TOWNSEND -- St. John the Evangelist Parish is in the midst of fundraising efforts to send its young members to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day 2013.
From July 20 to 29, 14 members of the church, including the youth and a few chaperones, will be making a pilgrimage to Rio de Janeiro to pray in the presence of the pope, not to mention millions of other attendees who will travel from all across the globe for the same purpose.
A week before Christmas, members of the church gathered in the parking lot of the town common, selling a variety of handmade ornaments and cheerily passing out cups of hot apple cider being warmed over a table top grill. Chuck Kelley, one of the parish members manning the table, said the church had also hosted car washes, a bonfire, cookouts, a Halloween haunted village and had done some gift wrapping at Barnes and Noble to earn additional funds.
"We're in the middle of our fundraising season," said Kelley. "We're pretty hopeful. The community has been fantastic, attending our events."
According to the Rev. Jeremy St. Martin, the church still needs to raise about $30,000 for the pilgrimage. The next fundraising effort will be a 50/50 raffle during Lent, with the winner's name to be pulled on Easter. Members of the church have made items to be donated for additional raffling from afghan blankets to a full-sized picnic table.
The youth hoping to attend the journey are also participating in a letter writing campaign to friends,
"We don't want to be asking the town to be the full source of support, so we're also looking outside of the town," said St. Martin. "We're trying everything we can to raise the money. We're looking for companies to make substantial donations. We're asking the priests in Boston is they might be able to help us out."
The church has been participating in World Youth Day for the past three years, but St. Martin has been going in 2002.
"As a young priest, it's typical to be involved in World Youth Days," he said. "While I'm still able to call myself young and I maybe have another World Youth Day in me, I'd like (the youth of St. John) to share it with me while I can."
World Youth Day has been taking place in various locations across the world in 1985. Last year's was in Madrid, Spain.
"They're days of learning and prayer and fun," said St. Martin. "It's a very inspiring trip."
This year, over two million youth are expected to attend the pilgrimage to say mass with the pope. But it is by no means going to be a light-hearted endeavor.
"It's a pilgrimage, not a vacation," said St. Martin. "They're going to be put to the test as to their talents and abilities. There are several levels of patience they will be testing. Hopefully they will come away knowing themselves more. They're be pushing themselves beyond their limits to find out how there is more."
Part of the difficulty of World Youth Day is accommodating two million people in a single place.
"It's larger than the largest stadium you've ever been in," said St. Martin. "There's no parking lot around large enough to fit everyone."
So, he said, in order to get there, the youth must camp in an initial remote location and then spend the better part of a day marching to the central location, regardless of the weather conditions. In order for everyone to arrive and get to where they need to be, the arrivals are organized on a staggered schedule.
"It really takes all day and night for everyone ti get there," said St. Martin. "Because of safety reasons, you can't set up a tent. You're standing there all night just waiting in vigil for a single moment of prayer with the pope. Twice I've been there when it's poured. But kids are young so everything turns into fun."
As a way to prepare for the journey, the youth will be trying a pilgrimage in January to Washington, D.C.
"It will be the worst time of winter," said St. Martin.
But, he said, in the end, it will be worth the experience for the youth.
"It's something you have to see to understand how powerful it is," he said.