I knew joining the World Youth Day would give me something to hope for, to bring back what I once felt - His love. And yet, He gave me more than that. More than His love, He showed me mercy, grace and hope using the places, the people, and the circumstances. Something I needed to start getting my life back on track. And I could feel the wheels are slowly turning. It was quite an unforgettable journey beginning from the Days of the Diocese in Legionowo and during the WYD proper. Life changing isn't even enough of a word to describe it.
DAYS IN THE DIOCESE - LEGIONOWO
The town that was assigned to host us was in the outskirts of Warsaw, Poland's main city, called Legionowo. It was the first time I heard about it and if not for this, I think I wouldn't even get a chance to know it in my lifetime. It was a small district but it had a heart big enough to welcome all of us pilgrims. Our host parish - St. Joseph, betrothed to the Virgin Mary - had some of the kindest and most hospitable people I've ever met. The volunteers, the priests and the host families welcomed us and accommodated us way more than we expected.
Although I did expect too much, I thought I would be in a family just like the others - with cars, big houses and cool family. Instead, I was hosted by two grandparents who do not speak English and likes walking - a lot. I suppressed my disappointment knowing that I should be grateful, and that God made it happen because it was all part of His plan. It was tough to communicate, but we managed. My housemate, Nike, and I call them Lolo and Lola since it was tough to pronounce their names. They're lives were simple, and it taught me humility. That life is beautiful in its simplicity - without the glitz and the glamour that the world is telling us to aspire for. It taught me that I should be grateful for the things I have in my life, as it was already more than what others have. And spending time with them was really an effort - something I realized I needed to do. If I could make an effort just to speak to them in Polish, what more with my family that were miles away. Being with Lolo and Lola gave my heart the much-needed push (and exercise!).
For a week, they prepared activities to keep us busy and for us to get to know their culture, history and people. We had tours, concerts, polish dance lessons, film viewing, sports festival, and even a disco night! What struck me the most was the film about the life of Karol Wojtyla, before he became known as St. John Paul II. I was immensely touched by his story, as I knew him only as the Pope before he became a saint. All along, he, too, was just like us who had big dreams and followed God's calling. Who would have thought that a student like him could change the lives of his country? He who only sees the good in people and forgives those who have wronged him, he who had nothing still didn't give up hope and fought for his beliefs and his country. His life was so monumental and it's what I hope my life would impart or at least even a little bit.
It was tiring indeed, but the energy we lost was replaced instantly by the friendships we've built in the small community. The volunteers, who warmly welcomed us and helped us with our needs, became our friends through a bond that is shared in Christ. The cheers and laughter that echo throughout the town as we walk along the streets, the Polish words and songs we try to learn and the Filipino words we try to teach, the numerous photos we had when one is never enough, the tears we shed as we parted ways only to be dedicatedly reunited in Krakow, these are the moments when the only language we needed was love - His love.
WORLD YOUTH DAY 2016 - KRAKOW
Leaving Legionowo was difficult as we have come to love the place and the people but it was time for us to continue the pilgrimage we have set out to do. We arrived in Krakow Glowny filled with excitement as the World Youth Day officially commences. Our next host parish, St. Michael the Archangel, was a challenge to go to, however. We were relocated in a farther town of Wielickza, where the last station of the train is. We are also housed to a family who lived in a town next to Pawlikowice, who was kind and did their best to welcome us. It was an enduring walk from our house going to the parish and then to the city of Krakow but fortunately, the long walks with our Lolo prepared me for what is to come. I surely couldn't have survived it if not for the exercise I had back in Legionowo. Indeed, God really had it all planned.
It's a life-changing experience for me, and words will never be enough to express how I felt, but here are some of the things that God shared to me through Pope Francis:
Mercy and Forgiveness
It was hard for me to accept the reality of what my life had become. It was harder to accept that I let it happen - my actions, decisions, and choices made it so. Not only was I consumed by the stress of the world around me; I was also in a battle with myself. My mind was always pre-occupied by negative thoughts and it ate me up deep inside.
Things started to change from the moment we had our preparatory session for the World Youth Day. I was able to have a good confession. Something I haven't done for the past years. I felt relieved and the burden I was carrying started to become lighter. And upon hearing Pope Francis' homily during the opening mass, I felt His mercy. "In the art of climbing, it is not important to not fall, but to not remain fallen", he said. I felt Him saying that I was forgiven, and that it was time for me to forgive myself. It also taught me to forgive those that have hurt me or caused me pain, to accept others' mistakes and shortcomings and the fact that there will be people out there who are causing others' so much suffering, but we can only love them and forgive them. Just as the theme says, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy".
Healing and Grace
As I have received mercy, I felt my heart and my mind's posture had changed. I have finally felt the peace that I longed for. I found it in Him. No matter where I looked before, it still made me empty. Now, my heart is full. "Begin to let yourself move on", He said to me during the opening mass. He knew that my heart can no longer come back to the darkness it was in and it is time for me to step into His light. It was my sign to leave the past behind, to let go of the things that hurt me, and to free myself from those that saddens me. It was the affirmation of the decision I have been discerning for the past months. And I felt no regret. He has healed me from the worries and the suffering I endured. Now He is allowing me to continue and use my life to share His mercy.
During the vigil, I had another chance to confess. The priest told me that when we confess, God gives us two things: First, is the absolution and forgiveness of our sin, second, the grace to continue living. We are all sinners, but our sins should not hinder us in serving the Lord. We should not be afraid to come back if we have sinned. If we are, He will patiently wait for you. He will not force you even if it breaks His heart. But yes, He is merciful. He forgives. Thus, when the time comes, all we have to do is ask for it and admit that we need Him. Then we can keep living our lives in His image again. We are to continue our pursuit to live like Christ despite our faults.
Hope and Courage
Hope. This is what Pope Francis kept on telling us during the whole event. It is the purpose of gathering everyone from all over the world. To show that there is hope, to show that the youth is the hope, and we, as the youth, need to share this hope to everyone. We need to be the sowers of hope. As Pope Francis mentioned during the Way of the Cross, it is the way to happiness, but it is also a way of personal effort and self-sacrifice. It is a way that does not fear failure and marginalization, even in the world that is unjust and corrupt. Life lived through the way of the cross gives rise to the light of Christ. We are to become the hope that this world needs. We need to forgive others and instead give joy to those who are unhappy. We are to unite in prayer and empathize with those who are suffering. We are called to respond through fraternity. We need to build bridges and not walls. We are to awaken ourselves from slumber and stand up to walk the path He has set out for us, no longer afraid of the darkness of the world.
Now that my life is slowly coming around, I give it to Him for I am filled with His hope, mercy and love. And I know He wants me to share it. I lay it down to Him whatever my future will be. He gives me courage to take on this new chapter in my life. He is merciful. He is love.
"Life is beautiful as long as we want to love it, as long as we leave a mark."