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Diocesan WYD pilgrims experience the universal church

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After spending a warm evening in Eucharistic adoration with the Holy Father, pilgrims from the Diocese of Arlington gathered around their sleeping bags in Panama City’s Metropolitan Natural Park and proceeded not to sleep before the next morning’s early Mass with Pope Francis. 

Emanuel Munoz, a parishioner from Holy Family Church in Dale City, said he was too excited to sleep and instead wandered around the park to chat and trade trinkets with groups from other countries. 

Renee Reneau described it as “the best feeling in the world” when she was able to make a trade with a fellow pilgrim at World Youth Day in Panama. Catholics from around the world carried keychains, T-shirts and flags to exchange with one another. Reneau, a parishioner of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, acquired a Panamanian flag and a Canadian flag pin. She traded an extra Diocese of Arlington T-shirt for a beautiful Panamanian necklace. She loved that everyone was eager to share a part of their country with one another. 

“I met people from Paraguay and we traded keychains and a sip of this special cold iced tea made with different herbs,” she said. “In order to be friendly and open, they were carrying around this tea just to let strangers be a part of their culture.”


Reneau, who has a master’s degree in Latin American studies, said she was excited to go to Panama and hear the pope speak in his native language. Fellow pilgrim Michael Fuentes, who is Cuban, also was excited to communicate with other Spanish-speakers and to translate for English-speakers. Many pilgrims carried radios throughout the week to tune into the frequency that had a live translation in their native tongue. 

“It was a beautiful opportunity to see the universal church coming together,” said Fuentes, a FOCUS missionary at George Mason University in Fairfax.

Seeing Pope Francis, either riding by in the popemobile or on the big screen at Mass, was a dream come true for many pilgrims. “I would say my favorite part was hearing Pope Francis talk and to see him in person,” said Fuentes. “I've never seen him in person, and he’s such a joyful man.” 

“The highlight was getting to see the pope in person,” said Munoz, “and getting to meet new people and doing fun activities — dancing, singing, praising.” 

Munoz hopes other young adults consider attending World Youth Day, which will be held in Portugal in 2022. “I would encourage young people feeling disconnected from the church to go to one World Youth Day so they know that there's a place for them,” he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019