My Amazing Race WYD 2011 Pilgrim Diary

(Eloi Abanador, CFC SFL Singapore)

[I imagine myself joining the Amazing Race reality game show someday… I like to experience a lot of adventures in solving the clues and performing challenging “road block” tasks for each leg.  I am just not sure if I would be able to make it in the final leg since I do not know how to drive and swim… that is why choosing my partner in this race is very crucial.  God granted this dream of mine when He allowed me to join the “Amazing Race WYD 2011.” Join me in reminiscing the wonderful journey that I had experienced in this special season race, with my partner, Jesus Christ!]


1st Pit Stop: WYD Catechesis at Alcorcon Church

During the first day of the WYD Catechesis, Cardinal Fox of Durban shared the deeper meaning of this year’s theme: “Planted and rooted in Christ, firm in faith.”  He challenged us to lengthen our faith on what Jesus really means to us.  He further explained that we should not be satisfied with the ordinary.  It is about time to make life-changing decisions and to make a difference by giving hope…LIVING OUR FAITH as disciples with no name!!!

This moment allowed me to face the greatest fear that I have for this WYD pilgrimage… I resigned from my work in Singapore because I was not allowed to take a two-week leave to attend this event.  My mind is telling me that this is the most illogical and risky thing I have ever done in my life!  I forego the career opportunities that I have experienced in Singapore for almost two years.  Yes, I was definitely not prepared to let go of all these things… On the other hand, I experienced great peace in my heart after this simple act of choosing Jesus!  This was the prayer that I shared with my Amazing Race partner, Jesus Christ during this Pit Stop: Lord God through the presence of the Holy Spirit; continue to grant me courage to do things that are not logical; and to have an open heart as You lead me to rediscover my faith with You in this pilgrimage together with the other pilgrims around the world.  Amen.

2nd Pit Stop: WYD Pope Benedict XVI’s Arrival at Cibeles Plaza

After more than 6 hours waiting time at a 42 degree Celsius temperature in a bus stop in front of Cebeles Plaza, the Holy Father went down from his pope mobile.  God personally used this moment through the presence of Pope Benedict XVI to capture my whole being and my soul.  I can hear God clearly whispering to me these words: “I love you Eloi…I love you Eloi… I love you Eloi…I love you Eloi!!!”  As I began to felt God’s silence, He was then waiting for me to show him my smile and to say “yes” for His declaration of love for me.  I took a deep breath and gave my “yes” to my God who loved and accepted me for who I am. This was the prayer that I shared with my Amazing Race partner, Jesus Christ during this Pit Stop: Lord God, allow me to continue to have daily close encounters into Your holy presence through the Roman Catholic Church that I proudly belong!!!

3rd Pit Stop: WYD Vigil at Cuatro Vientos

Walking, travelling, hanging out with friends; these are some of the simple joys that I have experienced during our pilgrimage.  But how come I was asking these questions in my mind during this moment… Who wants to walk for two hours when the temperature is 45 degrees Celsius?  Who wants to travel and visit a place that looks like an old airplane runway in Madrid?  Who wants to hang out with more than 40 friends wherein you cannot proceed to your destination unless all of you are complete?

The Holy Father was delivering his homily, and then suddenly a rainstorm came.  It was really cold and the rain was so strong!  I decided to sit down and hide under the umbrella.  The WYD organizers announced to us that we were asking for more water during the day when it was so hot, and now our prayers were answered.  We were surprised to see Pope Benedict XVI’s peaceful face on-screen despite being sheltered by an umbrella and loosing his skull cup during the stormy wind.  He was totally the coolest youth present considering that He is already 84-years-old.  After the rainstorm, he commended us for having faith “stronger than the rain”.  Our clothes and things were not wet at all after the rainstorm! This was the prayer that I shared with my Amazing Race partner, Jesus Christ during this Pit Stop: Lord God, I thank you for allowing me to have this faith journey with my CFC FFL Young Ministries family!  I offer to you the little faith that I have right now.  Esta es la juventud del Papa; May God’s peace and love allow our faith in You to be stronger than any storms that we will encounter in our lives!  Amen.

Surprise Final Elimination leg:  My flight going back to Singapore (Madrid-Paris-Singapore)

The night before my flight going back to Singapore, I realized that my flight details ticket was lost.  I have no idea about my flight details from Madrid-Paris-Singapore.  I also cannot access my email account in Madrid, which is why there is no possibility to view my electronic flight itinerary.  I have this “gut feeling” that my flight from Madrid-Paris is at around 1:00p.m. and my Paris-Singapore flight is at 11:35pm.  God truly surprised me during my Madrid-Paris flight.  The Madrid airport has an electronic check-in method, meaning I only need to scan my passport in order to get my boarding pass and to drop my check-in bag!  While waiting in the boarding gate, Air France staff paged my name and asked me if it is alright to change my flight seat to accommodate a family.  Right after I answered; “yes”, she said that I will be transferred in a bussiness class seat!  What a great flight experience!

I arrived Orly airport at around 4:30p.m.  I was ready to visit Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral during my stop 7-hour stop over to Paris!  After enjoying my side trips to these famous tourist spots, it was around 9:30p.m. when I decided to go to the airport.  I was very confident that I will reach Paris CDG airport on time; since I already stayed in Paris for three days before going to World Youth Day pilgrimage.  Accidentally, I went down at the wrong train station; because I missed the stop where I was supposed to transfer another train going straight to the airport.  It was really a long 2 connecting trains wait and there was no taxi around this area.  I have no choice but to ride the final train going to the airport at around 10:45p.m.  I arrived at the Paris CDG Airport train station at around 11:05p.m.  The exit train door cannot be opened and my ticket was rejected by the machine reader.  A guy forced to open the  exit train door in order to help me to exit.  I hurriedly run to catch my flight going to my assigned terminal.

I arrived at terminal 2E at around 11:15p.m.  I was still hoping to have the same luck that I had in Madrid, I scanned my passport to get my boarding pass, but the check-in machine was not functioning anymore.  All the check-in counters in that terminal were already closed.  I went to a 24-hour Air France counter in that terminal and asked a male staff about my flight going to Singapore.  He explained to me that my flight will leave in 20 minutes.  He also advised me that the only thing to do is to sit down and wait for the next flight.  I insisted him to help me because my Schengen visa will expire on the same day.  I was also worried to purchase another ticket worth more than US$3,000 especially now that I do not have work anymore.  In hopelessness; I told him: “You really do not want to help me right”?  He just answered that I can try to go at the back of  the Immigration office for help.  When I arrived at the Immigration office counter gates; I asked the two men working there where Singapore flight boarding gate is;  they answered that I can try to go to boarding gates 41-69.  I found out that you have to go down using a very long escalator and to ride the airport shuttle train to reach those boarding gates.  I was so desperate to catch my flight; only to realize that I was alone in the train; without a driver and any passengers.  I just sat down at the train chair and loudly prayed.  After three minutes, the train started to move; so this is called an “automatic train”!  I finally reached the boarding gates 41-69 entrance at around 11:30p.m.  That is exactly 5 minutes before my actual flight!  I went straight to the entrance and let my things be checked; but the airport staff asked me where my boarding pass was.  I showed him my Madrid-Paris boarding pass!  He did not accepted my esplanation; instead he instructed me to go to another Air France counter on that area.  I explained to the one  staff that I was need to catch a connecting flight going to Singapore, but she knew that I was really late after reaching Paris at around 4:30p.m.  I did not have a clear understanding about the next things that I witnessed; I just saw that the staff assisting me was calling somebody and arguing with her manager in French because of my request.  In my prayer, I told God that it is really all my fault and I am ready to accept whatever will happen next.  After a few moments, the staff told me: “Do not worry, everything will be okay”; she then handed me my flight boarding pass with a smile!  Another surprise came when I saw one stewardesss and one pilot welcoming me in the boarding gate a baggage cart to assist me in carrying all my things.  The pilot asked me to run with them in boarding gate 69 to catch the final leg of this WYD Amazing Race going to Singapore Airport!!!   This was the prayer that I shared with my Amazing Race partner, Jesus Christ during this Surprise Final Elimination leg: My God, you are the only one who knows about all my sins and weaknesses.  I am humbled as to realize that I am truly nothing without you!  It is all about Your everyday graces in all the seasons of my life.  I pray that I may also be able to surprise You and make you smile each day through the little acts of love and faith that I can offer.  Thanks Partner for this most Amazing Race ever!=)