was thinking as we were wrapping up how for many this is kind of a destination on most pilgrimages because it is such a wonderful site," Fr. Toohey said. "But in this unique situation that it happens to be on the way for us. It certainly helps the youth as we gets all of us focused on idea pilgrimage for World Youth Day. This is a great way to start off."

Father Toohey was traveling with his sister from Erie, Mary Toohey. She says this is an incredible time to see the Pope.

"Well I think especially knowing that it seems the Pope is near the end of his life," Mary Toohey said. "It is just such a privilege opportunity to get one last a glimpse of him, and just to be part of this youth event. I've never been part of such an event with so many people."

Father Toohey says World Youth Day is also a time for young adults to "restore their faith" as they try to short out the confusion over the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic church.

"This certainly is a huge step for our diocese, for the kids and for all of us," Fr. Toohey said. "Just to say this scandal and the issues that have come up don't identify us as a church, but that there still are faithful people"

Among those attending the celebrations at the Basilica was Bob Uzelac of Erie. He says World Youth Day brings special meaning this year because of a changing world and the terrorist attacks on America.

"I've been feeling, since we have been preparing for this event, that there is going to be so much change in myself, and I know in all the kids we've brought," Uzelac said.

During the send off Mass sermon at the Basilica, the youth were told they need "staying power" to deal with peer pressure. They were also asked not to become a "submarine Catholic" -- described as those who head for the Catholic church only at Christmas and Easter time.

Corey Wehler of Pennsylvania says participating in World Youth Day will strengthen his Catholic faith.

"It means a lot. I'm sure it is going to help me grown in my faith and help me realize I need to follow God and improve in my life," Wehler said.

For those heading to World Youth Day, they say seeing the Holy Father and being in his presence is expected to be inspirational and a chance of a life time.

"It is one of the best things that has happened in our life." said one. "It is really exciting."

"it is probably going to help my faith a lot and mean a great deal to me because I am going to see the holiest man in the Catholic church," another youth said.

"The kids respond to him," Fr. Toohey explained. "That's a big part of it. That faithfulness and to see him in his suffering and how he continues to go forward. I think the kids respond to that. He is an example of courage and is calling them to be courageous and not be afraid.

Several other youth groups traveling through the region heading for World Youth Day in Toronto made a stop at OLV in Lackawanna, included groups from South Bend, Indiana, Massachusetts and Virginia.

Also Monday, the Bishop of Buffalo presided over a send off Mass for Western New York youth at St. Joseph's Cathedral downtown. About 300 young people from the Buffalo area are expected to attend World Youth Day. EB, WBFO News.