WYD2019 with Christopher M. Fernández

Reflections from a Postulant of Our Province

Reflection from the 15th international World Youth Day in Panamá City

Dear Friars, Family, and Friends,

What a whirlwind of a January! I am very excited to be writing you all about my recent pilgrimage to World Youth Day (WYD) in Panamá City! I got permission from my formators to attend this international gathering when I was applying to postulancy. I had registered to travel as an individual young adult with my home diocese, the Diocese of Arlington (right outside of DC in Northern Virginia), before applying to postulancy. Thanks to all of you who were praying for me on pilgrimage and especially prayerfully supporting us postulants during this first year of initial formation! You have no idea how important those graces are in the times we most need them!

Before flying out to pilgrimage in Panamá, all of us postulants were on our respective province tours. In a sense priming my pilgrimage with a fraternal/ministerial experience in our province, I found myself excited to interact with friars from around the world!

Thanks to the help of Our Lady of the Angels Province JPIC Chairman, Friar Michael Lasky, OFM Conv., and his connections to friars in Latin America in his travels through his Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) ministry, I was able to connect with Franciscan Friars Conventual present for the pilgrim festivities. There were in all about 10 friars from Central and South American custodies and provinces, in addition to 2 friars from Europe that I got to meet, not including a handful of others that were traveling as chaplains with pilgrim groups. The friars were helping with various events around Panamá city, alongside friars from the other branches of the order, in promoting prayer and conversations surrounding Laudato Si. In partnership with the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM), the friars were also able to participate in animating and singing to many young pilgrims from center stage after a couple of the main events with Pope Francis. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines gladly accepted the “Laudato Si Manifesto” on behalf of the greater church, this document presents the GCCM’s, Youth Franciscans (YouFra) and the friars’ challenge to the Church to actualize more action and consciousness in living out the lessons of Laudato Si and to reiterate (on the behalf of Young Catholics around the world) the need to incarnate and exemplify gospel values in our day to day lives as Christians caring for our common home—as promulgated by the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church (DOCAT). I was very fortunate to spend time with the friars and experience the graces of international fraternity, live out the missionary charism of Franciscan itineracy, and be present to the young church gathered before us.

Having experienced WYD once before in Madrid Spain 2011, it was exciting to be participating once again this year! It was actually back in Madrid where my experiences of the universal church really moved me to be more open to exploring my faith as a high school student. Little did I know that the graces I received on pilgrimage in 2011 cultivated the soils of my vocation today. Now returning on pilgrimage as a Franciscan Friars Conventual postulant made the experience all the more edifying.

Being functionally bilingual and further along in my faith life, it was neat to notice the details I was not aware of as a high schooler just eight years ago and even continue to unpack blessings from pilgrimage in Madrid. It’s funny, in English we call this pilgrimage “World Youth Day” but the majority of the other language groups and even the organizers refer to this pilgrimage as “la Jornada Mundial de la Juventud” (JMJ) which translates to “the World Journey of the Youth.” I have become a lot more fond of this title because I think it best encapsulates the experience and festivities. Getting to bump into youth of all ages—from middle school to young adult (<30’s)—and their accompanying family, Lay ministers and chaplains from all over the world and exchange fraternal cheers, songs, laughs, and even the few words that they can communicate in that moment (regardless of language) make the youthful energy very palpable. People from various walks of life journey to these youth pilgrimages all round the world to commune with the wider church and give witness that young people are still very much engaged as part of the mystical body of Christ and passionate about the gospel! Many fundraise and work real hard in the span of every two to three years to be able to travel on pilgrimage. Some have more arduous journeys than others to make it to respective JMJ sites. But in the end all return home convicted with the same drive to be missionary disciples and to live out our faith more authentically.

The Secretaries General for Mission Animation (SGAM) of the different obediences of the Seraphic Order encouraged the friars to participate in the youth festivities and pilgrim events with Pope Francis. The “Franciscan Ecological Village” hosted by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate hosted friars, Franciscan youth, and volunteers on their school ground. Together they mobilized various activities throughout the week (several I was able to partake in) motivating pilgrims to take time to reflect on modifying their lifestyles to live more simply in solidarity with the poor and heed the call for an ecological conversation. One evening, I was asked by our friars to help facilitate a small group in a wider panel discussion with YouFra (Youth Franciscans) and Ministers General from the different Franciscan branches about how the friars can improve their ministry and support of youth around the world. At the close of the JMJ a document summarizing the major points of the dialogue was sent to the Curias of the Orders in Rome.

The Holy Father encouraged us throughout our days with him to look to Mary for inspiration in her a humble and fearless fiat for how to live and love God’s mission for us. He exhorted us “You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God. He invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents, your elders; to stand up and with them to speak out and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you.”

Now a two time veteran of JMJ experiences, I can’t emphasize enough how empowering it is to attend these pilgrimages. Whether youth or youth at heart, we should encourage youth to embrace opportunities to take pilgrimages and spiritually prepare for the blessings our Lord grants on such powerful experiences. I for one am grateful for the influence pilgrimage has had on my life discerning a religious vocation!

Pray for youth today, they are as much a part of the Church as the rest!

Peace and all good,
Christopher Fernández
OFM Conv. Postulant (of Our Lady of the Angels Province)

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