Parishioners who traveled cross-country to see Pope John Paul II during World Youth Day ceremonies in Denver, which ended last week, said they returned to Carroll County inspired to spread the pontiff's teachings at home.
The group from St. John Catholic Church in Westminster "really bonded and got the spirit and intent of the events," said Carolyn Legal, 20, of Sykesville.
"Sharing the experience is now part of our mission," she said.
" 'Do not be afraid of the message of the gospel and the life Christ has called you to live' was his message," said Theresa Robinson, coordinator of religious education at St. John.
"He didn't invent any new doctrines," said Rev. David Pietropaoli, associate pastor at the Westminster church. "He preached the same gospel values of peace and truth, which keep the gospel alive for us."
World Youth Day "gave us a spiritual high and we haven't come down yet," said Ms. Legal.
The group, four adults and 12 teen-agers, spent six days in Colorado attending religious ceremonies that culminated in a Mass celebrated Aug. 15before 500,000 people.
From the papal welcome at Mile High Stadium in Denver to the services at Cherry Creek Park, memories of events mingle with images of throngs straining to hear the pope's message -- not unruly crowds but throngs of people of single purpose.
"It meant everything our faith is based on," said Ms. Legal. "All those people were there for the exact same reason: our common faith."
Sarah Cruz, 16, said the masses of people left a lasting impression.
"I will remember all the people, all proud to believe the same thing and to be part of a celebration with the pope," she said. "It made me proud of my religion. I will not be shy about speaking out on my beliefs."
The group arrived at Cherry Creek Park early Aug. 14. After a three-mile hike with camping gear and sleeping bags, the closest they could get to the altar was still about 150,000 people away.
Many participants were much farther away, as people arrived all night long.
"Every time you turned around, you would see more and more people coming into the park," said Jason Ludwig, 17.
Rev. Pietropaoli said the crowd of 500,000 mirrored the gospel of John: "I saw before me a huge crowd from every race, nation and tongue."
At the site, campers, "crammed like sardines," mingled with new-found friends from around the world, Sarah said.
"You couldn't wake up on the wrong side of the bed," said Will Hodgin, 16. "No one would let you."
Before dawn Aug. 15, a Mexican group woke those sleeping near them with hymns.
"We didn't understand the words, but we knew what they were saying," said Christine Cinquino, 14.
The pope arrived by helicopter shortly before 9 a.m.
"He wanted to be part of the crowd, you could tell from the wayhe waved and smiled," said Jason.
Loudspeakers and huge television screens helped the campers see and hear the pontiff.
"The way he spoke, so full of love, it was almost as though he was the first disciple of Christ," said Ms. Robinson.
"Even on the TV screens, he radiates holiness and faith."
Ms. Robinson called the trip "a true pilgrimage."
"It was a total test of strength and willpower yet it was physically and spiritually fulfilling," she said. "It pushed us to the limit and encouraged us to go further."
No controversy marked the gathering, said the priest.
"There was not one argument, not one word of ill will," he said. "When the pope delivered anti-abortion messages, a half million people cheered."
Miss Legal called the pope's message universal.
"It was not just for Catholics but for all the American people," she said.
Despite crowds, heat and hardships, the students and their chaperones said they would willingly travel miles to see the pope again.
"He's doing this again in Manila in 1995," said Jason. "Who knows? Maybe we can go."