WYD pilgrims reunite to remember Lisbon’s ‘miracles’

September 26, 2023

Auxiliary Bishop Italo Dell’Oro, CRS, celebrates Mass during a reunion of Galveston-Houston World Youth Day pilgrims at the St. Dominic Center in Houston on Sept. 16. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON — In an effort to ensure the experience that young pilgrims had at World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon in August didn’t stay in Portugal, Auxiliary Bishop Italo Dell’Oro, CRS, hosted a reunion for some 40 pilgrims on Sept. 16 at St. Dominic Center in Houston.

Across two sessions of reflection, prayer and discussion, as well as Mass and lunch, Bishop Dell’Oro encouraged the pilgrims to remember what happened in Lisbon at WYD.

For Cecilia Dao, a pilgrim from Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church, it was challenging to return to her routine life after WYD. After two weeks on pilgrimage to Spain and Portugal, going back to work and her post-baccalaureate studies was an adjustment. Even so, “I cannot thank God enough for the graces and blessings that I’ve received from WYD,” she said. “It’s continuing to be unpacked as I’m still continuing to process everything that happened in Lisbon and all the things that God is calling me to.”

This journey of unpacking all that happened in Lisbon is exactly what Bishop Dell’Oro hoped to help the pilgrims explore and deepen, especially as the time since those experiences in Lisbon continues to expand.

Echoing Pope Francis’ WYD message to youth to “Be not afraid,” Bishop Dell’Oro told the pilgrims that they are at an age when they should not be afraid.

“Transforming our memory will help inspire us to not be afraid,” he said. “Our life is a pilgrimage to go where Jesus is, to the Father. We are prophets of the world, and we must do something that indicates that we are on that path.”

Bishop Dell’Oro implored the youth to be like the Good Samaritan and always be close to the poor.

“Always have a meaningful connection to the poor. If you have that, you will encounter the One you cannot see,” he said. He reminded them to continue to stay close to other pilgrims who made the same journey and to “continue on our own path together with Jesus.”

The day began with a reflection and a decade of the Rosary led by Father Miguel Cabrera, CC, who served as a chaplain for the group.

Angie Pometto, director of the Archdiocesan Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministries, said she was thrilled at how open and joyful the delegation from Galveston-Houston was, even in the face of challenges and difficulty.

One of the most difficult parts of WYD is the vigil night, which consists of a long walking journey to the vigil site, often in the outer parts of the city, which in Lisbon saw some 1.5 million pilgrims attend Eucharistic Adoration with the pope and hear a special address under Lisbon’s night sky. The trek to the vigil site was full of soaring temperatures, discomfort and pain, as well as crowds.

Pometto recognized St. John Paul II’s purpose of including this as a key point of the WYD experience. The process helped pilgrims draw parallels of their walking journey to that of the Holy Family in flight to Bethlehem, of refugees and migrants, of the unhoused in Houston and others, inspiring them to live “in solidarity with others,” she said.
During the trip, “as time went on, you could see [the pilgrims’] hearts growing in love with Christ, more open to sharing about Christ and more willing to talk about Christ,” she said. “You could just see their desire grow day by day. It was beautiful.”

She said, with Bishop Dell’Oro, she’s helping to ensure that pilgrims realize that WYD wasn’t an event that ended when they left Lisbon but that it was a lifelong experience where they can realize how they are like Mary, and they can each “arise and go with haste,” when called.

Father Rodrigo Ulloa, a Maryknoll priest who accompanied the pilgrims as a chaplain in Lisbon, closed the day with prayer and asked God to inspire the pilgrims to “help us live the miracles we saw in WYD and in our hearts. Help us to be missionaries of joy in Houston and in the world.”

Thinking of her time in Lisbon, Dao knew God was with her, especially at the vigil site during Adoration.

“I just was moved to tears. It was so many things, encountering God in meeting people from all over the world, the beautiful sacred architecture in Europe, the Fado singing, going to confession at the vigil site, being with millions in Adoration with Pope Francis,” she said. “I knelt down and gave God thanks for His blessings and everything that He’s given me.”

Since WYD, Dao said she’s seen that God has kept reminding her about being “a missionary people for the whole Church.”

“I have no idea what that means yet for me, I don’t know what God’s calling me to yet, but I just know there’s a great nudge for me to use the gifts and talents that He’s gifted me to help serve His people, to help build up His kingdom,” she said.