In January 2018, I attended a presentation on the then-upcoming 2019 World Youth Day and I decided I was not going to go. After all, it was going to be held during late January and I had a full-time job that may not let me take advantage of this opportunity.
There were so many reasons and unanswered questions to convince me that I was not available: Would I be even free during that time? Would I be able to raise enough money? Was I ready for the physical challenges that a World Youth Day pilgrimage would bring?
As I settle back into life in Markham and write this reflection, I realize my story is similar to those of other international pilgrims. They said to me, while I was in Panama, that they initially had school, work or family commitments that prevented them from coming. One person in our group even had an exam the day after our return flight. I've come to the conclusion that God chose for each pilgrim to attend in His providential plan. In my case, I had moved to Alberta to pursue a new short-term volunteer opportunity and took a six-month leave of absence from my full-time youth worker job.
In October 2018, an old friend invited me to World Youth Day during a chat. It was one of my goals to do this youth pilgrimage in the past but for various reasons, I said "no" before. Because I was available this time, I gave my "yes" to the Lord and decided to go. Looking back on this experience, I was blessed to travel with a group of 13 people, including a priest.
During the closing Mass at World Youth Day, I was inspired by Pope Francis' homily. He told young people to take risks, act and get involved in order to live in the "now" of God. This resonated with me because, as a young person, I feel the desire to learn more about faith, gain meaningful job experience and establish a career. For adults who serve young people, he challenged them to build foundations and create opportunities to get more youth involved. At the same time, as someone who works with youth in my workplace and in the church, I also feel the desire to provide them with chances for personal growth, support and leadership roles. Pope Francis called on the youth and adults for a common space to encourage dreaming and working towards the future.
While I don't know what God's plan is for me after an inspiring and powerful gathering such as World Youth Day, I know that I want to continue going deeper in my involvement with the church. When I lived away from home, I realized that I missed serving the Lord, by being either a youth ministry leader or lector. Now that I'm back in Ontario, I would like to share the gifts that the Lord has given me.
The theme of this year's event was from Luke 1:38: "I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."
I can only pray that I continue discerning what God has planned for me. But after listening to the Pope's messages this week, I have a new-found strength and am ready to go where the Lord takes me because I trust in Him.
Michael Chen is a youth worker serving immigrants and refugees in York Region.