07 September 2023
07 Sep 2023

“A once in a lifetime opportunity”

In August Fr. Henry Nguyen, SCJ, province vocation director, accompanied Dehonian youth from the US Province to World Youth Day in Portugal.

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I had the opportunity to accompany our Dehonian youth from Mississippi, Texas, and Wisconsin to the Dehonian Youth Gathering (DYG) and World Youth Day (WYD) in Portugal. We were five Dehonian confreres, including Fr. Ardi, Br. Diego, Fra. Jacob, and Fra. Jonathan. The theme for this year’s DYG was “Move Your Heart.”

On the way to Portugal!

On Thursday, July 27, the 25 of us from the US Province left for Portugal. After more than 26 hours from the time we left our homes, we finally made it to the Luso Frances Colegio in Porto for the Dehonian Youth Gathering. We were tired and jetlagged but upon stepping into the atmosphere of meeting 280+ youth and 65+ SCJ religious from around the world, we quickly regained our energy. We joined the reception and welcoming party where a roll call of the different countries was done. Twenty-six countries were represented among our Dehonian youth. Countries such as Portugal, Angola, Finland and Germany presented a song or dance wearing traditional attire. Our US group led the song “Cha Cha Slide,” inviting others to join in the dance. What an evening to see the diversity of the Dehonian family!

The anthem of DYG was the World Youth Day 2023 theme song “Há Pressa no Ar,” which loosely translated means “There’s hurry in the air.” All of us sang and danced along to the song as it was the spirit of DYG. Each time the song was played there was a sense of unity among us. Although from different cultures and countries, the song united us in our Dehonian identity.

Due to the compact schedule of the DYG, there was no time for rest. We woke up early to a day filled with activities that fell under the theme of “Days in the Diocese of Porto” including a visit to the Parque da Cidade do Porto, lunch at the Centro Dehoniano (an apostolate of the Portuguese Province), welcoming remarks by Fr. Carlos Luis Suarez Codorniú, SCJ, superior general, and words from the Dehonian WYD commission. We later heard that over 16,000 pilgrims from approximately 60 countries were in attendance at the Mass that was a part of the “Days.” This was a sneak peak at what we could expected at WYD in Lisbon.

Other activities included exploring the city of Porto, Mass at the Monastery of Serra do Pilar, a fun day at a water park (sponsored by the US Province), and Mass at the Monastery of Ancede. At the town of Ancede, the community provided a block party with food, music, and dance. This brought an amazing energy to us pilgrims. Of course, everywhere we went, people knew we were going to WYD as we sung “Há Pressa no Ar”.

Fr. Carlos Luis speaks to Dehonian youth

We Dehonian religious had an opportunity to talk to Fr. Carlos Luis and Fr. Levi (general councilor) about topics regarding the different places that the Dehonian serve. It allowed us to hear from the general administration about their plans for the future and what are we currently doing as a congregation. Dehonian youth heard a presentation about Dehonian spirituality and what Dehonians bring to the Church and the world.

For many of our US pilgrims this was their first experiences of public transportation, going from busses to trains to subways. Initially it was hard to navigate in an unknown space and in an unfamiliar language, but we all got the hang of it, using Google Maps and Google Translate.

Our pilgrimage to Fatima was on August 2. We attended Mass in the Basilica of the Holy Trinity. Fatima was filled with so many people coming for either World Youth Day or their own personal pilgrimages to this holy site. Many people were praying the rosary, doing the crawl on their knees, or just present, soaking everything in.

After visiting Fatima, we made our way to Lisbon were we gathered at the Igreja Nossa Senhora da Paz in Povoa de Santa Iria. In front of the church was a big Dehonian cross and we knew we were in the right place. The host families of the Dehonian youth and religious were the welcoming committee. Soon we would be introduced to our respective host families with whom we would stay during World Youth Day. It was reported that 1,626 public spaces were able to host 294,151 pilgrims and that 8,831 families opened up their homes for 28,618 pilgrims.

The Dehonian WYD committee put together daily challenges for us to complete with our host families, such as praying the Our Father and Hail Mary in Portuguese to imprinting our fingerprints on a card to commemorate our time together.

The official start of WYD was on August 3 with the Welcoming Ceremony with Pope Francis. This event and the Way of the Cross were held at the Parque Eduardo VII. The anticipation of seeing Pope Francis energized everyone in the park! The next day was the Way of the Cross, and it was reenacted in a way that was beautiful and moving. As we meditated on each station, performers brought to life Jesus’ last moments. We also heard testimonies of young people from around the world about their journey of faith. Our pilgrims were able to follow along with the WYD Lisbon app

Frater Jonathan and Fr. Henry with their host family

The Vigil on Saturday was probably the toughest day for us as we walked from the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosario de Fatima to Parque Tejo, which was about seven miles. We walked and carried our meals in 80+ degree weather. It was incredible to see many young people active in their faith on this pilgrimage. All of this was so that participants could have a moment of prayer and Adoration of the Blessed Eucharist together with about a million people.

That night, we slept out in the open as the Missioning Mass would take place next morning. We woke to a beautiful sunrise over the Tagus River and music coming from the loudspeakers at 6:30 a.m. After some moments of slow music, there was a sudden change to the beat, upbeat and fast. Fr. Guilherme Peixoto, who is also known as “DJ Priest,” woke us up with a mix of electronic music. Meanwhile, Pope Francis began making the rounds, going through several sectors so that our pilgrims could see him up close. Pope Francis presided over the Closing Mass at WYD; at the end he announced that the next WYD would take place in Seoul, South Korea in 2027.

After WYD we had a few days to explore Obidos, Alcobaca, Nazare, Batalha, Sinatra, and Evora. This gave us a sense of the beauty and history of Portugal. Portugal had so much to offer to us, from the culture, to the food, to the language.

This trip was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to experience the global Church and get closer to God.

Obrigado! Até a próxima vez.


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