Rome (Italy). Among the estimated one and a half million pilgrims at World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal, many were the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians present with groups of young people, with the Dioceses or with Associations.

Sr. Fernande Chimène Matsimouna, FMA of Our Lady of the Nations Province (FRB) originally from the Congo and a missionary in Tunisia since 2017, recounts the experience lived with the delegation of the France-Belgium-Tunisia Youth Movement.

Having left on 24 July, the three groups with a total of 125 participants: eight FMA, four SDBs, and 113 young people from the SYM met in San Sebastian, Spain, and reached Porto, Portugal together, where they spent a week. From there, on 1 August they left for Lisbon.

“When I was given the opportunity by the Provincial, Sr. Marie-Agnès Chetcuti, I was very happy and excited to participate in such a world event. I waited impatiently for the big day. I was hoping to be able to participate with some young Tunisians, but it was not possible. So, I was the only one to represent my country, and I hope that at the next WYD there will be others. It’s my dream!” explains Sister Chimène.

“After the lived experience, today I thank God for the opportunity that has been given to me and I am grateful to the Province and to my Community. It’s an exceptional, unique experience, and it’s a blessing! You have to live it to understand the strength and joy it brings.

Setting out with the young people of the Salesian Youth Movement was the best choice for experiencing this event. The bus ride was joyous and full of song. The stop in San Sebastian was an opportunity to get to know some young people. The time of fraternity, games, dances, and songs were moments full of sharing, to deepen knowledge with the young people of Belgium, Ile-de-France, the Region of Lyon and Marseilles. This is thanks to the organizational team who spared no effort to make this itinerary possible and effective!

The first week in Porto was the pre-WYD week. Every morning we chose the activities to follow during the day. There were lectures, debates, cultural evenings, musicals, concerts, shows, and various other activities. Friendships were created with the young people of the Diocese, with some pilgrims, and with the families who hosted some of us.

Cultural and linguistic differences did not prevent us from experiencing a very concrete fraternity. The program was also punctuated by moments of prayer, stations of the cross, testimonies, and sharing in fraternity, which allowed us to prepare well for the following week with the Pope in Lisbon.

The second week in Lisbon was more challenging. We had to walk a lot and it was hot. There was a lot of movement, many expectations, and also some unforeseen events. But it was also a week of immense joy. We sang on the bus, on the subway, on the train, and met pilgrims everywhere.

How many exciting encounters! How many touching words! What an atmosphere! The fact that everyone gathered in the same meeting place, proud to express their faith, gave rise to manifestations of joy, kindness, generosity, and solidarity. We were tired, but we had the desire, prompted by the Spirit, to get up and the joy of walking together, putting aside false prejudices. Despite the short nights and inconvenience, we had energy throughout the day. It was amazing! And then, for some of us, it was formation in group life: we learned to relativize. What an experience of faith!

Although not all the young people taking part in these days frequent the Church assiduously, even if not all of them have a solid faith, I believe they lived this two-week experience as a journey of conversion or strengthening of their faith. Through the meetings, the strong moments proposed, and the events organized, they had the opportunity to live their faith concretely, far from criticism and judgments. I remember the exclamation of a young man, ‘Wow, here I can live my faith without embarrassment!’ Or the two policemen in front of us, kneeling with great fervor at the time of adoration during the vigil with the Pope.

These were weeks in which I personally experienced the universality of the Catholic Church around the Pope, the successor of St. Peter. I remember this great multitude on the journey as a great sign of hope. The Via Crucis, the times of adoration and catechesis, the vigil, the Masses with the Pope, the moments spent with the Salesian Family around Mother Chiara Cazzuola and Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, the Rector Major, helped me to strengthen my faith and also made me feel happier in my FMA vocation.

I continue to pray that this WYD may not be a parenthesis in the lives of all these young people, but that it may bear much lasting fruit! I also hope that the three words/advice spoken by Pope Francis in the concluding Mass on Sunday 6 August, the feast of the Transfiguration, will resonate in the hearts of the participants: Shine, Listen, Fear not”.

Source: Don Bosco Aujourd’hui


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