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Spotlight Report

Following prayer, Law, teens travel to conference

By Jack Healy, Globe Correspondent, 7/24/2002

NEWTON - The dark shadow of the Catholic Church's ongoing sex abuse scandal seemed to dissolve into the hot, sunny air yesterday as more than 600 teenagers met in Newton to depart for World Youth Day in Toronto.

They gathered at Our Lady of Help Christians Church at 6:30 a.m., wearing church T-shirts and lugging backpacks bulging with food and magazines. They compared bus assignments and said goodbye to their parents before boarding 11 buses for the week-long Catholic youth conference.

They also paused to reflect on their faith in the face of the persistent scandal.

Cardinal Bernard F. Law delivered a half-hour prayer service inside the packed church before the teens, young adults, and parents streamed to the buses idling in the parking lot. Law delivered message of faith and unity, telling the crowd the world would be watching them.

''Show what it means truly to be Catholic,'' Law said. ''We want the world to see us together.''

The youth conference at Toronto's International Plaza Hotel is the culmination of years of planning and fund-raising, attendees said. Many washed cars, held bake sales, collected cans, and hosted Italian dinners to raise enough money to attend, and many were jubilant about the journey and their opportunity to see Pope John Paul II celebrate Mass.

''I can't believe it's here already,'' said Whitney Antelli of Everett.

Valerie Shippen was one of several parents who said the specter of terrorism nagged her thoughts as the buses prepared to leave.

''I will worry, but I'll also be praying,'' said Shippen, whose 16-year-old daughter, Sara, is attending the conference. ''It would be foolish not to worry, but it would be equally foolish to hold them back.''

As they walked toward one bus, a group of teenage girls and their mothers agreed that the abuse scandal has emphasized the need for church members to reunite and talk about the future of their faith.

One of the girls, Annette Zaroda, 16, of Revere, said she hopes to talk about the scandal's effects with other conferencegoers.

''I think our views will be heard,'' she said.

Matthew West, 20, of Marshfield, said his view of Catholicism has changed little in the past year. Walking from church, West remarked that he didn't understand the need for T-shirts boasting, ''Still proud to be Catholic,'' and said he doesn't expect church leaders to discuss the abuse scandal or its fallout at the conference.

''They shouldn't,'' he said. ''That's not what [the conference] is about. It's about my faith and the Catholic Church. I'm just as proud to be Catholic as I ever was.''

As West climbed aboard his bus, television news cameras gathered around bus 4059, where Law was buckling himself into the front seat and tucking rosary beads into his pocket.

''It's a good crowd, very spirited,'' Law said moments before the buses departed at about 7 a.m. ''We'll be singing and praying a lot.''

But 11 hours later, several travelers had done more movie-watching and sleeping than anything else, they reported over cellphones.

''I'm wicked bored,'' Julie Lavargna, 15, of Revere said.

A two-hour delay at the Canadian border was far from boring for one youth group member, a refugee from Uganda. The border patrol found problems with the immigration paperwork of the teen from St. Joseph's in Belmont, said the Rev. Walter Cuenin, pastor of the Newton church where the day started. The teen had the proper paperwork to enter Canada, but would not have been able to leave. Cardinal Law negotiated with Canadian officials until the problem was straightened out, Cuenin said.

Immigration officials let the bus go through and promised that the teen would not have a problem leaving the country at the end of the event, Cuenin said.

Nearing Toronto, Lauren Randall, 14, considered how Sept. 11 and the abuse scandal would shape her experience at the conference.

''Because of all of the things that have been happening, you have to believe in God and faith, and you have to be together as one church,'' she said.

This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 7/24/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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