This was my first time to attend a World Youth Day and my prayer coming to this event was to encounter the Lord, have a deeper relationship with him and learn more to live a life of holiness.
The Lord answered it by allowing me to experience suffering and giving me opportunities to sacrifice.
A lot of unwanted situations happened before and even during our stay in Lisbon which made it difficult for us to focus on this pilgrimage journey. We experienced a lot of inconveniences, discomfort, disappointments, and other challenges on our physical being. God gave me a lot of situations where I could either choose to be holy or do the opposite.
If I would recall, most of what we have done was to walk. Every day is a long walk under the scorching heat of the sun in order to visit churches and to attend activities that this worldwide event offers. What made it more difficult for me was to find out that most of the speakers and mass presiders that we get to listen to, after the long walks uphill and downhill, were not English speaking people. A lot of times, I felt as if we have suffered for nothing. I can’t figure out yet what God is telling me during those situations.
Also, in this World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, I get to experience the longest walk in my entire life that took 9 hours under the sun. When we get to come near the main venue where all the 1.5 million pilgrims will gather, we have to brace ourselves as we are about to enter a very crowded path. Some of us, including myself, needed to walk another 3.8km to claim food packs for our group that weighs around almost 3 kilos per bag, and I will always remember how each strap digs into my shoulders as I carry 5 bags of it.
As we continue our walk, I saw some people laid down on the side of the road, so exhausted and unconscious. I started to think that what we’re doing was like a little death march. There are no shortcuts, no escape. It was so crowded that cars cannot pass. The only options were to keep on walking until we reach our destination, or to stop and lose the chance of getting a good spot for the most awaited program.
The whole experience of sacrifice was so painful that I thought of not attending the next World Youth Day. Yet, despite of all these things, I was moved when I get to see that most of the people still chooses to walk joyfully in haste to experience the fullness of this World Youth Day that God has given to us. As always, God proves that He knows what He is doing. He knows us very well. He knows our limits and he will never fail to make things clear for us in the right time He knows we really need to.
Looking back on the things that had happened during our pilgrimage, I realized that in those times that we suffer and sacrifice for others, there will always be much greater grace for us get through it. He is with us all throughout our journey, so we could keep moving even if our flesh is weak.
I get to understand more why Jesus always tell us, “be not afraid” – keep on walking for you have a spot reserved for you in heaven. It will never be taken from you unless you choose to give up.
Also, when God allows us to experience suffering, he sees that the church can be entrusted to us. Because through our suffering, he can create in us a story that could help other people to continuously recognize how faithful God is and so that we can bring with us always the message of hope to the church especially to those who suffer. God has nothing in mind but to love us even more. Everything that He do is for you. Not a single thing was made for nothing. He allows us to suffer and sacrifice because He wants us all to become saints. Just as how the church needs to hear our stories, we also need sufferings and sacrifices to happen in our lives as it would unite us to the perfect love that we all long for.
I will always be grateful that Jesus allowed me during this pilgrimage to live and love like Him. I look forward to the next World Youth Days to come and pray that more and more people will get to experience this while they were young!