LISBON, Portugal — On July 31, 2023, seven volunteers from all around the world were invited to a press conference, to give a brief testimony about WYD and its meaning for them.
Micael De Almeida is a missionary and physiotherapist from Brazil. He belongs to a special team responsible for the health of bishops and people with disabilities.
Micael attended the 2013 WYD in Rio de Janeiro where he received a calling for missionary life. “I left everything to follow God’s will. I left my home, my family, my parents. Today I’m receiving one hundred-fold back, as the word of the Lord says.”
Today, Micael leads a few volunteer projects in Brazil, helping people get out of the slums and drug trafficking. He also helps people with disabilities.
“Being here on this WYD means a lot to me. Last year, I lost my brother. He was a disabled person. My family and I always fought for inclusion and accessibility of people with disabilities.”
“This WYD, I carry my brother with me.”
Mariam Asham is a Coptic Orthodox Christian from Egypt. “A Catholic friend of mine spoke to me about this event months ago… and told me me about her wonderful experience as a volunteer.”
Mariam accepted this experience because she wanted to see how young people from other countries lived their faith and how their cultural background influenced their ways with a diversity of traditions and cultures. “I wanted to deepen my relationship with God, not just because of traditions, but as a personal relationship with Him,” said Mariam.
She came alone to Lisbon for the first time in her life at 23 years old just for WYD. Mariam wishes to meet many young people from all around the world who share the same belief.
“One solid thing we all share together is the love of God. Then there are many other million reasons regarding where each one of us comes from. So I hope this experience will make all of us stronger in our faith and help us overcome our cultural limitations.”
For Luis Pinha, who immigrated to Turkey from Venezuela, the greatest motivation to attend WYD was “hunger for the gospel” and the “need to meet that living, young God.”
According to Luis, it is not easy for a Catholic to bear witness to the faith in his new country, since only 10% of the population professes the Catholic faith.
“We are the young, the treasure of the Church, and this experience of WYD for me is very exciting… I came here to learn and serve others.”
Saad Khoram is a 43 year old Chaldean Catholic from Iraq. He works as a mechanical/maintenance engineer. He hails from a country that has faced wars and terror for as long as he has known it.
“We [Christians] are almost about 1% of the total population because most of us have left the country, especially after 2014 when ISIS attacked our village and nearby areas. Fortunately, it’s getting a bit better now.”
This is Saad’s fourth participation in WYD. He started as a pilgrim in Rio and Krakow and then as a volunteer in Panama. Now he volunteered to serve again in Portugal.
“Regarding WYD, it is an opportunity for us to share our faith and introduce the faith to others and to other countries… It’s an opportunity to hopefully strengthen our faith, because, the world is taking most of our time. We don’t have enough time for the Church. We don’t have any time for our faith. [In Iraq], we are struggling to get the basic needs of our life.”
Saad hopes that “WYD will make our faith stronger, all of us, and bring us to Jesus, closer to Jesus.”
Carolina Durães is a 21 year old engineering student from Braga, Portugal. “I saw the opportunity of service. It’s by giving that you receive. It was my first impulse.”
Carolina recounts her reaction when she learned WYD would be hosted in her home country: “When I heard that Pope Francis chose my country, I was like, let’s show to others how good Portugal is, how good the World Youth Day will be in my country. And show everyone our culture, our habits. In addition, it is an excellent way to communicate with other young people and understand the power of youth. Because this event is made by young people and for young people. And deep down we have this voice of change. Who better to change the world than the future? Young people are the future.”
Carolina sometimes felt “alone” in her faith, because many people around her didn’t know or understand the faith. When she volunteered and met young people her age (or even younger) who felt the same ways as she did, she didn´t feel alone anymore.
“There are people that feel the same as me, and it’s so good to be with those people, and grow together in the faith with them. And who knows, leave WYD with a greater faith than when we got here, and bring the faith to others. That’s what WYD offers us.”
Fr. Pierre Paul Anani is a priest from the Society of the African Missions in Tanzania. Though he was born in Togo, he introduced himself as being from Tanzania, because that’s where he spent his most recent years.
“I have been young, and I’m close to the youth. I have been in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Tanzania. It’s impressive to see here so much diversity and at the same time so many similarities among the youth, their vision, their projects.”
“It’s my first time as a volunteer on WYD,” Fr. Pierre explained. “I am impressed by the generosity of the WYD, by the capacity of the youth to collaborate together in such an event for the faith. It is truly a source of hope for our world, that we can come together from Asia, America, Oceania, Africa.”
Fr. Pierre felt moved by the youth with difficulties that he accompanied when he worked in prisons: “They told me as volunteer, that they didn’t have any meaning left in their lives. But now they said they felt loved.”
The priest also recounted an event that impressed him at the time he ministered at the prison: “The last time I celebrated Mass, a person could not take communion, but asked for blessing, and kneeled to touch my feet—me, poor sinner—and interiorly I said: ‘My God, it has been Your feet that he touched.’”
“I ask all youth from all countries to receive Jesus Christ, that He will be received in all our countries,” said Fr. Pierre.
Agnes Flora Gomes gives support as a social media manager in the communication department. In her country, there are very few Christian communities. Only 2% of the population is Catholic.
“In the 15th century, the Portuguese arrived to my country and shared their belief. And somewhere along the way we lost it,” Agnes explained, referring to the history that connects both countries.
“So I came here to bring this belief back again, just as Mary went in haste to serve Elizabeth. I came here to bring this belief back to my country.”
English translations from Portuguese, Spanish, and French by Pedro Gabriel.
Claire Navarro is a Filipina global IT professional now living in Portugal with her husband, Pedro Gabriel. She was active in Catholic apologetics and pro-life initiatives back in the Philippines.