Local youth travel to Brazil for World Youth Day

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

Among the 3 million or so faithful who attended World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, were 10 teenagers from Holy Family Parish in Copperas Cove on their first trip to this international event.
They spent 18 months selling tacos, cleaning cars at car washes and holding garage sales to help pay their way to Brazil in July.
The trip strengthened their faith and forged a bond that these youngsters will never forget. High on the list of favorites was seeing Pope Francis in his first international outing. Aside from seeing the pope, they heard familiar prayers recited in different languages, exchanged flags, buttons and rosaries with people from around the world and took lots and lots of photos. It wasn’t always fun:  they were 8 miles from the main event sites, it was cold, it rained, they got up early and went to bed late. But those who are eligible plan to attend the next WYD in Krakow, Poland, in 2016.
For parent and chaperone Kristina Williams-Myers, the expression on the youngsters’ faces upon seeing Pope Francis was priceless.
“This is the first pope they will really remember,” she said. “They are the first group of kids to see him at a World Youth Day event. They were excited beyond the rock star thing.” 
Teenagers attending were Amanda Arrisola, 16; Sara Myers, 17; Katherine Myers, 17; Emily Myers, 16; Emanuel Martinez, 17; Adan Rivas, 16; Valeria Fernandez, 16; Matthew Spears, 16; Timothy Fajardo, 18; and Tamarah Milne-Myazoe, 16. All are students at Copperas Cove High School except Fajardo, who graduated in the spring, and Rivas, who just moved with his family to El Paso. Students from St. Elizabeth Parish in Pflugerville and St. William Parish in Round Rock also traveled to Brazil.
Arrisola said it was new youth director Meghan James who suggested attending WYD, which got everybody excited. James told them it would be lot of hard work to raise money for the trip; thankfully, the payoff was beyond their expectations.
“It was overwhelming,” Arrisola said. “There were millions of people and everybody was there for the same reason. You wouldn’t think that so many youth would be involved with church. It was different languages but the same Word.”
Seeing the pope the first time was very emotional. “Everybody was screaming and crying,” she said.
The life-changing moment for her occurred when the pope stopped to hold and kiss a baby.
“The fact that he reached out was incredible,” she said.
Sara Myers said the experience has helped her enjoy attending church more and it has strengthened her faith.
“Some people say, ‘why bother?’” she said. “God doesn’t control your life. But if you follow God, he will guide you in the right path.”
She liked attending Mass, with people praying in their own languages, as well as attending a vocations fair that included a presentation by people building schools in Africa.
“It made me think I can do that,” she said. “It gave us a lot to think about.”
Katherine Myers, who is an altar server, said seeing the pope was “phenomenal.”
“He was about 10 feet away,” she said. “He looks so much younger in person. He looks very peaceful and holy.”   
Going to confession in the tent-like confessionals was also a highlight.
“I felt like a whole different person,” she said. “It was powerful.”
Martinez, who graduates next year, said he was “looking for a faith booster,” and he got it.
“You could say I’m a born-again Catholic,” he said. Seeing the gigantic Jesus statue was a powerful experience.
“I could feel Jesus radiating,” he said. “The same thing happened when I saw the pope. I really felt his presence. Everyone really listened intently to his words.”
Rivas said his first reaction upon hearing the group might go to Brazil was, “Ooh! Travel!”
Once he was there, he was impressed at everyone celebrating their faith.
“I wish we could have gotten more people to go or gone to fewer events,” he said. “There was so much. We were very tired.”
Fernandez said the experience brought her group closer and made them realize just how universal the church is. They met youth from Iraq, South Korea and Kuwait and exchanged gifts with kids from Ireland and Argentina. 
She wishes she had learned some Portuguese –– as did some of the others.
“I know some Spanish so that helped,” she said. She also wishes they had brought Texas and U.S. flags to exchange. She plans to bring both to Poland.
Spears said attending Mass “was amazing” and saying the rosary “was really cool … each decade was in a different language,” he said. 
Praying daily at WYD also strengthened his prayer life and helped him deal with the frustrations of dealing with the crowds.
“It made me realize prayer can get me out of any situation,” he said.
Williams-Myers said the trip was also an opportunity for her own renewal.
“Sometimes you get stagnant,” she said. “It helped me remember why I’m Catholic.”
At the event, she said, “you truly feel that you are the church, one body. That was awesome!”
Adults need to recognize that today’s young people will not follow the faith just because they are told to do so.
“This generation needs concrete answers to their questions,” she said. “We have to be cognizant of that. We need to communicate that with love and really listen and be respectful of their questions and answer those questions even when it’s hard.”
The next WYD will be in July 2016 in Krakow, Poland. It is open to youth ages 16 to 35, although anyone over the age of 18 signs up independently. For more information, visit www.krakow2016.com/en/.

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