Home Away From Home: A World Youth Day Throwback Testimonial

(By Maria Elena Ochoa | Saint Paul the Apostle Parish)

I can’t believe it’s been a year since we left Manila to be a part of the World Youth Day in Poland. It seems like it was only yesterday when we were practicing "Love Is the Answer "and the Subli dance, and stuffing three weeks worth of clothes in our suitcases.

Some months, weeks, and days before the trip, I still was in disbelief that I was going to be a part of World Youth Day. I had no expectations about the pilgrimage because it was my first time to join one. But of course, there was still that excitement of traveling to new places, and the anxiety of not being with my family for almost a month.

Little did I know that I would hardly feel homesick during the entire length of the pilgrimage. One of the highlights of the trip was the given opportunity to make new friends and family. That is saying a lot for someone who is shy and semi-socially awkward.

The start of the Days in the Diocese was a bit daunting since we had to separate from the familiar faces of our friends from the Diocese of Cubao. I soon realized however that the hospitality of the Polish wasn’t very different from what we’re used to in the Philippines, and I quickly warmed up to my foster family, the Paszdiors. When all of the day’s activities were done and we’re back at their house, we would always gather around their dining table and share stories over delicious home-cooked meals. 

Our days in the diocese were jam-packed with activities. Through their activities, we already got a taste of what to expect during the World Youth Day proper. We got to watch a program and hear mass in a big airport field, sing and dance with people from other countries, and even practice sitting under the rain and heat. Within those five days, I also got to bond with the other foster families and my co-delegates. It was understandable why everyone was so emotional during the day we left our foster families and transferred to Krakow.

It was a roller coaster of emotions and experiences during the WYD proper. Being in a strange place was challenging, but I couldn’t have survived without my Apartment 4 friends. We would always get lost but would eventually find a way to our destinations. Every day was an adventure with them. In Krakow, we were able to memorize how to go to the old town, visit the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Lagiewniki, see Pope Francis up close, hear the inspiring message of Cardinal Tagle during his catechesis at the Tauron Arena, attend the vigil, and walk six hours straight from Campus Misericordiae in Brzegi back to our apartment. Despite the various conditions we were immersed in, I am very thankful that none of us got sick. We all just felt blessed because despite the tiring and challenging activities, we were always spiritually-fulfilled.

All the experiences I had and the people that I met were enough for me to not get homesick. After a year, I am happy to be able to look back to my first World Youth Day and remember all the people I met and spent time with--people whom I now consider as family.