My mission with CCO to World Youth Day in Panama was AMAZING.
Ever since I got home on February 1, I have been trying to process what exactly happened over the past two weeks. Every moment, from the difficult to the extremely joyful, all played a part in creating an experience that was beyond anything I could have dreamed up.
Once I got back, a lot of people asked me how Panama was and what the experience was like. And I feel so bad because the past couple days have been a lot of processing and still being in awe and wonder. But now that I've had a few days to think, I want to share the moments of clarity that I received from our Lord and the experience of my very first CCO mission and World Youth Day.
World Youth Day (WYD) is not for the faint of heart.
WYD will test you in so many different ways and in ways that you didn't even think were possible. The sun and heat, the crowds, the walking and the potential language/cultural barriers are just the beginning. I thought that since I had started going to the gym regularly that I would be in better shape and ready to take on the physical tasks that the mission would bring. But it showed me that there was so much more that I needed to do, and beyond that, I had to allow myself to be pushed even further beyond my limits. There are some days where we walked 10 km and more under the sun, and honestly I thought I was going to die. By the grace and strength of God, we made it to our destinations. I made it injury-free, even if there were times where I was tripping over uneven pavement or because I wasn't watching where I was going.
But beyond the physical tests that WYD brings, it is no match for the tests of spirit and trust that God will bring throughout the experience.
My prayer for WYD was for God to give me clarity on vocation. As I come up to a time where I will be transitioning out of the student life and venturing out into the unknown, I needed a sense of direction. Ultimately my big question was whether or not I was called to the consecrated/religious life. Ultimately, in His time God showed me in adoration that He wasn't calling me there. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't relieved to hear that! I had always been drawn to marriage and motherhood, and this was further affirmation that He would one day bless me with a family.
It was through encounters with families that helped me to really see God's love and care for me in this profound way. There were so many Panamanian families with three, even four generations all making their own pilgrimage to see Pope Francis. This moved me - the sacrifice that these people made so that their children could have this holy encounter was something that struck me. One day, I too wanted to do everything I could so that my children could witness God face to face.
In adoration though, a powerful image struck me. We had been asked days before at another event to reflect and imagine what our own wedding would look like. And as a girl, you know that I've imagined this scenario a hundred or so times! But the image played out the way that it did a hundred times before - I walked down the aisle in a white dress to Pachelbel's Canon. But instead of everyone turning to face me, the bride, everyone was turned to face the priest presiding over the ceremony. In fact, even my husband-to-be was facing the priest. I felt myself drawn to the priest as well, and in this image I saw that the priest was not just a priest - it was Jesus himself, through the image of the Divine Mercy. This told me a whole number of things: I still have no idea who my husband to be is, because he was facing the Divine Mercy in the image (thanks, God!). It was clear that I was called to marriage. But it was even clearer that a devotion to the Divine Mercy, and trusting in Him, would be crucial.
As for careers, God opened some doors for me there and called me to serve Him in a way that I know I will love. But that in itself takes great trust and sacrifice. I won't go into too much here, but I promise I will share when the time comes!
The biggest thing that God granted to me was the ability to rest. He affirmed that where I was at this particular moment was where He meant for me to be, despite the fact that it is also way out of my comfort zone. This mission began a 8 month stint of being out of school and technically unemployed, making it the longest time that I would go without doing anything. And by that I mean that I'm usually in school or at work or both. I never leave even a week empty, much less 8 whole months.
For a long time, having such a long break while I wait to apply for the Communication Honours program at SFU filled me with a lot of anxiety. I wanted to be able to do something useful with my time as well as make money and avoid getting bored. While all my friends were doing cool things and making good use of their time, I was afraid of being looked upon as lazy or as a time waster.
In adoration, I felt God's calming presence telling me to slow down and rest. I had been so "go go go" for the past 5 years that I had let a lot of aspects slide - from my personal health to my prayer life. I was ready to commit to plugging the next 8 months with mindless work and part time jobs just to make some money, even though my heart wasn't really into it. But hearing those words of "just rest" meant the world to me. It was okay for me to slow down. It gives me the opportunity to focus on the things that are important, like continuing to build up my relationship with God and discerning the next steps in terms of career.
God is so epic.
One of the great blessings of the mission was the opportunity to witness and evangelize to everyone we met.
As part of the CCO mission to Panama, we tried to share the gospel with everyone in a clear and simple way. We shared the great truth that we are made for a relationship with God, and even though that relationship was broken by original sin, Jesus is the one that heals that divide and makes that relationship possible. We are each made for this relationship, and no one can take that away from us!
The team and I experienced so many great opportunities to share this message with pilgrims from around the world. Hearing various glory stories from my fellow mission team mates set my heart on fire and brought me so much joy! This experience also pushed me out of my comfort zone to share the gospel with strangers. I had always struggled with this just because I wasn't sure of how people would respond or think of me. But by placing my trust in God, I was able to have a number of fruitful conversations that would not have been possible without God and the Holy Spirit guiding me.
Beyond the mission, being with so many incredible individuals in such a beautiful place was the perfect way to start the new year.
Through this mission, I was able to connect with other young people of faith from across Canada who I can now call amazing friends. Their witness, strength, and commitment to proclaiming the gospel is inspiring, and I am so thankful for this oportunity to meet and get to know every single one of them!
There is so much more to be said about this mission, and I welcome all questions and requests for more stories! I can't wait to share more with you :)
Thank you to all of the amazing members of the mission team for being so, so great. God bless you all!
Also, God bless Pope Francis, because he is the COOLEST.
Big shoutout to the amazing photographers on the mission team for these EPIC photos!