Youths make pilgrimage to begin Holy Week

March through city celebrates religion of city's young people

April 08, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of young people rallied at Rash Field yesterday, opening Holy Week with prayers, hymns and a pilgrimage through the streets of downtown.

The atmosphere at the eighth annual Youth Pilgrimage was as festive as a pep rally, but the cheers were for a Roman Catholic cardinal and for teen-agers costumed as saints.

"Maybe we can understand better the journey Christ had to make and also show the people of Baltimore that we are strong in our faith and that so many are involved in church," said 17-year-old Matt Thomas of Bel Air, who came carrying a handful of rocks and dressed as St. Stephen, the first martyr.

Nearly 800 followed Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, on the two-mile trek that stopped for prayers at several churches, shrines and Our Daily Bread, a downtown soup kitchen. With help from a dozen teens, Keeler left the field carrying a hefty, 15-foot-long wooden cross.

Marchers waved bright banners with religious images and messages. Calypso music blared to the familiar tune of "Day-O," but with lyrics altered to meet the day's Christian theme.

"This is a good way to start Holy Week, with all these people to help you celebrate and remember how important it is," said Jessica Ecke, 17, of Dundalk. "Young people can lose track of what Easter is about. Jesus died for us and rose for us, and it's all good."

Ecke had a long day ahead of her. After the march and Mass at the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she and other members of the St. Casimir youth group would be serving dinner to more than 100 other marchers at their parish in Canton.

"Our parents are doing the cooking while we are marching," she said.

A group of 26 from St. Francis High School in Buffalo, N.Y., each carried a 1-pound package of food that they donated to Our Daily Bread.

"This is an opportunity to do something public and take our message of faith to the world," said the Rev. Mike Lasky, who accompanied the Buffalo contingent. "Kids who are interested and excited about their faith can share it with others."

Many wore red T-shirts with "Walk the Walk" printed over a white cross. Most had donned bright yellow bandannas reading "People of the cross, walk in hope." As they walked down Pratt Street near crowds shopping at the Inner Harbor, few said they felt self-conscious about the attire or the profession of faith.

"People are looking at us and asking what we are doing here," said Elizabeth Jones, 15, of Hickory. "This is our chance to let everyone know Jesus is an option. I think they call it evangelism."

Sam Boswell, 15, of Fulton in Howard County gave up a day of fishing with friends to march and pray, but said, "I know that this is a sacrifice that will bring me closer to God."

David Gray, 16 and studying to become a Catholic at New All Saints Church in Forest Park, called the day a learning experience.

"I really am taking all this in and learning more about the faith I have chosen to follow," he said.

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