By Jesvita Princy Quadras
Mangalore, Feb 17, 2019: Around seven to eight months before we could leave for the World Youth Day (WYD) in Panama, I started preparing for the pilgrimage.
Initial preparation comprised formalities including visa process, letters and funds. But as months and days got closer, it dawned on me that in a few days, I would be flying over international waters representing my country in the largest gathering of youth of the world.
Alongside the joy and happiness, I experienced a pinch of anxiety and a lot more curiosity. As this was my first World Youth Day, I had literally no idea what was in store for me.
The theme of the WYD 2019 was “Here I am the Servant of the Lord. Speak your word in me and let your will be done.” Truly speaking I thought, it was pretty long for a theme. But when I watched the promo video on social media, I realized that this experience will truly take me on a journey of not just fun and frolic but more than that it would be a spiritual journey too. However, my curiosity level reached its peak as I came across the other fellow pilgrims from India.
Our 20-hour journey included of an informal ice breaking session between the Indian delegates. This was necessary because, apart from a few, there were so many delegates I was meeting for the first time. I thought it was necessary for me to get to know the Indian group so that we could have a feeling of being one in Panama.
The first of the two weeks in Panama was the Days in the Diocese of Atalaya in Santiago. I still remember how the people from the town were all prepared to receive us at midnight with all music and waving our Indian flag high above alongside the logo flag of JMJ (WYD) Panama.
There were not just the elders of the parish of Atalaya but children and the old too. This very sight moved me as I thought that even before we could meet they have showed their love and also the fact that they too were eagerly waiting to receive us.
We were immediately assigned homes and within a few hours, I bonded with my host family. My host family looked after me as though I was their daughter and a part of their family from a really long time. I addressed them as mama, papa, Hermano (brother) and Hermana (sister). This was definitely one of the reasons for me to not really miss my family back home in India.
The week in Atalaya was all about exchanging cultures and smiles with the different people we came across. Most of us got a chance to wear their traditional attire and dance to their traditional tunes. But none of this could be compared to the love, care and warmth we experienced from the people of the beautiful town.
What still lies fresh in my heart is this love from Atalaya that made me want to live a little longer in the town. Something else that I will remember here is the food. They just fed us and fed us and fed us more every second hour. Moving on to the City, the only thing going on in my head was my wait to see at least a glimpse of Pope Francis.
The city itself seemed not very unusual because everywhere we saw, we walked, we found many more pilgrims from different other countries. No matter where we were in the city, whenever we came across the other pilgrims we high dived, sang the theme song and also chanted ‘Está es la Juventud del Papa’ which meant that ‘We are the Youth of the Pope.’
One of the beautiful things that I remember was that we had never met or heard of these countries ever before, we were somehow connected with the spirit of youthfulness. We greeted them as though we had met them earlier. It was such an overwhelming experience altogether.
But the perfect Cherry on the Cake was the moment when I saw Pope Francis from real close. I remember looking at the next person and not very surprisingly, they too had tears in their eyes just like I did. Truly felt blessed at that point of time.
We not only exchanged souvenirs and gifts with the fellow pilgrims but there was too much love exchanged as well.
Though the WYD 19 has passed, its memories and experiences will remain fresh and lively in my mind and heart. Although, I strongly believe that this is not the end to a pilgrimage. It is only a beginning of a new one and this new journey will help me be the change and be an agent to create God’s society around me.
“We are not the tomorrow that society calls us to be, but the today’s youth of the Lord,” as quoted by Pope Francis in his homily during the concluding mass, truly touched me.
The Pope also called us to accept whatever the Lord has in mind for us just like how Mama Mary accepted God’s Word. These thoughts, I will carry with me throughout. I might have returned home, but even today I still keep sharing my experience and learning of the WYD Panama with my friends and families. My gratitude to all who helped me to have this wonderful experience, most importantly the Lord himself!
(Jesvita Princy Quadras is the national convener of Young Catholic Students/Young Students’ Movement – India. She was one of the Indian delegations at the World Youth Day 2019, Panama, January 22-27, 2019).