By Maria-Pia Negro Chin | Catholic News Service
"We have seen the face of Christ in everyone we meet," said Carolina Perez, a pilgrim from Chicago who has Mexican roots. "I can really see the universal Church."
Perez was among thousands of pilgrims at World Youth Day 2019 in Panama. For her and other pilgrims, including those from groups related to Maryknoll, the theme of Mary's fiat ("Let it be done according to your word") was in the background throughout the week's catechesis, songs and speeches.
"Hearing Mary's fiat just affirms my vocation," said Maria Thacker, who traveled with a delegation from the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, and had recently completed a discernment visit at the Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
Andrea and Ernesto Lopez, pilgrims from El Salvador, said World Youth Day was a renewal of their marriage vows and their openness to life. "Since the opening Mass, we have felt called to give our lives for God's kingdom," Ernesto said during the overnight vigil at John Paul II Field.
The couple, who volunteer in their parish's pastoral council, looked forward to the sending Mass on Jan. 27. "We want to encourage young people in our parish to discover their vocations so they can say yes like Mary," Andrea said. "Young people can walk in our society and continue to say yes despite tribulations or challenges. ... Because the Lord never abandons us."
Young people from 155 countries had a long journey to prepare for this global event of the Church. Many were young adults committed to ministry who, inspired by other pilgrims, renewed their zeal for sharing God's love and mercy.
"We have made friends from different nations and we are going to bring this experience and encourage other young people to say yes in their communities and families, so they can bring peace to their communities," said Jose Reyes, from El Salvador.
Despite the challenges, sacrifices and exhaustion, the pilgrims' overarching feelings were hope, happiness and humble gratitude toward the welcoming people of Panama. Energetic worship music uplifted the spirits of pilgrims and bystanders, but the youth also engaged in moments of quiet worship. One such moment was the Eucharistic adoration at the overnight vigil Jan. 26, where 600,000 pilgrims united in silent prayer.
"It was a peaceful moment; you would not expect it, being that we were so many people from different countries. It was beautiful," said Chicago pilgrim Nactzielic Lemus. "God is present, and God is strong with all of us. So hopefully we are able to bring back what we leaned and share it with all the youth who are hungry and don't know him yet."
Being young is not a "waiting room where we sit around until we are called," Pope Francis said to young people during the sending Mass. Their mission and vocation are not a far-off promise, but their current call.
"You, dear young people, are not the future ... (but) the now of God," the Pope said. "He invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents, your elders; to stand up and with them to speak out and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you."
Pilgrims from a parish in Brazil said that the Pope's focus on "today" inspired and energized them. "The time of God is today," said Anna Catarina. "Let's say yes to God today – now."