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Catholic Vancouver Feb. 5, 2019

What did you bring back from World Youth Day?

By B.C. Catholic Staff

St. Mary’s, Chilliwack, pilgrim Alexis Vilan is interviewed at World Youth Day in Panama. (Fr. Mark McGuckin photo)

The dust of World Youth Day in Panama has settled, but memories of waving at Pope Francis and praying with a massive crowd of Catholics are still fresh in the minds of the pilgrims. The B.C. Catholic followed up with several adventurers from the Archdiocese of Vancouver to find out what they will remember most about WYD 2019.

Matthew Martin

Program director at the Archdiocese of Vancouvers Ministries and Outreach Office

World Youth Day creates a space for encountering people from other countries and cultures that otherwise would never happen, encounters that left me encouraged and impacted. For example, I had a conversation with a priest from Brazil on the Metro about the faithful youth in his country; I learned from a young couple from Pakistan about how they were almost prevented from attending by their government; I had late night chats with a few Venezuelans in my hostel, agnostic but open to hearing about a relationship with Jesus; I met a young female pilgrim from Chile who flew to Mexico to journey by herself through Central America to Panama; I reunited  with an old friend who is suspicious of Catholicism and got to share with him the evangelical thrust of Pope Francis’ messages.

WYD helps young people see for themselves that the Church exists not only for their parents or the elderly, but is also for young people! It’s important to see young people all over the world are passionately, counter-culturally, following Christ. Seeing people your own age from around the world living out their faith with passion and sincerity is encouraging, inspiring, and convicting. It challenges your own areas of complacency and calls you to seek something deeper.

Matthew Martin with a life-size cardboard cut-out of Pope Francis.

Rachel Wong

Catholic Christian Outreach missionary

I have been reflecting a lot, lately, on WYD and my mission down there. For me, the biggest thing was a great sense of comfort from God that I am in the right place. 

From January to September 2019, I will be out of school. This is happening purely because I don’t need to take any more classes while I wait to apply for Simon Fraser University’s honours program in communication, which has only one intake per year. For a while, I struggled, wondering how I was going to make use of the time and worried that this was a mistake. But during adoration, I felt God call out to me to take time to rest – to slow down and really take this time to pursue him rather than pursue the things that I want to. He makes all the things I want to do possible!

For anyone who has ever considered going to WYD, I highly recommend it! I would add, though, it’s not for the faint of heart. It requires faith of the heart. God will use World Youth Day to push you outside of your comfort zone and take you to places you might not be ready for. God pushed me through prayer, the heat, the language barrier, the walking, and the crowds, and it really showed me that my trust in him was lacking after all this time! But being the patient God he is, he continues to pursue me and shows me truths that he needs me to know and hear. It requires true faith of the heart, faith that even when it seems impossible to walk 10+ km with all your personal belongings in the hot sun, God will be the strength that gets you there!

Rachel Wong with Cedric Dumais, a pilgrim from Ottawa. (Matthew Martin photo)

Father Mark McGuckin

Assistant pastor at St. Marys Parish, Chilliwack

It was truly a thrill and an adventure-and-a-half journeying to and experiencing all the sights and sounds of World Youth Day in Panama. There were so many highlights for me and our group of pilgrims from St. Mary’s Parish.

In general, what really struck us was the infectious joy and the spirit of hospitality that was exhibited in so many different ways – from Pope Francis himself to the local sacristans; from pilgrims who traveled great distances to those waving flags on their own front porches; from our host families during the Days in the Diocese to the volunteers who chopped up thousands of pieces of watermelon – I couldn’t help but be elevated by the generosity, zeal, and loving presence of countless soldiers of Christ.

Our mascot, Moses the Moose, also had quite a memorable time down in the tropics!

Father Mark McGuckin (back row) with pilgrims from St. Mary’s Parish. (Photo submitted)
Moses the Moose from Chilliwack, one of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims at World Youth Day. (Father Mark McGuckin photo)


Emma Wong

Youth minister at St. Patrick’s Parish, Maple Ridge

“I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)

In having a relationship with Mary our Mother, I have come to love Jesus even more in the last few years. 

In the months leading up to World Youth Day, I was struggling in my prayer life to be consistent and honest in my prayers. At WYD, Pope Francis said to us, the youth of the Church:  “You are not the future, but the now of God, and he invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents and elders; to stand up with them to speak out and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you.”

Daily prayer with my fellow pilgrims, catechesis, and community conversations allowed me to recommit to the relationship I have with our Father in heaven and to place him again at the centre of my life. 

Panama is a beautiful country with lots of tradition in music, dance, and craftsmanship. While spending time in a small town called Pocri, Las Santos, I was welcomed into a family that shared in everyday life together. The community was largely based around their Church and faith. The kids would hang out in the town square (right outside the church) with us and with each other, not sitting on their phones like you’d see here in Canada. They taught us Spanish, danced with us, and laughed with us. They didn’t have much financially speaking, but the community shared with us everything they had especially their joyful hearts. This was the best way to experience Panama – the true Panama.

Emma Wong at WYD. (Photo submitted)

Matthew McKinnon

Member of St. Matthew’s Parish, Surrey

My first experience at World Youth Day was nothing short of incredible. The movement of the Holy Spirit was evident during the entire trip, from the experience in community, to the catechesis from bishops. The Holy Father shared many powerful words and statements, but the one that has continued to stick with me was that the youth are not the “Church of Tomorrow“ or the “Church of the Future.” We are the Church of Today. We are called to make a difference now!

On one of our first days in Panama City, my group attended a Catholic Christian Outreach event. It included testimonies, praise and worship, adoration, and a few words from CCO president Jeff Lockert. He shared the experience he had at his first World Youth Day in Rome when he was offered a red ticket which gave him access to sit less than 40 metres from Pope John Paul II. He closed his testimony by saying each of us most likely won’t receive a similar red ticket, but to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

The next day, after being chosen to eat lunch with two bishops from Nigeria and half a dozen other pilgrims, I was asked by a pastor named Father Orlando how large my group was. I shared that we were a small group of nine. He then pulled from his pocket nine tickets for section T3. I didn’t realize then these tickets were the closest seats to Pope Francis! That afternoon I sat less than 100 metres from the Holy Father and managed to snap a great picture of him as he rode by.

One of the greatest takeaways for me was the kindness of the people of Panama. For the past three years, they have been anxiously awaiting the pilgrims from around the world; a country of four million people (and a city of one million), they graciously welcomed over half a million pilgrims from across the globe.

This leads into the second biggest takeaway for me: being able to see the universal Church and its young people gathered in one place. It was overwhelming, watching hundreds of flags from around the world fly in the air during the various events.

I am already saving up for World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2022!

Matthew McKinnon in Panama. (Photo submitted)

Matthew Furtado

Member of St. Matthew’s Parish, Surrey

World Youth Day was an incredible experience that I will truly remember for the rest of my life! It came with challenges, struggles, and moments of chaos, but amidst all that was the presence of God.

The Lord gave me many opportunities to trust him more. During my time in Panama I had issues with my passport and became so sick I was sent to the hospital for a day. Although I was very afraid during both these situations, the Holy Spirit whispered to me that God was present. Not once did he fail me during these trials, and our time together has allowed me to return home with a deeper trust in him.

One of the days I was feeling quite ill, I was very close to calling it quits and returning to my accommodation to rest. After some doubts about my ability to enjoy the rest of the week, I felt a spout of courage come upon me. I knew that whatever God wanted me to experience that day could not be missed. Later, we were given special tickets to attend Pope Francis’ welcoming ceremony at which we got to see the Pope from a few feet away!

There Pope Francis told us: “A disciple is not merely someone who arrives at a certain place, but one who sets out decisively, who is not afraid to take risks and keeps walking. This is the great joy: to keep walking. You have not been afraid to take risks and to keep journeying.“

Whether it is small moments of trust or larger decisions about career or vocation, WYD has encouraged me to be decisive and take risks knowing that Jesus is always with me. The Lord has challenged me to say yes to him, not sometime in the far future, but every day, as Mary did.

Jesus also spoke to me through the people of Panama. We stayed with host families who took us to visit the homes of many people, including those who were very sick, confined to their homes, and widows. No matter where we went, the presence of pilgrims brought great joy and hope to everyone. Although a language barrier often existed, we understood our faith and the value of prayer.

Matthew Furtado (third from left) in Panama with pilgrims from St. Matthew’s Parish in Surrey.

While preparing for this pilgrimage, I thought nobody could be more excited more than I was. Then upon arrival, I learned that the entire country of Panama was anxiously awaiting the thousands of pilgrims who would flock to their land. We thought we would be blessing them, but truly the people of Panama have blessed us. They were praying for us before we met and they welcomed us into their homes as if we were family.

Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta of Panama celebrated the opening Mass and the words of his homily have resonated with me since I heard them:

“In the Church, we are waiting for this young springtime. We believe in you, we have a lot of hope in you, because you are totally convinced that the true protagonists for the change and transformation that humanity and the Church require are in your hands, in your abilities, in your vision of a better world.“

At the Way of the Cross, Pope Francis told us: “Keep making the adults nervous, keep detaching yourselves from the things that tie us down and won’t let us be true Christians.” 

Panama allowed us to live our faith without limits, fear, or hesitation. Even the locals who didn’t share our faith understood why we were there and welcomed us with smiles and car honks!

God has challenged me to bring back the same joy, love, openness, and trust back to Vancouver. More than the memories, souvenirs, and photos, what I truly want to bring back home from Panama is the Gospel I encountered through the youth of the world.