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Mary arose and went with haste” (Lk 1:39)

Portugal - A stop along the way to heaven

World Youth Day Lisbon 2023 Pilgrim testimonies

Eric Michael Imbao, CICM


It’s been over a month since pilgrims from World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, returned home, yet everything we have seen, heard, and witnessed on the pilgrimage still feels unreal. Undoubtedly, it left a mark in our hearts and faith that we will carry for the rest of our lives. 

A week before WYD, our pilgrim group had the blessing to visit holy sites in Rome and Italy. Visiting the catacombs of the first Christians and martyrs filled us with deep inspiration. We also visited the four major basilicas in Rome, with special access permission to the Necropolis or the tomb of St. Peter (underground Pope’s grottos at St. Peter’s). The group enjoyed the visits we made to saints like St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis, Blessed Carlo Acutis, St. Claire in Assisi, Italy. 








Arriving in Portugal, we spent a day in Fatima, visiting the houses of the three little children, walking meditatively at Via Sacra in Aljustrel (Shepherd Way), and seeing all the sites of the Our Lady of Fatima apparitions are a blessing our group will carry in our heart.


According to Vatican News, the week-long event was an electrifying tapestry of encounters, reflections, and prayers by young people from around the globe. United by the theme "Mary arose and went with haste" (Luke 1:39), participants answered the call of Pope Francis to come together and explore the depths of their faith and spirituality amidst diversity. These pilgrims arose to the challenge of the pilgrimage and went with haste to be messengers of joy.

The journey itself is filled with ups and downs, but one thing that can sum it all up is – “challenging”. But when there are challenges and difficulties in doing something, then there is also much to learn from and gain from it. It is like a principle of life, where there is gain, there will be pain. Or putting it in another way, no pain, no gain. Our pilgrim group gained so much from the sacrifices our group had to make for the WYD experience. From the long walks in the heat of the day to sleeping on gym floors, eating unfamiliar food, having nights of less sleep, and talking to people who speak a different language. Our pilgrims are happy to share their testimonies here:











One thing that will stay in my mind is the joy I’ve felt meeting people who are passionate about God. We sang and danced practically anywhere we found ourselves exhausted and tired. Instead of being impatient and complaining, our group remained joyful at every moment.” I believe we should take life the same way. Fr.  Eric Michael Imbao, CICM.


Among the pilgrims, Anthony Pablo (18 yrs. old), a parishioner of Maria, Reina De Las Américas in Mount Olive, cherished the memory of being in the presence of Pope Francis. He shared the message he took to heart: "No tengan miedo, tengan coraje" – "Don't be afraid, have courage." For him, these words meant embracing God's path without fear.

Karen Hildalgo (29 yrs. old), a parishioner of St. Mary of the Angels in Mount Olive

said, “The sheer sight of thousands of faithful gathered never failed to inspire awe

within her. She mused, this time, I thought I was ready to not be surprised, but

it felt like starting over again."


For Fatima Gloria Mesa-Romero (17 yrs. old) from Sta. Teresa, Beulaville, “Seeing thousands of people travel all over the world to worship one God is so amazing. I am not alone in the Catholic Church … there were thousands of us sharing the same faith.” 


Edwin Castaneda (20 yrs. old) from St. Catherine of Siena in Tarboro said, I walked into WYD not knowing what to expect. I knew I wanted to grow in my faith, and I felt like I did tremendously! I enjoyed the masses, meeting different people, and especially learning about my faith in ways I wasn’t sure about. The moment that will stick with me forever would be when Pope Francis said, “Don’t be afraid.” Those 3 simple words meant so much more to me because I feel like as a teen who was trying to grow in my faith, I felt afraid. I was afraid to speak about my faith and I was afraid to acknowledge it. Now, I feel like instead of avoiding my faith and looking at the other way I should embrace it! I should never be afraid to share my faith!

Edwin added that when things get hard, I can look back at this pilgrimage as a reminder that I’ve encountered many obstacles so there is nothing impossible that I’m not willing to try. I think life gets difficult sometimes and from those difficulties we often lose ourselves, whether it’s our faith or our passion for the Church. I think the Lord chose each and every one of us in that group to be there, so I feel like it’s our responsibility to share those experiences with others and try to encourage people to strengthen their faith in God, or maybe try to encourage them to go to the next WYD!

Other pilgrims shared their thoughts, too:





“When it was time to sing, we sang; when it was time to dance, we danced. And when it was time to pray, we prayed. We prayed for our families and all our communities. It was so nice being able to pray for others in different basilicas in Italy and Portugal, which left us amazed by the beauty and holiness of these sacred churches.” - Amy Galvez Ortiz (19 yrs. old)

The main thing I learned about WYD was how at home to not take everything for granted; to be grateful for everything we have and always be thankful to the Lord that He gave us another day, food, and a roof over our heads. Also, a time I will remember was when we were going up a mountain on a bus trip (this was a day after WYD) and I was telling Fr. Eric I see people hiking and how they look exhausted and it just reminded me of the time we were going up on a bridge on our way to the last activity at WYD vigil site, carrying so much food and being very tired. WYD taught me so much to be humble, to be glad with what I have. - Joseph Vasquez (16 yrs. old)


Not a day went by where I wasn’t tired, yet a day did not go by where I didn’t experience God’s love and joy. Walking extensively alongside 1.5 million people in the heat everyday gave me the happiness I didn’t know I lacked (and an awful chaco tan line). You gave me dance parties in the street and packed metro’s. Thank you WYD because of you I realized how comfortable it is to sleep on the floor. For all of this and more I am grateful. – Dulce Perez Berduo (18 yrs. old)


“The moment I loved the most was how each day we worked as a team by encouraging one another.” - Franuel Chima Cagal (15 yrs. old)



“I experienced calmness and a true connection with God. A moment that will stay in my memories is singing in the metro with other pilgrims. That brought me so much joy and inspiration.” - Diana Hernandez (16 yrs. old)


“During the pilgrimage, I learned to be patient with God’s timing and to trust in him. I personally experienced how huge the love of God is.” - Alexa Hurtado (16 yrs. old)





Pope Francis’ words that the Church is always a place 'para todos, todos, todos' continues to echo in the hearts of the pilgrims.” World Youth Day is a pilgrimage for everyone but what you will gain from it totally depends on what you are willing to invest in it. Our group invested in the sacrifice and the challenge of living the pilgrimage and so we gained so much from it. We seek discomfort by being comfortable in being ‘uncomfortable’. Just as Jesus’ disciples were called so much more than just having a comfortable life, we too as pilgrims here on earth journeying to our destination – in heaven, are also called for greatness, holiness, and discipleship. This is the road that God calls us to walk.

For pilgrims, WYD isn’t the destination, nor does the journey end in Portugal; our pilgrimage continues, and Portugal is just a one-stop along the way to heaven.


Bonus: At the sending mass with the Pope, CICMs from different missions met and shared the joy of our One Heart and One Soul.

In picture (from left to right): Fr. Louland Escabusa-Hongkong, Fr. Joseph Gao-Hongkong, Fr. Galuh Arjanto Bubun-Japan, Fr. Ryan Carnecer-Texas, Fr. Frederick Mizengo-North Carolina, Fr. Sonny Aryanto-Texas, Fr. Eric Imbao-North Carolina, and Fr. Bakatubia Madiayi Sébastien-Taiwan, and Fr. Francis Javelosa-Taiwan.

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