On the front lawn of the Metropolitan United Church on Queen West, a group of young pilgrims -- recent arrivals for World Youth Day festivities -- break into impromptu song. Passersby turn and stare. One of the handful of homeless people snoozing on the grass is awakened.
These Catholics have no qualms about drawing attention to themselves. They've got flags. T-shirts. Kerchiefs. All proclaiming their Catholic-ness to anyone who cares -- or doesn't.
It makes the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
The brand of Catholicism I grew up with wasn't the kind worn on your sleeve for all to see, but I've nonetheless always felt trapped -- both literally and figuratively -- by the Church and its teachings.
I remember once trying to get out of catechism class, which was held in the church basement, by sneaking out the bathroom window -- only to find it nailed shut. You can try to run from the Church, but you can't escape.
Eight-plus years in Catholic school can warp one's sensibilities. Parables too complicated for a child's mind to absorb had to be accepted as faith.
Religious retreats -- and there were several of those -- were geared more to behavioural conformity than to the search for spiritual knowledge.
But the allure of the Church can be very powerful. I know more than a few junkies who've sought relief from the needle in "the Word." The famous Catholic guilt has a way of getting into your head.
I witnessed just how deep it could get with a close cousin of mine. A very outgoing person she was, a black sheep. But then she got into a serious accident, had to be hospitalized and became involved with a charismatic whose brother happened to be a miracle worker with his own travelling road show.
Pretty soon, more than a few members of the family were attending prayer meetings looking for salvation.
My cousin eventually snapped out of her spell. But even for the skeptical among us, the chains of Catholicism are difficult to break away from completely.
For the longest time, I considered myself an atheist. Then agnostic. Now I'm not sure.
The orthodoxy of the Church repulses me, but I still wear a rosary around my neck. A cross to boot. I pray whenever those feelings of impending doom come over me. Visit my grandparents' graves when I need to reconnect with the spiritual.
Many of the Church's teachings are still embedded deep inside my subconscious. It's like being pulled in a direction without knowing why.
My mother asked the other day if I will be attending the papal mass. She's no Jesus freak herself -- although a more frequent churchgoer since her parents passed away -- but figures it's something every Catholic should do.
Of course, I won't be going. I'll continue, though, to pay my taxes to the Catholic school board. Just a habit, I guess.