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WYD Lisbon 2023: God won’t abandon you

Imagine millions of people coming together in a foreign land, some traveling thousands of miles and speaking innumerable languages, all to enter communal prayer. World Youth Day is a testament to the catholicity of the Church, drawing people of all ages from all corners of the world.

This summer, hundreds from the Archdiocese of Denver were among those in attendance with Pope Francis for World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal. Though their suitcases might be unpacked, the graces, insights, and lessons continue to unfold.

We’ve collected a few thoughts and pictures from various pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Denver below:

(from left to right) Aryana Figueroa, Sarah Rendon and Abigail Figueroa

Why am I here?                                                                                                 

“During World Youth Day, there were many times I asked myself, ‘Why am I here?’ And honestly, I never got a straight answer in any tangible way. However, I know the Lord called me to be there, to be an uncomfortable pilgrim constantly surrounded by people, to see and understand the Church in a greater way, represented in millions of young people.

The group I was with stayed in a school on the gym floor. Nothing about that was comfortable. We were with 250 people, 200 of whom were total strangers from other countries with habits we weren’t used to, plus there were cold showers, smelly bathrooms and hard floors. Everything about this experience pushed me out of my comfort zone, both physically and spiritually.

Stripped of every comfort, all I had was the Lord. I grew so much in my faith and trust that the Lord provides. He provided me with so much over this trip, whether it was food, a place to charge my phone, or a nice cappuccino, He provided. World Youth Day showed me that He doesn’t just want to provide when I’m on pilgrimage, but in very real and tangible ways every day in my life. I can bring this incredible experience home by continuing to trust in Him and that He wants to take care of me now just as much as He did there.“

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-Grace Denning, Christian Life Movement

Courtesy Lyn Dam

OUR Church                                                                                                         

“People and flags as far as the eye can see. Chants and cheers fill the air. Locals and visitors film the joy, mouths agape in wonder. Masses and music that resound throughout the city. Smiles and simple phrases that speak more than each language can, dancing and exchanging gifts. This is the spirit of WYD.

Tears as the Pope passes by, chills as the fado artist sings directly to our Eucharistic Lord, and utter silence as we pray in unison. Sleeping next to 1.5 million of your newest friends packed in like sardines. With maybe a bit of sleep, everyone wakes to a beautiful sunrise and a priest DJ’s tunes, exhilaration and anticipation resumes. A commissioning Mass, the next location revealed to be Korea, and a hike back to depart. Until next time, this is but a stop along the journey, but this is the spirit of OUR Church, and I’m proud, humbled and excited to be a part of it.“

-Josh Wales, FOCUS Missionary

Courtesy Michelle Peters

Spectacular Stillness, Peace, and Love

“World Youth Day is a week of my summer I will never forget as it was nothing less than a moment of true connection with the person of Christ. In a world where it seems to be becoming harder to find Him, I was so blessed to find our Lord abundantly present in all things around me.

A few moments that stand out to me are moments of great simplicity, the first being times where we would be shouting songs and chants as loud as we could no matter where we would be. In those moments, I found the joy of Christ in the smiles and laughter of those around me as they ran out of breath from their joyous songs.

Another moment was at the Saturday night vigil while Jesus was exposed in the monstrance. There was a stillness, a peace felt throughout this field full of 1.5 million pilgrims. It was as if the whole world stopped and all attention and love was being directed solely to God. Imagine that! Just for a moment, all the love that each person has in their hearts is directed and given to God… wouldn’t that be spectacular!“

-Maria Seybert, Christian Life Movement

Courtesy Michelle Peters

Endless Encounters with the Lord

“My experience as a guide for World Youth Day changed the way I see pilgrimage. I have seen it as my own pursuit of finding the Lord often viewed by the walking journey towards Him. At World Youth Day, He was pursuing me everywhere. Endless opportunities to encounter Him in beautiful churches, the sacraments available all day, vocations in all stages and large gathering with the Pope.

At the Vigil event, Pope Francis exposed Jesus and the world went silent. It is moments like this that truly speak volumes to why we as Catholics believe what we believe. He is real; He is moving; and He wants us to share that with the world.“

-Jennifer Torres, works at Augustine Institute

Courtesy Lyn Dam

Allowing God to Take the Wheel                                                                             

“I’d say I found God in being over there by a fear that I was going through here, a fear that caused me to look for him even more. I remember talking to one of the priests, Padre Jesus. He told all of us “He wants you to come here at your weakest. He wants to see the real you.” And going there, I realized how weak I was, and I didn’t like that. But I’m glad I was, because I wouldn’t have reached out or looked for him as much as I did during that entire two weeks.

I was afraid of what I was going to be called to be. I had gone there, open-hearted to what it was he was going to call me to be. So, I wasn’t ever scared of being a priest. I had already wanted to be one before that, but I had been thinking a lot about the future, and that’s where my fear was. I was so impatient, and I really wanted to know. So being there, I had a lot of time to talk to HIM and the priests about it, and they helped me realize that I was impatient and that I was looking for an answer right away, and what I needed to focus on was to just be a Christian man now and allow God to take the wheel in my life and he will steer me towards what my calling is.”

-Gael Garcia, Parishioner at St. James Catholic Church in Denver

Father Fernando Londoño, Nicole Hinojos

Be Not Afraid                                                                                                               

“I didn’t really want to come on the pilgrimage if I’m being honest. I entered into this with a projection of “Oh I already know what’s going to happen.” But the first place that we went to, the martyrs of Barbastro, I immediately experienced the Holy Spirit entering into me because I saw how much love God has for everybody, and especially me, how much mercy he has on me. I can’t even imagine giving my life up the way the martyrs did. And just being there, the guy who was explaining everything to us told us to ask a specific saint, to intercede for us. And I picked one of the martyrs. And I truly say that he did pray for me because I saw that the Lord really entered into my life in that moment. And he showed me that I shouldn’t be afraid of giving my life totally up to God. He showed me the amount of love that he (GOD) has for me during the pilgrimage.

Not being afraid is just the biggest thing that you could do, giving yourself totally up to God because he’s the only man who won’t abandon you. He’s the only guy who will give you the amount of love that no one could ever give you. And if you put your trust fully in him, I found happiness in places where I would never imagine. We went to El Camino Santiago, and it was hot! It was like over 100 degrees, I had no water, I was suffering, I was sweating, but I found happiness through that because I saw that I was with the Lord. We were praying the rosary, we were singing songs, and I saw true happiness in that, truly the Lord comes when you least expect it. He has so much love. Not being afraid and just having an open heart is the best thing you can do because that’s where the Lord will enter in the moment when you have an open heart.”

-Nicole Hinojos, Parishioner at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Aurora

Courtesy Michelle Peters

It’s God’s Plan                                                                                                             

“I found God when I was on my way to Portugal. When we were on the bus, we had something called Gospels by chance. It’s when you open the Bible, you point to a verse without seeing it and you read what you got. The verse I got said not to be afraid. It was God’s plan. And then when the Pope came and said not to be afraid, it all made sense, it was obvious that God was speaking to me.

The walk to see the Pope was very hard on our bodies, we ended up very tired. At times some people just wanted to go home and give up, but through that I learned that although life is hard at times, God is always there. When we were walking, I felt happy, even though we had our heavy backpack and it was very hot, none of that mattered much because it felt good being there.”

-Alexa Quezada, Parishioner at St. James Catholic Church in Denver

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