World Youth Day Pilgrims return with purpose to Fort Worth Diocese
FORT WORTH- From August 1 - 6, over a million Catholics from many nations made the pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal. Texan pilgrims returned bearing witness to all they have experienced: the beauty of their Catholic heritage, the universal Church, their individual callings, and the need for Eucharistic revival.
Alex Lopez, 28, has been saving and planning for this trip ever since he learned that World Youth Day would be hosted in Lisbon, which is very close to Fátima, where Our Lady appeared in 1917. Before the trip, the choir director of St. Peter the Apostle Parish told the North Texas Catholic that he looked forward to seeing “different cultures come together and seeing how that worship is unified through the Mass and through the sacraments.”
Lopez anticipated being immersed in the rich history of European Catholicism and planned to visit many old churches, as well as to “really pray there and not just take pictures, not just look around,” he told the North Texas Catholic.
“We’re pilgrims, not just tourists,” said Father Johnson Le. “We need to let God lead us.” The 38-year-old priest grew up at Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Arlington and currently serves as pastor of St. Anne Catholic Parish in La Vernia in the Archdiocese of San Antonio.
Fr. Le’s love of sharing the Eucharist with others started when he was young. At Vietnamese Martyrs Parish, he coordinated the altar servers. A youth leader and external Vice President during those years, Fr. Le was highly involved with the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement.
Fr. Le believes that the “love of the Eucharist [he gained] through the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement” and serving at the altar “helped shape me to where I am now as a priest.”
Lucy Rojas also leaned heavily on her Catholic heritage as she made the pilgrimage to World Youth Day. At 27, she was the first in her family to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
“I was so blessed, and I was so thankful that my parents supported me in this journey,” she told the NTC. She also received encouragement from her coworkers at Immaculate Conception Parish in Denton, where she works as a receptionist and assistant bookkeeper.
Before World Youth Day officially started, Rojas and her group attended Mass in Fátima. Reminded of her grandmother’s deep devotion to the Rosary, Rojas was overcome with emotion.
“I was so proud to be Catholic; I was so proud to know the Rosary and the prayers; I was so proud of being part of the family and … this whole community,” she said. “I wasn’t just Mexican; I wasn’t a Texas girl; I was part of this Catholic community — this Body of Christ.”
On August 4, Rojas and her group arrived at the park more than four hours early to have a clear view of World Youth Day’s Way of the Cross event. There they encountered folks from all over the world, including some new friends from El Salvador, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.
When the Pope was about to arrive, “the crowd chanted: ‘Ésta es la juventud del Papa!’ [Spanish for ‘This is the youth of the Pope!’] and ‘Papa Francisco!’ [Spanish for ‘Pope Francis!’], and I was in tears,” Rojas recalled.
A Spanish teacher at Nolan Catholic High School, 37-year-old Faviola Ojeda is passionate about exposing students to Spanish outside the classroom. Alongside math teacher Duc Nguyen and two parent chaperones, Ojeda accompanied 14 Nolan students on a pilgrimage through Spain and Portugal, culminating in their experiences at World Youth Day.
“[World Youth Day] did a good job of rotating languages,” said Ojeda. “Especially for the Stations of the Cross. They would do one station in English, the next station in Spanish, and then they’d go to Portuguese and French. They also had the translations on the radios,” Ojeda said. “The Church is universal, and this was a perfect example of that.”
Ojeda felt the effects of World Youth Day may not be immediately known, believing that “it might just be that it happens later, in a couple of years, when they reflect back on it, you know, [thinking] that was God calling me there.”
For some, though, the impact feels immediate.
Thirty-year-old Katrina Bernhard described her reaction as “shaken, overwhelming, and transforming.”
Bernhard attended World Youth Day with Fr. Le’s group, the San Antonio Archdiocesan Delegation.
Shortly before her trip, the Holy Spirit led her from teaching music in New Braunfels to her current position as a Donor Management Specialist for the Advancement Foundation for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
Bernhard told the North Texas Catholic that she planned to adopt the pilgrim’s mentality of “rolling with the punches.” That attitude turned out to be very important. Traveling with a large group meant there were unexpected delays and other challenges.
But there were good surprises too. One unexpected experience was adoring the Eucharistic miracle of Santarem.
"I encountered the Father like I never had before," she wrote via email.
Bernhard was taken aback by the wide range of attitudes she encountered. For example, she was moved to see so many people on their knees approaching the chapel commemorating Our Lady’s appearance at Fátima. On the other hand, she also noticed some people streaming soccer games or smoking cigarettes during Mass.
“Having these encounters with different people in different walks” was both encouraging and conflicting for Bernhard.
She realized “the call for the Eucharistic revival is very important.”
Returning to Fort Worth, Bernhard said, “I left feeling like I had a mission.”