Do you have a word for 2019? I do. My word is MIRACLE.
The Bible says seek and you shall find. I’ve always been on the lookout to find miracles in my everyday life; big and small, and especially during difficult days. I seek for peace. It is a struggle, but so is finding any treasure. The World Youth Day in Panama didn’t just gave me a drizzle of miracles, but the heaven opened up and revealed itself in all its glory.
World Youth Day is a gathering of the youth—world wide, initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1985. I’m 31 and this is my first time to attend WYD. I don’t feel like a “youth” anymore, but hey, they say I am eligible until 35, so… here I am! My reason for coming for WYD was to experience the celebration of the Catholic faith in a global scale and with the youth –the generation that is mostly misunderstood. My desire to learn about the Catholic faith grew when I came to the Middle East 8 years ago. Spiritually speaking, I consider myself a “teenage” Catholic — curious and rebellious.
The Miracle of Obedience
HUSH NOW… Listen.
Last year, we gathered once every month for spiritual formations and fellowship in preparation for WYD on January 2019. I was so inspired and blessed by the youth confidently leading worship, sharing their faith and serving the church with so much fire in their hearts.
I’ve always been an active servant in my Catholic groups, but this time, God told me not to take a lead on anything. That’s exactly what I did. It was a humbling experience. Obedience is a powerful seed. I learned a lot of things with mouth closed and my eyes, ears and heart open. In the world’s culture, it is usually the older people who takes the lead, but WYD gives the platform to the youth so that the world can actually hear and learn from what they have to say.
The Miracle of Faith
WYD in Dubai
WYD is not a vacation. It is a pilgrimage —Got it! So we prepared physically & spiritually for Panama. But we were not prepared for what’s to come. While we thought that packing our bags was the last thing on our to-do list, we were wrong. One final test: Faith check.
WYD did not begin in Panama, but in Dubai. Our flights got delayed not for 1, not for 2, not for 3, not for 4, but for 5 days. And with each passing hour, for 4 days my heart became weary. I had questions and doubts. I was angry and disappointed. Tired and troubled. I cried. Are we still going to make it? What was the year-long preparation all about then? What’s happening???
The leaders then booked the flights by small batches. To keep our spirits up, those of us left behind decided to recreate the actual WYD activities in Dubai. We all met at St Mary’s Church for mass, went for adoration, and comforted each other. We then gathered at Anthony’s home, where we met his amazing parents —Papi is a missionary with amazing preaching and worship gifts and Abrina is a great cook and a superwoman aka a cancer survivor. Together, we prayed the rosary, had a spontaneous worship night, laughed and encouraged each other. It was also in the same night were our hearts got broken again. We found out that only 1 of us will fly out the next morning. Keegan, the leader of a youth group, said “Well guys, maybe we’re the last ones to go because we’ll be flying business class”. We laughed. God probably heard him and said “Oh, I can do better than that”
WYD in Dubai: Papi plays amazing worship songs
Day 4: Letting Go.
I woke up with my roommate, Romelaine (we’ve been camping at my cousin’s living room for 1 night-turned-into-4), planning on just going home, cancelling the trip. But with a light heart this time. I was still sad but at peace. We accepted the fact that if we don’t make it to Panama, we’re okay.
We’re okay, Lord. We’re letting go now. If this is your will, then let Your will be done. That act of surrender was so powerful.
There was around 15 of us who met at the park to play frisbee and jam to worships songs. It oddly feels light that day. Then, before the sun sets, Caroline made an announcement with a serious face: “Guys. Pack your bags. You’re all going to Panama.” There was a 3-second silence before we jumped on our feet and cried and hugged each other. After that, with tears still in our eyes, we held hands and prayed together. It was such a beautiful moment. From that moment on, I am convinced that WYD is an event passed on from heaven.
The Miracle of a Family
After 40 hours of traveling, just as the plane landed the Panama runway, people clapped and cheered. I tried to scream and cheer with them but I ended up bursting into tears instead. “Praise You Lord. Praise You Jesus” was all I could say under my breath. On my right was Rouie (she is discerning to be a nun) and she’s crying too. On my left was Michelle, who didn’t sleep for days just to make sure we all get those flights, and she’s praying and crying silently as well.
I knew that this whole experience is a gift from God. And I was so excited for it. Five days ago I honestly feel abandoned, but now I feel so loved. We didn’t fly business class as Keegan predicted (or joked about).
Question: What’s better than a business class seat on a long flight?
Answer: A family to come home too!
When we reached St Mary’s Parish (same name as our Parish in Dubai), I was looking forward to finding a corner in the church where I could slip into my sleeping bag and rest. But they surprised us with the news that we won’t be sleeping in a church/school. The neighborhood around the parish opened their homes to us!
Our host parents, Ricky & Ana Maria were very welcoming and they were weirded out by how we (Romelain and I, roomies for life!) were in total shock when they showed us our own room. (Wait, we have a room?) It was so much more than what we’ve hoped for. Even after they left us to rest, we were were still in awe. “What is this?!!? Looooord! Thank you”
We we’re ready to sleep on the floor! What just happened?! *kilig*
Ricky voluntarily took a half day off from work to give us a tour around Panama City with Ana Maria and their cute 3-yr old daughter, Valentina. We went to see the Panama Canal and the historical Casco Viejo, a place that is full of Panamanian history with its churches and well-maintained old structures.
I wanted to try Panamanian food. But I never thought of having home-made meals lovingly prepared by Ana Maria for breakfast and dinner, and Ricky preparing freshly squeezed orange juice for us. We had wonderful conversations over meals about the cultures from where we grew up and live in, our faith and beliefs, and our daily experiences in Panama.
We were in a foreign land but we feel right at home because we have a family waiting for us to come home every day (and a sweet dog we say goodbye to every morning…when he’s not sleeping)
Who’s that good boy? Happy!
Aside from this wonderful host family, I’ve received gifts and constant take-care messages from Elsie, my virtual host family in Chitre. I was supposed to only have 1 host family for WYD but I had 4 instead. 2 families in Panama and 2 families in Dubai (my cousin who opened her house for us while we wait for our flights) and Anthony’s parents. All of these were not part of the plan. But it was part of His. And it was beautiful.
Oh, and this one’s my favorite:The 50 delegates from Dubai. Reunited. One year ago we were just passing by each other in church, not knowing the names or even the faces of each other. And now we are family.
The Miracle of Unity
Language Barriers? No problem!
Valentina only speaks Spanish and we became close anyways
Panama speaks predominantly Spanish. Thus, communication is quite a challenge. But there were moments… there were definitely moments where the language barrier made us even closer. We met a lot of people from different parts of the world. And when language is a challenge, you become more sensitive to other means of communication. Simple gestures —like a handshake, a hug, a smile can speak volumes. Also, the locals appreciate it when I try to communicate thru their mother tongue. Hola! Buenas Noches! Gracias!
There was a time when 4 of us got lost and knocked on a stranger’s house and the lady kept apologizing for not being good in English and we feel as bad that we didn’t take our Spanish lessons seriously. But she didn’t leave us until we find the right house we were looking for and even called a neighbor to help out. She even offered her home for breakfast.
When we met Cardinal Tagle, the stadium ran out of the headphones used for translations, so we would exchange headphones depending on who was speaking on stage. The speakers would wait for us before speaking. It was quite a unique way of making new friends but it worked!
When Jorge (Panamanian) is speaking, we wear the headset for English translations. But when Cardinal Tagle answers in English, we pass the headphones to the kids in front for the Spanish Translations.
Speaking of a heart-warming experience: We were surrounded by grandmothers while waiting for the first parade of the Pope. Ate Yanah was very good in communicating with her broken Spanish, while I just smile at them. We were awkward until Pope Francis passed by. While crying like babaies after seeing the Pope, the awkwardness between us suddenly vanished, the grandmas came and embraced us as we continue to cry some more.
Love is the language of the Catholic Church.
The Miracle of Peter & the Church
Falling in Love in Panama
My friends hoped that I can meet my one true love in Panama. I sure did! — I fell in love with the Catholic Church.
I’m an introvert, so being in a crowd normally exhausts me, but somehow, I felt right at home in a sea of strangers. I went crazy as I dive right into the high energy of the youth with their random dances and chants. The English translation of the official chant. Esta es la juventud el Papa! means “This is the youth of the Pope!” Bold declaration. Chills!
Speaking of the Pope, there was something extraordinary about Pope Francis. When I saw him for the first time, everything slowed down. I was engulfed with a feeling of overwhelming peace. There’s nothing else left to do but to weep for joy.
And that’s just seeing him. His words are on another level — it is full of wisdom and love that goes straight to your heart.
These were the moments engraved in my heart:
• When asked in Poland last WYD if he can make it to Panama, Pope Francis said he is not sure but he is certain that Peter will be there. I was reminded that Pope Francis is the descendant of Peter, the rock from which God build his church. The church that is us.
• During the very first mass we attended with 600,000 pilgrims, the presiding priest apologized to the youth for the times the church failed them. Such humility and love!
• Pope Francis saying in his homily that the youth is not the future, they are the now. And that we should embrace our now, circumstance and people alike.
• On the final mass, Pope Francis faced Mama Mary and said “Mother, I entrust to you the youth of today…” I cried when I heard that. I know he’s been praying for us all the time but actually hearing his prayer made me feel so genuinely loved.
The Miracle of Mama Mary
The Search is Over
I was certain that there will be a moment when God will speak to me so profoundly during WYD. I just didn’t know when.
The Vocations Fair was a fun event that exuded a happy atmosphere. We were chatting with nuns and priests and prayer groups, who were taking in our prayer petitions as they were giving away rosaries, pins, prayer novenas and relics of saints and all other amazing stuff. Siervas, a band of nuns played and it was so uplifting and awesome and… (I’m running out of adjectives here) I had a good feeling that this is what heaven looks and feels like.
At the end of the booths, people were gathered for adoration. There at the altar was Our Lady of Fatima, all the way from Portugal.
We worked our way through the crowd towards her while the people were singing a beautiful hymn in Spanish. While saying a prayer of thanksgiving and just adoring her image, suddenly, God spoke to me, saying:
“Grace, you are the miracle”
You are that miracle that you seek. Before I knew it, tears were flowing down my cheeks. I’ve been in Panama for 4 days then and never have I heard a word from Him. Not until that moment. He revealed Himself through His mother.
Our Lady of Fatima was also there on the Vigil night. Pope Francis prayed with us. Something amazing happened when all 600,000 of us paused for silence in prayer. The Holy Spirit fell upon us. Romelaine had a vision of Mama Mary and Jesus and a battalion of angels surrounding us.
As for me, I heard the audible prayers of everyone who asked me to pray for them. It was overlapping but so clear, and not only that, I felt their sorrow, and anguish, and longing, and pain. I was crying in sorrow for them. I was on my knees and felt the weight on my shoulders, like I was carrying a cross — Jesus’ cross. And He said:
“This. This is what it means to follow me”
It was a statement. But I know He’s waiting for my response. With tears in my eyes and with my whole heart, I replied as Mother Mary did:
“I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to Your word”
The Miracle of Mission
What’s next after WYD?
World Youth Day, from the preparation to the actual celebration to the anticipation of the next (Portugal!), is an intimate conversation with God. It amazes me that although the event involves a lot of fellowship with Catholics, each of us had unique, personal encounters while attending the same event. We are so blessed to be created by and out of the love of Our Father. And of all the relationships we hold dear, our relationship with Him is the first thing that we should strive to protect and nurture. But because we get distracted by so many things in life, it becomes a struggle. WYD is a good opportunity to disconnect from our usual routine and have an intimate retreat with Him. And when you do hear Him speak, just look around and be affirmed of His grace from the people that you see —your fellow brothers and sisters seeking for the same divine encounter.
The end of WYD is the beginning of a new and bolder mission.
It is true what Fr. Lenny said during our send-off mass to Panama. “You will go to WYD as pilgrims. But you will come back as disciples.”
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. – 2 Corinthians 4:5
May Your name be honored and glorified forever & ever!