Youth Group Reflects on Experience at World Youth Day

Tijuana, Mexico

Fr. Jesse Esqueda, OMI (front row, center) his youth group and chaperones after they finally made it to Panama

Rich Reader

Editor’s Note: Some weeks ago we ran a story about how Fr. Jesse Esqueda’s Youth Group in Tijuana (along with hundreds of other youth throughout Mexico) had been scammed out of the money they raised over the past two years in order to attend World Youth Day in Panama by a bogus travel agency. However, all was not lost as some generous supporters of the Missionary Oblates came forward, replacing the funds, so that these deserving young people could make this spiritual journey. After some hasty, last-minute travel arrangements replaced the ones the agency was supposed to have made, the group made the trek to Panama and WYD. Rich Reader, a volunteer at St Eugene de Mazenod Parish, was one of the adult chaperones, he sent in these observations from the trip.

Here are two stories that were posted earlier about the lead-up to their ultimate trip to WYD: “WYD Scammers Can’t Stop Tijuana Youth Group Thanks to Generous Supporters” (Jan. 10, 2019) THEY MADE IT! World Youth Day Update after the SCAM. (Jan. 30, 2019)

WYD – A Study in Perseverance, By Rich Reader

One of many car washes held to raise funds

Fr. Jesse Esqueda, OMI, and 19 youth from his group at St. Eugene de Mazenod Parish in Tijuana, Mexico had prepared for some time to make the trip to World Youth Day in Panama.  The youth worked for over a year to save money.  They sold thousands of tamales, washed hundreds of cars, sold countless raffle tickets and participated in many other fundraising events in order to raise enough money to pay for their trip.  Then a week before, came the discovery that the company that was to have made all the arrangements for travel, lodging, registration, etc., had disappeared, and there were no arrangements made.  It turned out this company had scammed over 400 people in at least 11 dioceses.  An appeal was made to the Oblate community and funds were quicklymade available; flights, ground transportation, registration all had to be done quickly.  As you can imagine, at this point, there were no flights into Panama.  It took gyrating through three flights and four countries, and then a 19 hour bus ride from Costa Rica just to arrive in Panama.  Then began the process of looking for lodging and trying to get registered in what you can imagine was a security nightmare.  But faith in God prevailed and they found lodging and got registered.

19 hours is a long, long bus ride!

Interviewing some of the youth, here are a few quotes: “It was amazing to be around so many other youth from Brazil, Germany, and other countries and feel that they are on the same journey as you.” ….“It was inspiring to hear such a large audience go silent when the Pope began to speak.”….“I had to overcome feelings of not being equal to others who were going, and voices saying you can’t raise that much money and instead listen to Fr. Jesse who would say with God this can happen.” …. “I had to battle spiritually to deal with anger, resentment, and stress.” Music was sometimes our common language. I remember we all danced to a song about the Virgin Mary.”….“A highlight was just our private mass each day with Fr. Jesse, sometimes in very makeshift arrangements.” ….“There was a point where because of my responsibilities to assist others, I could not see the Pope. This helped me to realize it is not all about me and my expectations.”…. “As I talked with some others from Columbia and Argentina, I realized they had to overcome and sacrifice even more to get there.”….“When we toured this building that had displays from all the countries of the world, it was so crowded you could hardly breathe.  Some people passed out.  But Fr. Jesse had warned us, so just that bit of concern for us helped me make it through.”

When asked what advice they would give others preparing for the next WYD, here is what a few of them said: “Never give up; overcome money, people, and circumstances.” ….“Be spiritually prepared through prayer.”….“Live in the moment, always having faith, and always being thankful.” ….“Study the host country, including their spiritual culture.”

Our sympathies go to all the youth who got scammed and did not get to go.  Our highest appreciation to the donors to the Oblates who in effect, made this amazing miracle of perseverance happen.