A homeless woman’s journey to Rome: Shyla’s Story

For the third year in a row, The Denver Homeless Ministry founder Tanya Cangelosi has answered the Lord’s call and is taking a homeless person to Rome.

Catholic Travel Centre President Scott Scherer met Tanya at the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, Calif., this spring. He learned of Tanya’s ministry, her mission to take yet another homeless person to Rome, and the story of that young woman named Shyla. And the Lord’s plan again was set in motion. Scott immediately offered CTC’s support.

Shyla’s Story

Shyla’s story begins with gratitude and beauty, and in her words: “I want to start off by saying my life is a blessing. Don’t get me wrong—I lost the world. I’ve been through hell and back since I was born. But that doesn’t stop me from seeing the beauty in the world.”

shyla on the streets

Shyla on the streets

Shyla definitely lived through more than most young women her age. Because her birth mother had numerous issues, Shyla spent most of her early childhood shuffling between her mother and her great-grandparents. When Shyla was six, her mother passed away. She never knew her dad. Her great-grandparents, whom she knew as her mama and dad, raised her until she was 14, when her great-grandfather (dad) died. His passing was hard on Shyla. She ran away and ended up at a family crisis center.

Time passed and Shyla’s heart broke from missing her mama. She wanted to return home, but social services at the crisis center said her great-grandmother was too old to care for her (although, Shyla says, that wasn’t the case). After a number of years of foster care, running away, and couch-hopping, Shyla finally got back in touch with her mama. It was her mama who convinced her to live on her own and go back to school.

Shyla“My mama passed away when I was eighteen,” Shyla recalls. “She was the one to hold me together, so when she died I relapsed in a way and didn’t want to go to school. I fell into this depression. I started stealing. Eventually, I lost everything—again. I still had my apartment, but I didn’t know how to survive. Struggling for food and clothes, and drinking a lot. I was lost.”

Everything happens for a reason

“But something hit me — The Holy Spirit, I think,” she goes on. “Something made me completely stop doing all the bad things I was doing. I started going to school. One step at a time, I picked everything up, piece by piece. Not a day goes by now by that I don’t reminisce on the past. With every struggle I faced and I am facing today, I’m not negative about life. I always have a smile on my face, and it’s rare when I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason.”

Shyla and Tanya - goofy

Shyla introduces Tanya to Snapchat. Tanya says: “Our relationship went from serving ‘someone’ on the streets to becoming family, as it did with the others who traveled with us to Rome.”

Shyla met Tanya and was introduced to The Denver Homeless Ministry five years ago, when Shyla was 17. She aged out of the foster care system, and was struggling for basic needs — food and clothes. Shyla worked at McDonald’s and was staying in an independent living environment designed for youth getting out of the streets. Shyla was scared living there, explaining, “People are molested and often shot there, but at least it was a place out of the cold.”

During that time, she says, “I kept seeing Tanya everywhere … at my job at McDonald’s, when I would be walking around Downtown Denver … I would always, always see her. I knew her, but not that well.”

Tanya’s experience of Shyla was similar – she saw her everywhere. Tanya knew it was the Lord telling her Shyla should be the next person to go to Rome. She knew because she prayed about it, like she always does.

“My daily prayer…every morning,” says Tanya, “is ‘Lord, please tell me what you want me to do and where you want me to go. May every fiber of my being unite in reverence to your name.’ And then I say, out of habit ‘and please make it plain.’”

About a year ago, when Tanya saw Shyla on the street, she asked her if she’d like to go to Rome, and Shyla said, “Why me?” to which Tanya replied, “Because the Lord picked you!”

Tanya recalls that moment: “She got so excited – and shouted, ‘Yes I want to go! I’ll do anything you want me to do.’ So I gave her a guidebook of Rome to choose the things she wanted to do, and she said ‘I don’t care what we do – I’ll do anything!’”

Rome changes everything

shyla autie anne

Shyla was recently promoted to Crew Leader at her new job at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.

Shyla recalls that same moment: “When I realized it was for real, I kept questioning, ‘Why me God, why do you want me to go?’ Great things started happening for me right away. I started looking for a new place to live and a month later I got my apartment, I got a new job at Auntie Anne’s, and my life started to change in so many positive ways.”

Tanya couldn’t agree more. “Shyla’s whole life has changed since the day the Lord laid her on my heart as the person to take to Rome this year,” she says. “Once you go to Rome, you cannot go back to the streets!

“It started almost immediately,” Tanya continues. “We walked out of the post office after applying for her passport, and Shyla said, ‘I’m going to get a job.’ Then she got housing in Lone Tree, outside Denver, which was the best thing that could have happened to her.”

shyla and tanya

Shyla & Tanya, August 2016

Shyla’s social circle has changed, too. “The people I used to call my friends are not in my life any more just because they were negative and not a good influence,” she explains. “I have made friends with my co-workers and talk with them.”

All of these changes have occurred, and Shyla hasn’t even left for Rome!

A recent Facebook post from Shyla says it best: “I’m kind of having a hard time writing this because there’s no words to explain how my life has changed. It’s been remarkable. It truly has been a blessing. My faith went up 20 times stronger – it’s like I’m a new person, my view on the world is different than it was a month ago. Literally the day after you (Tanya) asked me (to go to Rome) everything started to change. It was a huge blessing not that it wasn’t before. I want to thank God I want to thank you (Tanya) and Father Michael for this wonderful opportunity, especially those who donated because the trip would be nothing if they didn’t and I am more honored to go!”

Making it happen – or rather, letting the Lord do His thing

“I’ve never not had enough money to do the things the Lord has asked me to do – He always provides the money,” says Tanya.

shyla new hair style

Shyla, radiant and ready for Rome!

The Lord’s hand was in that meeting of Tanya and Scott earlier this year. Scott and Catholic Travel Centre are helping Tanya and Shyla by donating accommodations at the four-star Mediterraneo Hotel, located conveniently in the heart of Rome. CTC also has arranged some special meals, a tour of the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum, and airport transfers.

“When Tanya told me about how they stayed in a youth hostel in years past, and how someone was in their beds when they returned at night, I thought, ‘that’s the last thing someone who has experienced homelessness needs,” Scott explains. “I knew we had to create a better experience for her and Shyla. After we booked their hotel, we thought, what else can we provide? And so we worked with Tanya to add some of the other features to make their trip even more memorable.”

Shyla couldn’t be more enthusiastic or grateful. “I am so excited and I really can’t believe I’m going!” she exclaims. “I’m so grateful to all of the donors and people who are supporting me to go to Rome. This is definitely a once in a lifetime trip!”

After Rome? Anything is possible.

“I always had faith in God,” Shyla says. “I do believe God wants me to do bigger and better things with my life. I definitely want to go to school. I want to be a social worker for kids who are in the foster care system in New York City, so I am working toward that. Eventually I want to move to New York and go to school. Ever since I was little, I wanted to go to New York City – something about the bigger city is attractive to me.

“I always say life is like a roller coaster,” she adds, “and if you don’t get on the ride, you’ll never experience the adventure.”

Please pray for Tanya, Shyla and Father Michael as they set out on their Rome adventure, September 4-9, and for The Denver Homeless Ministry.

Read more about Shyla’s story at The Denver Homeless Ministry, and follow her Rome adventure on our Catholic Travel Centre Facebook page.


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When the Lord asks you to take a homeless person to Rome

Tanya Cangelosi’s life has had more than its fair share of challenges, to say the least. A relative sexually abused her at an early age. Her father placed her in an orphanage, and she was unable to convince the orphanage her mother was still alive. She lived on the streets as a young person and later joined a biker gang.

At age 26, after a suicide attempt, Tanya connected with a Lutheran minister and was taken in by a church family. As her faith grew, Tanya’s life turned in another direction. The family encouraged Tanya to go to college, and she earned her degree. In 2006, she moved to Denver, and began working with the homeless, but not according to any plan. Well, not any plan she had created, but perhaps one of Divine intervention.

A life of service begins


Tanya Cangelosi, founder of The Denver Homeless Ministry

“I would spend afternoons and early evenings sitting on the steps of the Capital, reading a book or just daydreaming,” she recalls.

“I’d say ‘hi’ as people walked by, but more often than not would be ignored. After a few weeks, different people began to join me — one, two and sometimes several at a time. As we talked, I learned these new friends were all homeless. They slept at night on the heat grate alongside the courthouse. As we listened to each others’ stories, I realized we weren’t so different. We all just wanted to be heard.”

Discovering her new friends were often hungry, Tanya, after a full day at work, brought sandwiches to share with them. And so it began.

In 2007, Tanya founded The Denver Homeless Ministry and attained 501c3 nonprofit status in 2011. Why does she do it? Why does she go out on the streets, in the pouring rain or in the freezing cold when, maybe, only one life is touched?


The Denver Homeless Ministry and partners

“Because it’s one life,” Tanya says, and that’s enough. “Mother Teresa said, ‘Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.’”

The Denver Homeless Ministry website is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to whom Tanya also has a strong devotion.

Message from the Lord in a Dream

In the summer of 2013, Tanya had a dream she was supposed to take a homeless person to Rome. When she awoke, she recalls thinking, if this is from you, Lord, it’s not happening. I’m not kidding, Lord. I don’t do marketing. But if you want to pick somebody, I will help them do it. “And I left the conversation like that,” she says.

But apparently the Lord had a different idea. For six months, Tanya had the same dream. Then one morning, she woke with the thought, I could take Glitterbear to Rome! Glitterbear is the street name for Clarissa, a woman Tanya had come to know through her work with the ministry.

Tanya’s dream became reality, thanks to fundraising efforts through The Denver Homeless Ministry and fellow traveler and chaperone Father Michael O’Loughlin, pastor at Holy Protection of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Church. The following year, Tanya and Father Michael took Tree, also known as Derrick, to Rome. In each case, Tanya says, it was the Lord who told her whom to choose.

The Power of Prayer, Faith and Hope

glitter bear

Clarissa (Glitterbear)

It didn’t take long for Tanya to see the fruits of God’s plan. In both Clarissa’s and Derrick’s lives, things began to shift once they were invited to Rome. Perhaps because these individuals were now seen differently. Perhaps because they started to see themselves differently. Perhaps because prayer, faith and hope are powerful forces.


Derrick (Tree), left with Tanya and Fr. Michael

After 14 years on the streets, Clarissa received housing through Colorado Coalition three weeks before her Rome departure. Two days after she returned from Rome, Clarissa gained full custody of her children and has since gotten a job, bought a “mom car,” and has developed a new social circle. Derrick, who was exposed to meth at the age of five by his father, who also used him and abused him, was on the streets at the age of 14. Three months before Derrick departed for Rome, he secured housing.

Tanya knows in her heart she is doing the work of the Lord. “I don’t believe the Lord lays things on our hearts He’s not wanting there,” she reflects. “But we do have to wait on Him and His timing.”

Rome 2016!

This year, the Lord chose 22-year-old Shyla to travel to Rome. Catholic Travel Centre is pleased to support Shyla’s trip with Tanya and Father Michael. Stay tuned for more on Shyla’s story, as she prepares to depart September 4.

Read more about Tanya’s previous trips to Rome with Clarissa and Derrick and their stories, and learn how you can support The Denver Homeless Ministry.

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Sealing a Pilgrimage with Ink


The Jerusalem Cross Tattoo

Last Fall, Ryan and Wynsdey Adams prepared for their first Holy Land pilgrimage, coordinated and operated by Catholic Travel Centre. As Deacon Sir and Lady Commander, respectively, in the Western USA Lieutenancy of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre, they would walk in the footsteps of Jesus, in the sacred places they had up until then only read about in scripture.

the-equestrian-order-of-the-holy-sepulchre-shellTo honor their pilgrimage to the Land of Our Lord in the tradition of the Order, Ryan and Wynsdey would also receive their Pilgrim Shell at the Patriarchate at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Old Jerusalem.

In the weeks leading up to their departure, while watching a television program, Wynsdey learned of another, equally personal tradition that piqued her interest: the Jerusalem Cross tattoo. Both she and Ryan, as she says, “are heavily tattooed already,” and this seemed to be a perfect way for them to commemorate their journey in a way that would be with them always.

“As soon as I learned about the Jerusalem Cross tattoo, I knew Ryan and I would have to get ours,” Wynsdey says. “I did some research and found out about a family that had a tradition passed down through generations of tattooing pilgrims for over 700 years, starting with the Coptic Christians.”


Jerusalem Cross

The Jerusalem Cross
As Catholics, the tattoo Wynsdey and Ryan wanted was the Jerusalem Cross, which has a long history in the Christian world. Not only is it the emblem of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, but the symbolism of the five-fold cross also is variously given as the five wounds of Christ, Christ and the four corners of the world, or Christ and the four gospels.

The cross’s earliest appearances were around the time of the first Crusade (1096), in the coat of arms of the first Latin ruler of Jerusalem. In the nearly one thousand years since then, the Jerusalem Cross has been associated with Christian crusades, heroism, and knights, but especially with Jerusalem and especially when it comes to tattoos. Even Albert, Price of Wales (later King Edward VII) had a Jerusalem Cross tattooed on his arm when he visited Jerusalem in 1862.

The tattoo on Ryan’s foot is a reminder of his pilgrimage, “walking in the footsteps of Jesus.”

Joy in Numbers
A fellow pilgrim saw the same TV program Wynsdey had seen and was completely on board: “I want to do that, too!” The numbers grew until a half-dozen people from their group of 40 planned to get their Jerusalem Cross tattoo.

Although Wynsdey and Ryan were excited about getting their tattoos while in Jerusalem, unfortunately, the logistics didn’t work in their favor. So they and the others decided to get their tattoos when they got back to the States instead.

“I had mine done on the front of my leg,” Wynsdey explains, “and Ryan got his on the top of his foot. We wanted it to be in a place that represented ‘walking in the footsteps of Jesus.’ It was also important for both of us that the tattoo was where we could easily see it and remember our journey. We also each had our name in Arabic tattooed above the cross, with the year below it.

“It was a really meaningful experience for Ryan and I, and really for everyone who got the tattoo,” she remarks, “having researched and understood the tradition, and believing it was such a beautiful way to remember the experience we had in the Holy Land.”

Jerusalem Cross tattoos on pilgrims who traveled in Wynsdey’s group, including one on a Deacon’s chest (top left), Wynsdey’s tattoo on her leg (top right), Ryan’s tattoo (bottom left) and a tattoo with the word “peace” in Arabic below (bottom right).

The couple already plans to return to Jerusalem in 2017, and when they do, they will have that year added to their tattoos to commemorate their return pilgrimage.

“The first time, there is so much to take in,” Wynsdey recalls. “We’re looking forward to going back and going even deeper into the experience when we return.”

Ryan Adams is a Deacon at St. Borromeo Church in North Hollywood, California, and an executive in post-production at CBS. Wynsdey Adams is a Counselor for Adolescent Pediatrics. They are both active members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre (Western USA Lieutenancy), a charitable Catholic organization that supports the needs of the Christian community in the Holy Land.

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The Impact of a Holy Land Pilgrimage


“I will never read the Gospel the same again!”

“Meeting the local seminarians in the Holy Land was a highlight. And receiving the Pilgrim Shell at the Patriarchate was a moment etched in my memory forever.”


Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Old City of Jerusalem

“As I entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Solemn Entry procession, I could not hold back the tears. To visit the Empty Tomb, the stillness and peace I felt in that Tomb stays with me till today.”

These are a few of the impassioned comments I heard from among a group 25 jovial pilgrims gathered recently at the home of our Lieutenant, Sir Michael Feeley and Lady Janet Feeley. This was mid-January, and already, the group was gathering for their second pilgrimage reunion. They had just returned in mid-November, having journeyed under the leadership of Msgr. Sir Kevin Kostelnik, on a pilgrimage hosted by the Western USA Lieutenancy of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchure.

A pilgrimage is such a rich alchemy of these experiences – of our faith, of solidarity, of community and that’s why our Lieutenancy remains strongly committed to offering life-changing pilgrimage experiences to our members, offering two pilgrimages each year.

Yes, making a Holy Land pilgrimage remains an obligation of our membership. But what happens there, and what makes the pilgrimage so powerful? As Director of Pilgrimages for our Lieutenancy for several years now, I can offer three points of reflection to illuminate how these pilgrimages change our lives:

  • Church of Nativity

    Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

    The Holy Land is an intimate experience of Jesus Christ. When we visit the hometown of a close friend, for the first time, we connect the stories we heard about them to the places where the stories took place, and our friendship deepens. We literally “step into their story.” Now, imagine having the same experience with the Gospel stories and the life of Our Lord! Visiting the Holy Land allows us to connect the stories we have heard about our Lord with the sites we see. Those stories ‘enter’ us in a way that they don’t leave us the same. Ask anyone who has been!

  • The Holy Land is an experience of the people we support. Who among our pilgrims will not forget the visit to St. Vincent’s Home for Children with special needs? Or sitting at the lunch table with fresh, young seminarians, engaged in heartfelt conversations? Or celebrating Mass in Arabic with the local parish? By traveling to the Holy Land, we meet the people we support; we see and hear how our support changes lives for the better.
  • The Holy Land is an experience of the community and fellowship of our Order, and the opportunity to make new friends. As I looked around the room at gathering for Msgr. Kostelnik’s reunion, I saw hugs and high fives, tears and belly laughs, quiet moments with a supportive arm around a shoulder, joking moments of mocked boxing. A bond was formed among these pilgrims, and you could feel it. Pilgrimage brings us closer.


    The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre Pilgrim Shell

At the end of our pilgrimage, a peak highlight for every member of the Order is a specially arranged visit to the Latin Patriarchate to receive their Pilgrim Shell, a lifelong recognition of our journey to the Land of Our Lord, marking us as a Pilgrim, forever changed in our closeness to Christ, our connection with the people of this land, and our deepened connection with each other.

Written by J. Scott Scherer, president, Catholic Travel Centre, KHS.


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A Pilgrimage of Faith: Reflection on a Marian Pilgrimage

In late September 2015, Fr. Richard Perozich, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in San Diego, led a Marian pilgrimage of his parish community to Spain, France and Portugal. Upon his return, he wrote a message to his parishioners, reflecting on the journey. With Fr. Perozich’s permission, we are reprinting his inspiring message as a guest blog.


On September 28th, 40 Catholic pilgrims from Immaculate Conception and near San Diego flew to Christian Europe on a pilgrimage of faith in the Most Holy Trinity to experience the many places where heaven touched earth, where Mary appeared to humans to reinforce Jesus’ message of conversion, repentance and salvation.

Fr. Richard Perozich celebrating Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

Fr. Richard Perozich celebrating Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

In Barcelona, we visited the church of Maria del Mar, Mary of the Sea, built in the 13th century by faith filled sailors who carried on their backs stones to construct this church. We celebrated Holy Mass here as we did each day in one of the shrines. Our local guide, Jose, taught us also about the cathedral in Barcelona where we visited, and then to the basilica of the Holy Family designed by Gaudi, begun in the 1800’s and scheduled to be finished by 2017. It was faith filling to be among so many pilgrims at all of these places feeling their faith to augment our own, and showing them our devotion to God and the Blessed Mother.

We travelled to Zaragoza where tradition says that Mary appeared to the apostle James to urge him on when he was becoming discouraged. She appeared to him on a marble pillar telling the apostle to build a church on this site. With countless other pilgrims, including the late Saint John Paul II, we venerated the pillar in the church of Our Lady of the Pilar. We celebrated Holy Mass in one of the chapels of this magnificent church before continuing our tour of the city of Zaragoza and the old cathedra.

From there we traveled over the Pyrenees to Lourdes, France, set in a valley cradled by tree-covered mountains with the river Gave. It was here that Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, revealing to this uncatechized girl that the name of this mysterious lady was, “I am the Immaculate Conception”, a doctrine just proclaimed ex cathedra by the pope of that time, something that Bernadette could neither know nor understand. Mary asked Bernadette to drink from the spring which the girl found when she dug under the earth at Mary’s direction. That spring now yields copious amounts of water so that sick pilgrims can bathe in the special baths where many documented healings have taken place, and can drink the water as well as take it home for their loved ones who cannot make the pilgrimage.

In Lourdes we participated in the nightly procession of the international candlelight rosary, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the underground church with its capacity for 25,000 pilgrims, celebrated Holy Mass at one of the chapels and at the cave where Mary appeared to Bernadette. Our local guide took us to the home and the mill where the Soubirous family lived in poverty after some misfortunes that befell the family. We pilgrims were able to walk the mountain for the stations of the cross, and visit the upper and lower church and the crypt to venerate St. Bernadette’s remains.

After the cool and rain of the Pyrenees, we travelled through San Sebastian, Spain where we concelebrated Mass with a retired bishop from the Bronx, NY in the beautiful cathedral there. After lunch, some of us got our feet wet at the beach of the Bay of Biscay in the waters of the north Atlantic before boarding our Mercedes motor coach once again.

Arriving at Covadonga, Spain where Don Pelayo began the reconquest of Spain from the Moors in the early 700’s, we escaped the hustle of travel, the crush of pilgrims, and were cradled by the beautiful mountains all around us in quiet and peace. We visited the cave of our Lady, paid tribute to Don Pelayo, were soothed by the silence of the mountains, the rainbow in the sky, and lulled by the sound of the waterfall next to the cave. The next morning we celebrated Mass in one of the chapels of the rose-colored stone church with its spires reaching up to the sky. It reminded us of Jesus leaving the crowds to go to the mountain to pray. Most of the pilgrims wished we could have stayed there for a while, just as St. Peter wished when he was on the mountain with Jesus, Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration.

Santiago de Compostela in the Spanish province of Galicia was our next stop. We began with a tour of the city which ended with holy Mass at the Cathedral where thousands of pilgrims actually walk a several hundred mile journey from many directions out of devotion to our Lord. At the end of the Mass, we witnessed the special custom of offering incense to God in the botafumeiro, an 8 foot censor guided by 8 men to swing it from side to side, ceiling to ceiling to cleanse the church and the pilgrims of evil and present them and their prayers to God. After some free time, I found a convent, arriving just in time for the rosary, before joining other pilgrims for sung vespers at still another monastery by the Benedictine nuns.

Bom Jesus in Braga, Portugal was the next stop. Some pilgrims took the funicular to the top, while others of us climbed the 600 steps where the different stations of the cross were displayed in small chapels on the way, and rising further the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and statues of figures from the old and new testament leading up to the beautiful church where we celebrated Holy Mass at the main altar. Many of us descended the same steps on foot before boarding the coach to the city of Porto, and finally the shrine of Fatima.

The first evening in Fatima, we took part in the international candlelight procession of rosary and Eucharist around the square, which began at the site where Mary appeared to the 3 shepherd children. The next day we celebrated Holy Mass in one of the newer chapels, and then venerated the tombs of the 3 visionaries, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco in the large church. Our guide took us to the homes of the children in the nearby village as well.

The final stop in Lisbon brought us to the Romanesque cathedral with a tour of some of the churches and local monuments. We celebrated Holy Mass in the cathedral in the morning. The surprise for us was our vigil Mass Saturday evening in the Portuguese language at the beautiful church of St. Anthony. After Mass, the Franciscan priest brought out a relic of St. Anthony so that we could venerate it. Then we were able to pass through the sacristy to descend to the lower area to the room where St. Anthony was born. In Portugal he is called St. Anthony of Portugal because he was born there, while most of us call him St. Anthony of Padua where he preached for the conversion of many people.

On Sunday morning we boarded our plane to return to San Diego, and like Mary did with Jesus, we continue to treasure and ponder the memories of this holy pilgrimage in our hearts, allowing Jesus to unfold in us all the graces we received in our worship and devotion as pilgrims on the journey toward eternal life.

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