‘We Went To Follow The Star’

By Ma. Kristina Garraton Abella

The author is a college student at the University of St LaSalle, Bacolod City.

World Youth Day (WYD) is a pilgrimage of young people and a festival of encounter and solidarity. Young people from all over the world are invited to take up the main concern of the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II: a renewal of evangelization that reaches out to the young. This enables the youth to experience a deeper sense of spirituality and community. I am grateful and happy that our new Holy Father, Benedict XVI has continued this tradition and came to meet us in Cologne.

‘We have come to worship Him’ was our theme. I was privileged to be one of the delegates from the Diocese of Bacolod, given the opportunity to discover the ‘young and modern mystery of the Church’ through the experience of pilgrimage, prayer, and worship.

A Change in Perspective

It was almost 7am when we landed at Frankfurt. Oli, a German organizer, welcomed us. He guided us from the airport to the train station and even rode with us on the train, which was to drop us at Lindenholzhausen, a town in the Diocese of Limburg where we were to be housed during the Days of Encounter. I was amazed by the gestures of this German friend. I thought that Germans were strict and dictatorial but this person before me was really helpful and accommodating. He even helped us carry our large pieces of luggage up and down the stairs.

Welcomed in Germany

Arriving at Lindenholzhausen, we saw that the families who were to house us were already awaiting our arrival, despite the cold temperature. Each delegate was housed by a specific family. I was assigned, together with my friend Joy, to the Wüst family. I’m really proud that they were my foster family. Helmut, the father, and Marge, the mother, greeted us with warm smiles that made me feel at ease and welcomed. We introduced ourselves to one another. I was surprised and a bit shy when they carried our large, heavy luggage from the station to their car and even to our room when we reached their house.

There we were greeted at the doorstep by their two daughters, Yasmine (18) and Eliza (16). The family had given us our own room with toilet, and a living room for us to use, on the second floor. Then they served us breakfast and told us to feel free to eat any food and fruit on the table any time we felt hungry. I, a stranger, was really moved by their hospitality that made me feel welcomed and accepted as a new member of their family.

Days of Encounter

We stayed at Limburg, south of Cologne, for five days, each memorable. I went canoeing for the first time ever. It was exhausting but quite an experience. We even had a beach party afterwards where we played volleyball – Germany vs Philippines. Amazingly, we won the game, with rice as our prize! An event to remember! In Germany, their usual fare is bread and sausages, which really taste and smell good. But we Filipinos hadn’t seen, smelt or tasted rice for several days and missed it. This became our motivation to win.

Within the Days of Encounter at Limburg, we had a ‘Day of Social Service,’ the motto of which was: ‘Under construction – help build a just world!’ This was inspired by the call of Pope John Paul II: ‘Become builders of a civilization of love and truth.’ Activities included social projects like renovating community premises, improving a children’s playground and collecting old clothes. I, together with young Filipino, African and German friends, was assigned to collecting old clothes and unused things around the village. I saw the willingness of the people there to participate.

In these activities, I recognized the diversity and richness of the Church’s youth work and Church life in the diocese. But I came to understand that despite this diversity, we all worship the same God, and all our efforts and goals are directed towards serving Him.

WYD Proper

I had come to World Youth Day for the purpose of searching myself and the core of my life, which is Christ. I had wanted to fill the emptiness inside me and to find direction in my life. I knew Christ had the answers through World Youth Day. In the process, I had come to see that the way to God is no bed of roses. One really needs to pass through thorns and overcome many hardships and temptations to be at His side. But I had also proven that God had always been with me all throughout my journey.

Seeing the Pope for the first time

Our journey in search of Christ began at Neuss, northwest of Cologne. We stayed at a gym in a school there with other youth pilgrims from different countries. The high point of our journey was seeing the Pope for the first time on the River Rhine. I didn’t care that I was standing beside a garbage container or if my clothes all got dirty as long as I could have a glimpse of the Pope, even if he was just a tiny white dot from where I stood. Our journey was strengthened by our pilgrimage to Marianfeld, ‘Mary’s Field,’ a walk of almost five kms from the train station. But, it was good that each was just carrying a small backpack. We had left the rest of our luggage at Neuss.

Worship and purification

It was almost 3pm; we were all tired and hungry, for we hadn’t eaten lunch. In my case, I had a stomach upset, as I have a gastric ulcer and shouldn’t skip a meal. While I was in this condition, I saw a group of young people walking barefoot on the rough path, carrying heavy luggage on their shoulders. They also carried an American flag, a symbol of their origin. In these young people, I saw the determination and sacrifices they were willing to make in order to worship Christ. From that moment I realized that my suffering was nothing compared to theirs, not even a fraction of what Christ suffered for my salvation. Instead of complaining, I should offer my pain for my purification and the forgiveness of my sins.

The highlight of our journey was the vigil with the Holy Father at Marianfeld. Here, I felt God’s presence. Rain was forecast and German weather forecasts are usually reliable. But the weather changed. It didn’t rain! If it had, we might all have frozen to death, especially us Filipinos and others from tropical countries not used to cold weather. We were all sleeping on the ground in sleeping bags in an open field. Even if it didn’t rain during the night, it was very cold before dawn, as low as 14oC. There was fog and we were breathing out vapor when we spoke.

In the morning when the Pope returned to celebrate the concluding Mass, all the cold that I’d experienced had vanished and was replaced by a feeling of enlightenment, joy and security. A blessing from the Pope concluded our encounter. A special blessing we hadn’t expected was when he spoke to us in our own Filipino language. We Filipinos were proud that out of many nations, the Pope recognized our presence.

This 20th World Youth Day was a really profound experience of commitment and faith. People of different races, from different backgrounds and cultures, sharing almost nothing in common but Christ, came together speaking a language not so much of words but of a warm acceptance and a gentle presence … to become witnesses of Christ’s birth.

You may contact the author at tingarraton2005@yahoo.com