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Barry Doss in a crush of humanity

Editor’s Note: Connie Doss is the mother of Clare Doss, one of the 2 million kids expected to attend the final session of World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain. While Connie’s husband, Barry, is helping chaperone the group of teens and young adults from Green Forest and Berryville, Arkansas, Connie watches the event from her armchair.

by Connie Doss
special to Beliefnet

I started earning my front row-center armchair ticket to World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid almost a year ago when several teens came racing out of the classroom of their high school religious education class at St. Anne’s Catholic Church here in Berryville, Arkansas.

They were excited about the possibility of traveling to Spain to attend — and see Pope Benedict XVI.

Of course, now thinking back, their teacher, Father Shaun Wesley played it well — because what parent can resist the goo-goo eyes that their son or daughter can deliver ever so well?

We capitulated, which didn’t take much effort, and plans began right away to get organized and come up with ways to fund a nine-day trip to Lourdes and Toulouse, France, and Montserrat and Madrid, Spain.

In Madrid, the kids wave the Stars & Stripes

Little did any of us realize the impact that this trip would have and will have on St. Anne’s young people and their parents left behind hoping for a phone call or text.

In October of 2010, the event seemed a very long way off.

The kids, with a lot of parental involvement, held raffles, and sold fresh Christmas wreaths and hot chocolate. They served as waiters at a formal Christmas Madrigal Dinner at St. Elizabeth Church in Eureka Springs. They held fish fries during Lent. 

Barry keeps an eye on his kids

The job of fundraising seemed endless.  Father Shaun, a gourmet chef in his own right, prepared a fabulous Italian dinner for a St. Valentine’s Day dinner and dance — one of so many fundraisers, almost too many to remember!

Each young pilgrim had to come up with half of the cost of the trip on their own. Clare, my 16 year old daughter, earned every dime on her own with the generosity of a few people who couldn’t resist slipping her some money.

Yes, I am very proud of her effort. She stepped up and just did it. She saved her winnings from the county fair, she “slaved” herself out to parishioners doing odd jobs, she started teaching piano to an eager young man and a sweet little girl. She also earned a scholarship by spending the year reading the Bible and the Catholic Catechism. No small feat, I assure you.

Last Sunday, August 14 , finally arrived. Our family got very little sleep that night as I’m sure was the same with most of the families. Father Shaun celebrated mass before our pilgrims and their chaperones boarded a bus for the three-hour ride to the Tulsa, Oklahoma, airport. Goodbyes were said. Hugs and kisses abounded and the group was off after a quick group photo. Many parishioners were there to send the little band of travelers on their way.

Those of us left behind have found ways of keeping track of our pilgrims — tapping websites tracking their flights, being one another’s “friend” on Facebook, and finding free international texting services.

From amid the vast the crowd: "Thinking of you, Mom! See, we're all right!"

Of course, the kids are much better at the game — using every means at their disposal to make sure we know they are doing fine. Father Shaun, Blanca Beas and others have been sending lots of pictures!

I feel like I am there celebrating with them when I see the great shots he has been sending. I crave those daily photos of their fun and adventure!

I have three from my family on the trip — my sister-in-law, Eileen, is a chaperone along with my husband, “Laid Nack” Barry as Father Shaun recently called him. Barry has a quiet faith that is often quite palpable and I’m sure he has had many moments in Madrid as have many in the group. 

I also wanted Barry to experience being on foreign soil and to see our Holy Father as I had seen John Paul II in 1984 when I was 18 traveling with a choral group in Rome. I still talk of my experience frequently. I encouraged Barry to go and spend this time with his beautiful daughter.

After all, Clare will be off to college and on her own before we know it and I didn’t want him to miss this chance to have this experience with her.

Pope Benedict XIV greets World Youth Day pilgrims

In Lourdes, Clare called me and I asked if her Daddy was around.

She said, “I haven’t seen Dad all day!”

At least I know he’s not lost because I have seen him in pictures! While they may not be spending a lot of time one-on-one, I know they’ll remember and cherish this shared experience.

From my armchair, I know that Barry, Clare, and all of the St. Anne’s group will not come home the same as when they left.

God is doing wonderful things in their hearts right now. I sense it and it is hard not to feel changed myself as I watch the coverage and see the kids’ posts and pictures.

God will indeed impact their lives in ways that the group may never perceive. I gave up a new computer so my family could go, but look at what they are receiving from God in return!

Even here in my armchair, I am blessed.

Photos by Ulises Rangel, Blanca Beas and Shaun Wesley

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