Brooke Fowler, of Highland, always had a fire for Jesus in her heart and a deep devotion to her Roman Catholic faith.

That love intensified last September when she experienced Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States in Philadelphia, now leading her to the Holy Father’s World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland on Monday. (World Youth Day runs Monday through July 31).

“That experience changed my entire life,” said Fowler. “I wanted to be part of World Youth Day but thought it was financially impossible so I prayed on it.”

Those prayers were answered when she talked with the Rev. Steve Gibson, of St. Mary’s East Chicago, who had encouraged young parishioners to join him on a trip and told them not to worry about money because “God will provide.” Gibson asked Fowler, 23, to join them and told her they were minimizing expenses by staying at a convent in Poland and eating with the sisters to defray meal costs.

“All of a sudden my prayers were answered,” Fowler said. “I never met Father Gibson and his commitment to his parish youth and devotion to Christ inspired me to help them make this trip happen.”

Fowler said she couldn’t believe the parish’s dedication to fundraising for the trip and their unique strategies to make it happen.

“There I was helping to sell tacos, nachos, tortas (sandwiches) and horchata (rice water) after Sunday mass,” said Fowler. “This is what faith is all about—spreading and sharing our love for Jesus.”

Fowler leaves in September for the Bronx to join the Sisters of Life formation. She feels she’s most inspired by the work of the sisters and their commitment to helping the poor.

“It’s an honor to be on this trip with the youth of St. Mary’s,” said Fowler. “I’m very impressed with their strong faith and can’t wait to experience this journey with them.”

Nervarroe Ramirez, 16, of Hammond, will also be joining the group and was on the trip to Philadelphia with the Rev. Gibson’s flock last September. Ramirez’ faith journey took a much different route than Fowler’s.

“Growing up, I didn’t have church beliefs so I came to church once in awhile and all Father Gibson kept talking about was the Pope and Philadelphia,” said Ramirez. “I went and it changed my life because it opened my eyes. I had such a calmness that came over me and felt blessed to see kids my age that were proud of their faith.”

One such teen is Jose Jimenez, of Hammond. Jiminez, 16, joined the St. Margaret Mary church choir and was later called to join the youth group.

“We only have seven members but they are strong members,” said Jiminez. “We want our community to know that we could be spiritual leaders and that all teens are not bad or look for trouble.”

The Rev. Gibson feels providing these types of opportunities to the youth will only enhance their devotion to Christ.

“We have 54 going on the trip but could have easily doubled that amount, but many are undocumented and would have trouble getting back into the country,” Gibson said. “But that didn’t stop them from helping to raise money for the others, which is a true testament to their faith. After all, that type of sacrifice is very inspiring.”

The Gary Diocese also had over 80 region Catholics heading to Poland earlier this week. Bishop Donald Hying celebrated a special mass with them on Monday at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary.

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