It was while being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of fellow pilgrims at World Youth Day in Panama that Australian Catholic University (ACU) student Monica Pazniewski felt the presence of God.
“The highlight of the event for me was the vigil celebrated by the Pope at the sleep out. Under the stars, kneeling down in Adoration of the Eucharist, 700 000 people were still and knew that God was there,” said Monica.
A third year Bachelor of Physiotherapy student at ACU’s North Sydney Campus and Sydney Archdiocese Catholic Youth member, Monica was one of nine ACU students from around the country who received sponsorship to attend World Youth Day 2019.
“To be honest, I had no intention of going to World Youth Day – I didn’t think I needed it! But sometimes God calls you and paves a way for you when you least expect it. There were people urging me to take up the ACU scholarship and funding from the Sydney Archdiocese, which meant that I was able to go.”
Monica had never been to the Americas before and was feeling both nervous and excited. She was dreading the long flight but went to mass several days before travelling – the reading happened to be about “taking courage.”
“In the homily, the priest said the Bible tells us to take courage about 400 times – that’s more than one for every day of the year!” she said. “This gave me a real sense of peace, knowing that God is looking out for me enough that He would allow me to hear that reading right before I left- it was perfect timing!”
Monica arrived to a country with a population that’s more than 80 per cent Catholic. She said it felt like the whole of Panama was excited to have the pilgrims arrive that people would beep “hello” to them from their cars as they passed by.
“Seeing hundreds and thousands of young Catholics was incredibly inspiring. It is easy to feel alone in a secular world where there is hatred, violence and a lack of respect for human life. You feel alive every second at World Youth Day! The joy and energy is uncontainable and suddenly the world’s problems seem to dwindle,” she said.
“Everybody is so grateful and happy to be there, and everyone is your friend no matter where you come from and even if you don’t speak the same language.”
Monica said a typical day commenced with a bus ride to the Catechesis session. The Catechesis consisted of praise and worship, a series of talks with Bishops from around the world, and a question and answer time. She also got to go to mass every day.
“It was so special- I cried every time I received the Eucharist because I was so overwhelmed with how much love God has for us!” she said. “I gained a much deeper and stronger relationship with God. There is no better feeling than knowing that God loves you so much that He has designed a wonderful path for your life. Communicating with God to discover this plan is beautiful.”
And would Monica recommend attending the next World Youth Day?
“I would 100 per cent recommend going to World Youth Day Portugal! God is inviting you, and He would love to meet you there!” she said.
“World Youth Day sets your heart on fire with love for God and for all of his beloved children. Everyone experiences it differently, each pilgrim returns home with their own exciting stories and unique, deepened relationship with God and each other.”
With thanks to ACU.