How do I begin chronicling an experience that is worth more than a thousand words? A flurry of adjectives instantly come to mind (so I could aptly describe how amazing and beautiful the World Youth Day was), but try as I may to be the vocabulary junky that I am, only 11 simple words surface to encapsulate what the World Youth Day means to me: I met Jesus in Madrid, and He changed me for good.
When the World Youth Day was held in Manila (in 1995), my parents brought me to the overnight vigil at Luneta. I was only 9 years old then, but my memory can still vividly recall the influx of people walking in packs, praying, cheering, and appearing to have the time of their life. The next morning, I was made to stand in line (beside my mom) right behind an array of barricade so that we could see up close Pope John Paul II riding his pope mobile. Then, after hours of waiting, I finally saw him! Who was this Pope they dearly loved? To me, then, he was just an old holy man whom my mom desperately wanted to see, but interestingly, there was something in that moment when the Pope was smiling and waving at us which I could not comprehend, there was peace brought about by his presence and that peace overwhelmed me to tears. There I was in my first World Youth Day experience; innocent yet moved by an encounter I will never forget. Who would have imagined that 16 years after, the Lord will bring me to the World Youth Day in Madrid, but not anymore as a candid little girl but as a woman burgeoning in her missionary life?
The 2 weeks we spent in Madrid are memories already frozen in my heart for a lifetime to keep. The beauty of Valdefuentes (our home for the Days in the Diocese). The Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima. The wondrous architecture that fills every corner of the city. The sumptuous meals we had. The long walks, the long lines and the long hours under the scorching heat of the sun. The chants and cheers of fellow pilgrims from all over the world. The catechesis, sessions and liturgies which left an imprint in my heart. All these and more tell the story of how awesome the World Youth Day was for me! But what truly made these worthwhile and life-changing was that in every experience, even in their mere simplicity and normalcy, I encountered Jesus Christ.
Here are my unforgettable WYD experiences, to just a mention a few.
Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. The minute I stepped into the court facing the Basilica, I knew that I was standing on holy ground. Every corner of that place was a sight to behold! My heart was just crying out in joy and in gratitude of where the Lord has brought me. To stand on such a sacred place and to pray exactly where Our Lady had an apparition is indeed the most wonderful blessing! I felt Mama Mary’s presence all throughout that day. There was this peace and joy that comforted all my weariness. Chancing upon a priest friend as we were touring the area, we were reminded to pray for purity and to pray the rosary everyday for the salvation of souls. My trip to Our Lady of Fatima is a reminder to me of how so many people in this world needs our prayers. Blessed to be living this life, I was convicted to grow closer to Mary and to never stop praying and interceding for people, especially for those who do not know Jesus yet or who just plainly refuses to accept Him. I ended that blessed day with these words: Thank you Mother Mary for showing me the way to your son, you are my idol. Truly, through Our Lady, I met Jesus Christ.
Christopher West’s Theology of the Body. Given the huge numbers of pilgrims forcibly trying to squeeze themselves into the auditorium just to listen to Christopher West, it was truly a blessing for the eight of us from the CFC FFL group to be allowed in. To be there, to listen to Christopher West’s take on Pope John Paul II’s TOB was an afternoon that literally blew my mind! I was refreshed, and I relearned so many of the things that were already taught to me. The Beauty of God’s Plan for Our Sexuality. Love vs. Lust. The Gift of Chastity. My heart was just pierced that afternoon of the truth of who I was. My beauty, worth and purpose as a woman was affirmed, and I felt God telling me personally through Mike Mangione’s song these very lines “Woman in gown, you are made for much better than this!” Tears can’t help but flow. I felt so blessed to be there, and to hear all of the things I heard. I knew right that moment that the message I received should be shared, it was a message that changed my life and through our work in Live Pure, it is my hope that we may be able to share this blessing to the world. That afternoon ended with me saying these words to the Almighty: “Lord, I want to serve you for the rest of my life in whatever vocation you will call me to.” Truly, Jesus was there and he touched my heart deeply.
Overnight Vigil at Cuatro Vientos. This was the day that we had to walk miles and miles under the unbearable heat of the sun just to reach our designated spot at Cuatro Vientos for our vigil with Pope Benedict XVI. But despite the difficulties we had to go through, it was all worth it! The entire evening was an indescribable experience of what it means to be intimate with Jesus. Just right before the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, strong winds, a hurricane they say, disturbed us. It reminded of the story in the bible where Jesus calmed the storm, for after a few minutes of intensely praying, the wind suddenly died down. The Lord was truly in our midst! I was overwhelmed to tears once more because I just knew that Jesus was there with us, calming our hearts each time we are afraid. As I knelt down in His presence, I felt Him embracing me, whispering to my ear these words “Never doubt my love for you. I am just here behind you.” How could a love as great as this exist? Once again, I was affirmed of His call for me to be His missionary, truly, I am living the best life possible – a life that is with Him and an existence that is for Him. Tears kept on flowing for I felt God’s hand purifying me, cleansing me and making me into a new person. Jesus worked something in my heart that night and for this gift, I am forever grateful.
I met Jesus Christ in the World Youth Day. There, I knew him deeper and have fallen more in love with Him. The whole 2 weeks was worth it because I experienced Him even in the most mundane or difficult circumstance! I am forever grateful for this opportunity; His words, His presence, His love have left an indelible imprint in my life, and I can really say that I have been changed for good. More than anything else, the World Youth Day was a moment for me to say Yes to Christ once more. Yes to a converted life and yes to a life that is lived for Him alone.
A week has passed since the World Youth Day has come to a close, but I still stand in awe of everything that God has done for me. The gift of this pilgrimage is a treasure I will cherish in my heart forever. I am humbled by His love. I am left speechless by the glory He allowed me to experience. I do not deserve all of this, and yet He chose me for this pilgrimage. And as I face a new beginning in my journey as a missionary, I am convicted more than ever to give my life for the cause of Christ. Who am I to say no to God’s plans for me? Who I am to back down in the work of bringing His love to every person in this world? Who am I not to surrender my dreams to the one who made all things possible? Indeed, my answer to all these is “Jesus, I am yours forever.”