Michelle Pacheco, Mission Development Coordinator for OCY Missionaries at the Office of Catholic Youth, was one of the more than 5,000 Canadian pilgrims that journeyed to Lisbon, Portugal, to celebrate World Youth Day from August 2 to 6. Below, she reflects on the experience of celebrating her Catholic faith amidst an estimated 1.5 million pilgrims from around the world.
1. What are the highlights of your World Youth Day experience in Lisbon?
A highlight was the opportunities for Adoration. In the midst of the busyness, the chance for quiet prayer was so consoling and strengthening. This was especially profound at the overnight vigil where I was struck by the stillness as 1.5 million people were adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. A second highlight was the chance to venerate the relics of Pope St. John Paul II, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, and St. Therese of Lisieux!
2. How did this year’s theme come to life for you?
Pope Francis’ addresses and homilies brought to life how Mary is our model in responding to God’s love and grace. When we look at the Annunciation and the Visitation, with the theme scripture, Mary arose and went with haste, right between the two stories, we see that Mary has a powerful experience of “being loved by God and called by name.” Then, she must “embrace the risk of loving” as she says yes to “welcoming the Redeemer of the world.” She goes to Elizabeth because authentic love and “joy is missionary” or, in other words, “it is to be shared with others.” Finally, when Mary encounters Elizabeth, she ‘’radiates light” since she has “welcomed Jesus into her heart and has learned to love as He does.” I’ve never reflected so deeply on this movement of grace that Mary experiences and how I can learn from it.
3. What impact did World Youth Day have on your faith – and how will you carry this experience into your faith life at home?
Prior to World Youth Day, I asked God for the grace to be confident in His love for me and He answered in many surprising ways. While on a walking pilgrimage, I was so physically and emotionally exhausted that I was falling asleep in prayer and struggling to begin conversations with other pilgrims. I had nothing to offer God or others, and this frustrated me. In this experience, God reminded me that I am loved, and there is nothing I can do to earn His love. Pope Francis echoed this point in his first address when he said that “Jesus calls me as I am, not as I would like to be.” Now that I am home, I want to remember this experience and let myself be grounded in the truth that I am loved as I am.