Every young Catholic, at least once in their lives, would have dreamed of attending the largest youth gathering in the entire world: World Youth Day (WYD).
It is a truly powerful gathering of the most active churchgoers, celebrating the love and grace of Jesus Christ in their lives, which St. John Paul II pioneered.
Nevertheless, becoming a WYD delegate comes with its own share of struggles. For a young man from the Philippines, his journey leading to this year’s event in Lisbon came with numerous roadblocks he first had to overcome.
Neil Anthony Paguia, a youth servant from the Diocese of Malolos, Philippines, was chosen to be their parish’s delegate seven months before World Youth Day. After serving in their local church for exactly a decade, he considered his appointment to this particular mission a huge, once-in-a-lifetime honor.
Fundraising in the parish
The first challenge Neil had to face was raising the money needed for his trip. As a graduating college student at the time of his selection, his savings certainly cannot meet the monetary requirements of his travel. Fortunately, the people around him extended their support and did not let him down.
"We all know how uneasy it is to raise such a huge amount of money to support this kind of delegation," Neil said. "We ended up in two things: [our] Parish Pastoral Council will raise money through solicitation, while [members of our] Commission on Youth will be doing fundraising activities."
Along with his fellow youth servants, they sold different delicacies, religious articles, and flowers for church offerings to gather the necessary funds, one item at a time. This experience made him appreciate their parish community even more, the place he considers his second home, where he entrusts his Catholic formation through strong bonds with other people.
"I was touched [by] how my fellow youth are willing to devote their time and effort for my benefit," he looked back. "I was also moved by the support [we] got from our community, whether they know me or not. They just want to be part of this cause."
Months passed, and Neil was able to secure the needed money for his WYD trip.
A denied Visa
Weeks before his flight, he graduated from college. On the way to the graduation venue, he received a dreadful update: his visa application was denied, along with almost 40 other delegates from the Episcopal Commission on Youth (ECY).
"What a wrong timing that was for me, but I managed not to think of it so it won't destroy the momentum of [one] of the happiest phases of my life. I was really saddened by it," he said.
But knowing well that he had already fought long and hard, Neil took the decision not as a setback but as an inspiration. He pursued a reconsideration, contacting the Embassy on a regular basis. Sadly, it was all for naught, and WYD was getting around the corner.
After almost giving up in the face of such a hopeless situation, the chance for reconsideration came less than a week before his flight. Together with only a handful of reconsidered applicants, Neil was asked to submit the requirements in just two days.
"Every passing day is very crucial for us," he said. "We need to pass our application as early as possible so we can fly on our supposed flights. And as the ECY has promised, two days after the resubmission, we got the result—I passed."
A worldwide system maintenance
Despite getting such amazing news, Neil’s celebration was cut short to face his final WYD roadblock: the Embassy’s worldwide system maintenance.
"The maintenance took a long time, and we were [advised] to rebook our ticket and pay again a huge amount for the rebooking fee," he explained.
His delayed flight resulted in him being separated from five other delegates from his diocese and being grouped with other reconsidered ECY participants.
Through the incredible support of his parish community and his steadfast faith, Neil finally got on the plane and flew to Lisbon to meet his fellow youth on a meaningful, global encounter.
"Our journey towards WYD drained us in many aspects—mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially," said Neil. "But we are now in Lisbon, participating [in] it, because we never give up our trust and hope to the Lord—the One who can really move mountains, no matter how things seem to be impossible."
"This experience allowed me to see God even in my loneliness and most vulnerable situations. I've been through a lot to get here, and still, God gave this thing to me, this is really for me, and I know I won't be forsaken by Him," he also said.
Spiritually energized and inspired by his WYD experience, Neil believes this has made him "a stronger youth leader" ready for more to come. For him, his youthful strength must be used to carry the cross of Christ and help build a stronger Church.
"Because the foundation of the Church in the future lies upon how stronger bricks we are now," Neil calls on the youth. "Allow ourselves to be purified by His grace."
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.