The sound of more than a thousand singing voices spilled out the doors of St. Casimir Church in Canton yesterday afternoon as 10 young people emerged into the sunshine carrying a 10-foot wooden cross on their shoulders.
Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, emerged next with several other members of the clergy. And then hundreds of young Catholics poured out onto the sidewalk and started proceeding down the street.
Mae Richardson, coordinator of youth ministry for Sacred Heart Parish of Glyndon, looked at the noisy, briskly moving sea of young people stretching for blocks along the edge of Patterson Park.
"That's hope," she said. "That gives me a lot of hope that this generation is not bad, that this generation has a lot to give."
The 14th annual youth and young adult pilgrimage organized by the Archdiocese of Baltimore was the largest one ever, drawing more than 1,000 youth participants and adult chaperones for the first time. It followed a new route this year, from St. Casimir to Holy Rosary Church on Chester Street to the War Memorial Plaza downtown.
It ended with a Mass and a blessing of palms for Palm Sunday at the newly renovated Basilica of the Assumption, which was not available for the past few pilgrimages.
So many young people gathered together "can't help but celebrate," said Mark Pacione, director of youth and young adult ministry for the archdiocese. Organizers worked to keep the event fun and engaging, with live music at several locations and a comedian to entertain at Holy Rosary.
But as an event to mark the start of Holy Week leading up to Easter, the pilgrimage had elements of reflection and reverence as well.
A Eucharistic Adoration at St. Casimir, with prayers, songs and a sermon, followed an opening gathering outdoors. Participants were asked to say a prayer as the procession passed the Holocaust Memorial, and to pray and reflect on issues of faith and social justice at the War Memorial Plaza.
Several speakers were asked to talk about their faith, including 18-year-old Juana Landaverde of Edgewater, who was raised in Guatemala by her grandmother when her parents came to the United States.
Now reunited with her family and planning to attend college, Landaverde said, "Faith is important to me. I see it as the motor of my life."
Keeler started the local pilgrimage after seeing thousands of youths participating in World Youth Day in Denver in 1993.
"I've found in talking to young people they are very happy when their goodness is being accented," Keeler said yesterday. He recalled that Pope John Paul II remarked to him at the Denver event that when young people plan something and have a role in implementing it, they enjoy themselves more.
Participants, who came from nine counties as well as Baltimore, said the chance to be with other young people was a large part of the appeal of the pilgrimage.
"You get to realize how many other people are involved in their faith," said Kelly Stetka, 14, of Perry Hall."
Kelly, who was with about 70 other confirmation students from St. Joseph Fullerton Church in Perry Hall, said she enjoyed seeing friends from her Catholic middle school who went on to different high schools, and she liked visiting several Baltimore churches she had not seen before.
Pacione said that "young people today are much more in tune with spiritual issues than 10 years ago."
But participants said it is not always easy to express that faith on a daily basis.
"This is an opportunity to be with a group of kids who do want to show their faith," said Katie Walsh, 16, of Westminster. "You get to hear other people explain what their faith means to them."