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Powerful Prayer, Powerful Community

Deb Heimel, Pastoral CouncilDeb Heimel, Pastoral Council Member
October 13, 2023

This summer’s World Youth Day, a global gathering of Catholic youth, brought up a lot of memories for me. I had the opportunity to attend WYD in Paris in 1997 with a group of people from around the world, all of whom were connected through the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the order founded by Mother Francis Cabrini. There were high school students, college students, lay adults, and nuns. They came from across the US as well as the Philippines, Brazil, Nicaragua, and several other countries. Most of us didn’t know each other. We spoke several languages and ranged in age from 15 to 75. I wouldn’t have used the term community to describe us when we first met. But I would a few days later.

World Youth Day is full of small events over several days before culminating in a large Mass with the Pope. One of the first nights, the group went to an evening of prayer and music at a local church where confession was also offered. I remember enjoying the night, singing in a pew with my new friends. There was a band of musicians singing praise and worship songs and several hundred people singing enthusiastically. It was exuberant and fun. After the prayer service I went with a few of my traveling companions to McDonald’s for a late night snack. We told stories and got to know each other while eating French fries, everything translated from English to Spanish and back.

At the end of the week, we walked miles to the final pilgrimage Mass but arrived late and didn’t make it into the event. We camped a few blocks away from the intended destination and made a night of it anyway. We stayed up late into the night and sang with other pilgrims, then left before sunrise to walk back to our hotel where we slept, and eventually met in the hotel to have our own final gathering – hours of stories and individual sharing that was incredibly emotional for all. It was my temporary community coming together to pray with honesty, with vulnerability, with joy for what we had all found in this week, and with fear for what many were returning home to.

It was the first time I was part of a Catholic Christian community that spoke openly of love for Jesus, who prayed from emotion and not from obligation.

When I first came to the Paulist Center, I was searching for a place to pray, a place where I could be myself as a member of a powerful faith community. I remember the first Mass I came to – everyone sang and it was beautiful. It was joyful. The collective participation in music and prayer made me come back. In the following months I returned and heard the questions that were asked in an evening Advent retreat, saw the reverence at the Good Friday Adoration of the Cross. I knew this was a community that prayed with the earnestness I was seeking. That has continued to be true over the last 15 years.

I am drawn to silence and solitary hobbies but that is not where I grow. I grow and flourish in active relationship with other people. The Paulist Center describes itself as an intentional community. When I first joined, I didn’t know what that meant. But every weekend as I drive half an hour to worship with you, I realize over and over again what it means. I am opting into this community, into being in relationship with each of you. I know I am a better version of myself when I am in community. At World Youth Day, I listened to others share and could feel my perspective changing from my new awareness of their experiences, both with life and also with their faith. I also feel this at the Paulist Center – a community of people who offer me the chance to look at things differently, share your stories of faith and doubt, and pray with me to hear God’s voice.

Everything you hear about World Youth Day was true for me in Paris in 1997: an incredible experience with powerful prayer and powerful community. This is why I love worshipping at the Paulist Center – I continue to find that with all of you.