memorable mondays: in d.c., the spark of youth

[On Meaningful Mondays, I share my faith columns, published Saturdays in The Forum and reprinted here with permission.]

Living Faith:

D.C. trip stirs faith, pride in youth

By Roxane B. Salonen, The Forum 


Last week brought a theme of 50 into my life: 50 hours traveling on a bus with 50 teens and adults, and approximately 50 city blocks by foot around our final destination of Washington, D.C.

Part chaperone and all mother, I accompanied my teen daughter and other students from Shanley High School to the 40th annual March for Life.

Though my shins still ache and my neck muscles remain strained, my soul has been stirred after spending time with around a half-million youth and others in love with life.

Despite the main event taking place at the political center of our country, for the 145 in our three-bus caravan, the trip was more spiritual journey than anything else.

The Rev. Charles La Croix, school chaplain and fearless prayer warrior, continuously reminded us we’d come together as pilgrims.

Think not Mayflower variety but the North Dakota-Minnesota type, embarking on, as Wikipedia defines pilgrimage, “a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.”

I’d signed up enthusiastically months ago, but as the day of departure drew near, so did my reluctance. Still processing the death of my father, I dreaded hanging out with hundreds of energetic teens when what I really craved was quiet reflection.

But by God’s grace I ended up receiving just what I needed. Each leg of the journey was marked by prayer, including Mass each morning and the gathering of chaperones with small groups for evening prayer each night.

Inspiring moments uplifted, including seeing the Washington Monument stark and proud against blue sky, hearing energetic speakers at a student conference and rally, and learning our school had earned a national award for its leadership and prayerful action.

I’m already predicting, though, that when the highs of the experience have subsided, my favorite memories will be the quiet conversations I had with the girls in my charge.

The soul-sparking nature of the trip opened them wide to some of the life’s biggest questions. Each night when I’d go to their rooms for evening sendoff, I’d find them moved by their experiences in D.C., and as a result, inordinately chatty.

And so I lingered, answering as well as possible their profound questions ranging from boys and babies to ghosts and God before offering a night-time blessing and hug.

The final night of our hotel stay, one of the girls stopped me before I left her room. “Wait, you need a blessing, too!” she said, reaching out her hand to trace a cross on my forehead.

Indeed, it was my turn to be moved; from this as well as watching students comforting a peer who’d fallen ill, volunteering to lead bus prayers and offering to carry my backpack when I’d grown weary from walking.

The journey was not without sacrifice, as my swollen feet will attest, but neither was it without significance, as a Biblical passage from Isaiah 43:10 on a wall of the Holocaust Museum reminded me, so simply: “You are my witnesses.”

Indeed, our young people – those “kids these days” – are deeper than what we see on the surface, with visions clearer than many of us adults. While I went on this trip intending to observe their transformations, in the end, I found my own heart equally expanded.

Saint Catherine of Sienna once remarked, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world ablaze.”

If these young people and their peers who’ve taken up edifying causes can stay focused on the sparks of flame they’ve witnessed, I’m convinced it’s only a matter of time before the world burns bright with love.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children.