World Youth Day 2002, Toronto: A Blessed Journey Begins

By Avic Vera

From the start, I knew that God was leading me to make the WYD journey, the biggest blessing in my life. In 2000 I attended a retreat in Batulao with the famous Fr Armand Robleza SDB who talked about Yuppeace, an upbeat group of professional men and women, organized in 1995 to animate the Vigil for the WYD in Manila. Yuppeace has since evolved into a faith community living the WYD ideals.

I joined Yuppeace the year after, and soon became a facilitator in its various youth-centered activities. In 2002 the Salesian Youth Movement (SYM) sent me and other Yuppeace facilitators as delegates to the WYD in Toronto, Canada.

The week before WYD, I stayed with a foster family in British Columbia; my foster Mom, June, and her young daughters, Robyn and Heather, welcomed me as their own. In turn, our host Parish of St Nicholas prepared me and other delegates for WYD through various activities. As we mingled with fellow youth from many countries, our own Bishop Rolando Joven Tria Tirona OCD (then Bishop of Malolos, now Archbishop of Caceres) reminded us to that we should never fail to meet Jesus in others.

Of course, I was so excited to finally meet in person one whom I greatly admire, the Vicar of Christ, the prime mover and inspiration behind WYD, Pope John Paul II. I wanted to touch him; instead, I was touched by his words. Expounding on the WYD theme, ‘You are the Salt of the Earth and You are the light of the World’, he urged the youth to be like Christ: adding flavor to each other’s life just like salt and shining like light as dear children of God.

The Pope himself wrote the meditations on the Passion of Christ vis-à-vis man’s everyday life for the three-hour dramatization of Way of the Cross. His Holiness joined us again during the evening Vigil at Downsview Park, where we camped overnight. Next day’s Papal Mass started amidst heavy rains and thunderstorms. We were drenched but happy. But when the Pope began his homily, the rains ceased and the sun smiled, energizing us even more. His Holiness urged the youth not to be discouraged with the issues besetting the Church, but to continue supporting, trusting and loving her, especially her many good priests.

Looking back at my first WYD, I recall Bishop Tirona’s words and the many encounters I had with Christ in Toronto. I met him in the eyes of Sam, a special child, in the smile of a mother who had just lost her son in an accident, in the loving hospitality of my foster mother, June, who was still grieving over the death of her husband and in the generosity of the Filipino community which provided us sumptuous dinners every night. But more important than merely meeting him, I now carry his precious presence in my heart, that others too may encounter him through me.