The extensive formation weekly sessions for most of 2018 prepared the group leaders to embark on the (World Youth Day 2019) WYD pilgrimage to Mexico and Panama with their group of pilgrims. The WYD mantra was “expect the unexpected,“ so like Mary we responded “yes,” not knowing what we were going to experience and trusted that all would go well.
Personally, I had a calling to be group leader although I admit that had preconceived ideas, influenced by the media and television shows. I thought Mexico and Panama would be poor, unsafe third world countries that would be confronting.
True to the WYD mantra, the experiences were completely opposite of what I expected. It was safe and although still poor, never would I have thought that it would be such a transformational experience. It taught me more than I ever imagined.
I had the privilege of visiting a ministry that had an impact on all who attended. It was CRIT in Puebla, a facility for disabled children. The moment I stepped foot in that place I had goosebumps all over, as I truly felt a presence of Jesus within the space, through meeting the parents, children and volunteers.
Their treatment of the child with the family included was so evident it oozed truly living faith. It transformed those preconceived notions that I had and made me question about how we, as a rich country do not have anything like this facility that comes even close. Through a telethon as a fundraiser and volunteers, this facility is state of the art that truly meet the needs of each child, whatever their needs are.
We participated in Masses, reflections, prayer, and visited significant sites such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Sun and Moon Pyramid and saw an active, smoking volcano from the Church of Our Lady of Remedies in Cholula, Mexico.
Part of this pilgrimage was that we were on this journey that did put us through the test of experiencing jet lag, tiredness, waiting in transit, through customs, lines, being squeezed through the crowd and extreme heat.
My group had the privilege of attending the Vigil with Pope Francis. When we finally trickled out of the crowd crush after five hours, we were able to sit near the stage and pray with the Pope closely during Adoration. It was an incredible, emotional experience of complete silence among the millions of people.
During the crowd crush, I kept thinking of Mary who said “Yes, let it be done to me according to your word,” which I truly believe helped my group through the five-hour ordeal. My group, who I had the privilege of leading, taught me many things about myself as a leader, pilgrim, mother, wife and educator more than I ever intended, which was also transformational. I know they experienced transformational experiences themselves.
The WYD experience, impossible as it is to mention everything in detail, has transformed me more than I ever imagined or intended and continues to do so as I continually reflect and be open to God in those experiences. I have learned about the deeper purpose of my life in being self-sacrificing is how I become closer to living life to the full.
Franca Bonserio was a World Youth Day 2019 Panama group leader.