by Sr. Therese Maria Touma, MSCL
“You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God.”
On the flight back to Boston, after a memorable week at World Youth Day (WYD) in Panama, I was recalling some of the special graces, encounters, and transformations that took place in my heart and in the group of Maronite young adults who travelled with me. WYD is a powerful reminder that we, as “pilgrims,” are all on a journey together to heaven. We each have a unique story to share. It was inspiring to see each person, with their diverse backgrounds and culture, celebrating their faith and being open to the other.
The WYD theme centered on Mary’s fiat, “I am the Servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) As Mary said, “yes,” to being the Mother of God, she was able to encounter and carry our Lord for nine months in her pure womb. In our personal “yes” to this WYD pilgrimage, we were making room in our lives to intimately encounter the goodness and beauty of Jesus in the Catholic Church: in each person, in the sacraments, catechesis, joyful fellowship, Liturgies, papal events, praise and worship, and in the bond of love we share.
One of those precious “God moment” encounters for me was on our flight to Panama where I met, Marie-Caroline, a young pilgrim from Paris. She was paralyzed and sitting in her electronic wheel chair as a result of a rare and debilitating disease. Despite her numerous health setbacks and dependency on others to eat, shower, work, and travel to WYD, she exuded tremendous joy and a vibrant passion for the gift of life. Her calm presence and confidence in God’s love and providence in her life was a powerful testimony, which moved my heart to gratitude. In listening to her story of love, courage, and struggle, I encountered the merciful face of Jesus.
The graces of WYD are still being unpacked. During our pilgrimage there were so many opportunities to be connected with other pilgrims (and Maronites!) from across the world. I was blessed to be able to pray for and be in solidarity with those suffering, especially during the Way of the Cross; to be nourished with the Word of God and the Eucharist; to be cleansed and renewed in the gift of confession; and to be spiritually fed, especially in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and in unity with our Holy Father, Pope Francis, during the Vigil and Closing Mass.
There were a variety of awesome speakers and bishops that came to Panama from across the globe to speak to the energetic youth. In the Catechesis sessions, two bishops that spoke to my heart were Bishop Robert Barron and Bishop Edward Burns from the United States. In particular, I appreciated how Bishop Barron was encouraging us to allow Jesus into our “boats” (our hearts and lives) in order to take us deeper, and not to just stay in the shallow. He invited us to dive into the deep like Mary, who trusted and said, “yes,” to God’s will.
The two ideas that I took from Bishop Burns were not to give up on Jesus because of Judas (this was in relation to the scandals the Church is facing), and the importance of silence and listening in trying to prayerfully understand and discern the Lord’s will. The proper disposition for a disciple should be “speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” and not “listen, Lord, for your servant is speaking.”
It was a tremendous blessing for me to be part of this Panama WYD and to see our Maronite group from the United States bond so beautifully. My prayer is that we can keep this fire of love burning and strive to be open to God’s will in each moment by faithfully renewing our “yes,” to him, in order for our lives to bear fruit like Mary. “I am the Servant of the Lord!” May our “yes” lead us to encounter and share the Hidden One with all those we meet along the way.
The next WYD will be in Lisbon, Portugal, in January 2022. Who is in?