Tijuana Youth Make Memories at WYD

By David Rizo

“God is calling you by your name and it is not a coincidence that you are here.”

-Pope Francis.

A group of 29 youth from our Tijuana Oblates of Mary Immaculate parish attended World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal.  Our journey started about a year and a half ago, selling burritos, baking and selling cakes, doing raffles and working hard to accomplish our dream of attending.  The Oblates arranged the best prices we could get for travel and attendance, but even so, the cost of going to Portugal and Rome was close to $6000 each.

We spent 2 nights and a day in Rome and Vatican City.  The first day in Rome we went to the Vatican with out priest-guides Fr. Fabian and Fr. Jesse OMI.  They were able to concelebrate a mass in the Basilica of Saint Peter.  It was a demonstration of just how universal our Catholic faith is seeing that a priest is a priest anywhere in the world.  Thanks to our friend and OMI scholastic Mateusz Garstecki, we got an amazing tour via walking and subways of fountains, buildings, monuments and especially beautiful churches.

One of the most memorable moments in Rome was visiting the Oblate General House.  We got a short tour on the house and met with scholastics from different parts of the world such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and United States.  Three of our pre-novices from Tijuana (Carlos Martinez, Julian Cruz and Kevin Mazariego) were part of our group.  They asked the scholastics “How do you manage to get along together?  We are from the same country and even same community and still find it hard to live and study so close together.”  The scholastics said that the difficulties are the same everywhere, but they had an overall commitment to stay united with their brothers.

 The next day we went to Lisbon where we met up with another Oblate group of 18, including 3 more priests.  Our new larger group went to Fatima where we had another mass.  We heard the story of St. Lucia and her two cousins and then got to go their house.  We visited the sanctuary of the site of the 1917 apparition.  We crawled on our knees over 500 meters while praying the rosary for our families, community, and Oblate family around the world.

The second day in Lisbon we attended a larger Oblate event with attendees from around the world.  We danced, shared our faith, exchanged gifts, and listened to the Oblate Superior General Fr. Chicho.  Despite there being people from several other countries and speaking different languages, he managed to answer our questions.

World Youth Day was initiated with a mass in 5 languages.  By tuning in to a local radio station, we could listen in our own language.   Despite the large crowd and the fact there were even many youngsters in attendance, when it came to the moment of consecration there was a beautiful silence and opening to God’s presence. 

After that there were some 60 different activities we could attend.  Our group went to a catechism session.   God blessed us with great speakers, including a cardinal.  He had great stories and messages for the youth about God’s love for all of us.  In another session Luis Herrera from our parish was invited to give a talk to a group of youth from 20 different countries.  Our group was then invited to do the readings at the next mass.  It was a great feeling that our little group from Tijuana could participate in that way at such a worldwide event.

One of our most anticipated activities was welcoming the pope.  We were fortunate enough to be in a place where we could see the pope.  Some people even fainted when the pope passed by.   The pope said, “God is calling you by your name and it is not a coincidence that you are here.  He chose you from your birth to be here in this moment.”  The pope also said “The Church is for everyone.  He loves you the way you are.  You don’t need makeup or masks”.  Some of us were in tears.

Our last day started with mass and we were told by Fr. Raymond OMI to be strong.  He said we are going to have an experience with millions of other people, but if we feel alone or not part of a group, remember we are not alone.  Many youths from all around the world feel this way.  Then we attended Eucharistic Adoration with the entire world youth group.  Pope Francis told us to take a moment to think of all the people of who made this trip possible.  All our group recognized the role of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate for our trip.  This was the trip of a lifetime and for some of us it was our first time on an airplane.  We also recalled the donors whose donations helped to make this trip financially possible.  And finally, we thanked our families for their support. 

We took time to reflect on our trip before coming back.  We were asked to share a few words on what we were going to do next and how you might use this experience to help our community.  Some of the responses were “I’m going to help with a new ministry”, “I am going to give talks to our younger people about the love of God”, “I am going to commit to being a better seminarian”, “I’m going to live a better Christian life”, and “I am going to love my family better”.

Before our trip the Bishop of Tijuana told us we are representing our community and our family.  “Maybe you are the only member of your family going to have this experience, so live it with grace and faith”.  For most of us, that was true, and we knew there were others in our parish, maybe more committed and saintlier, but this was our time.  We needed to live it in the best way possible.  It was that moment during Eucharistic adoration with the pope that we understood the meaning of those words.  We were representing our community and our family and even if maybe we didn’t feel deserving, God chose us to be there.  

Thank you to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and their donors that made this dream come true.

Thank you so much.