Participating in the World Youth Day (WYD) for the second time since WYD Sydney in 2008, was an answered prayer for me as my community sent me to join the pilgrims from the Diocese of Parramatta with another sister. The excitement about the trip made the weekly two hour drive to Sydney to attend the WYD information sessions feel like an adventure rather than a task.
The 170 pilgrims and I left Australia on the 15 January for Mexico, our first destination. There we visited three beautiful historical churches. One of my highlights was visiting the Our Lady of Guadalupe and seeing the original image of the Tilma. The prayerful atmosphere of this sacred place reflected its significance to the life of the Mexican people and the church as a whole. As our tour guide used to say, “Mexicans are first Guadalupeans before they are Christians”. This experience was enriched by our ministry immersion to the Fundacion Caritas de Puebla, a place where abandoned elderly are cared for. There my group and I were given an opportunity to interact with the residence by joining them in their recreational activities, such as: dancing, playing bingo with them, memory games and dominoes. Our visit to the two seminaries gave us a taste of the richness of the Mexican culture as we were treated with authentic Mexican dishes and finished off the night with traditional dancing and music.
After a week spent in Mexico we made our way to Panama where the World Youth events were held. As soon as we got out of the plane, we immediately felt the warm welcome of the Panamanian people from the airport personnel to police, ambulance, and truck drivers on the street who waved at us saying “Welcome to Panama!” not to mention the ordinary people who, because it was hot and humid, hosed us down on our way to our overnight vigil.
We usually started the day with catechesis held in a car park a few minutes away from our accommodation. This was mostly followed by a trip to the city for either an event with the Pope or activities organised by various groups. One of the main events was the Opening Mass with thousands of people in attendance from various parts of the world, our first big crowd experience in Panama. This was followed by the official Papal Welcome the next day, which gave us the opportunity to see the Holy Father in person. Listening to the responses to parts of the mass said in various languages by other pilgrims around us was amazing and made me appreciate the beauty of our Catholic faith.
The biggest event for the week was the overnight vigil where we camped out in an open park along with around a million other pilgrims of various nationalities. After the prayer and adoration with the Holy Father, I had an opportunity to play card games with our own pilgrims and the Panamanian youth who visited us in our area. Although we couldn’t speak each other’s language, we manage to successfully play Uno Emoji together and the competitive game of Snap!
After a dusty starry night, we were awaken by an enthusiastic wake up call to prepare us for the Final Mass with the Holy Father. During his homily, Pope Francis, reminded us that being young “is not a kind of waiting room where we sit around until we are called. The young people IS the now of God”. He invited us to fall in love like Mary who did not only believe in God but who believed God. We concluded our WYD 2019 pilgrimage with a retreat in a spacious and peaceful ranch in Houston, Texas before flying home to Australia.