Thousands of youth descended on Lisbon, Portugal, for this summer’s World Youth Day. Photo by Victoria Zilio

Mission possible: Canadians at WYD

  • September 14, 2023

For 19-year-old Elizabeth du Quesnay, it was listening to a prompting in her heart that led her to World Youth Day this summer in Lisbon, Portugal.

“I wanted to experience the universal Church in the unique way created by St. Pope John Paul II,” said du Quesnay, a second-year student at the University of Ottawa. “The Lord had really been convicting me about the importance of evangelization and sharing the faith that He had given me, so I decided it was time to learn how to go on mission.”

Du Quesnay, along with 34 other youth, felt called to make the trek to Lisbon with Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) as a student missionary. The team, co-led by CCO campus missionaries Amanda Ho and JK Quibael, spent a week in Fatima on pilgrimage at the Youth Arise International Conference before heading off to Lisbon for WYD the week of Aug. 1-6.

The student missionaries participated in Rise Up, a newly implemented model of catechesis at WYD. Scattered at locations across the Portuguese capital, Rise Up challenged youth to reflect on core themes in the Francis papacy like integral ecology, social friendship and mercy. CCO’s student missionaries animated the Canadian Gathering and the Blessed Carlo Acutis Centre, both Rise Up sites, through evangelization and outreach.

CCO missionaries hosted a first-class relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis at his centre, which attracted an estimated 25,000 pilgrims. There were opportunities for eucharistic adoration, music and youth testimonies as well as relic veneration. 

Ho, campus team leader for CCO at Toronto Metropolitan University, said that a Canadian delegation was led to Portugal to spread the Gospel.

“Our main mission was to share the Gospel message personally using our Ultimate Relationship booklet (UR) and invite individuals to relationship with Jesus Christ,” said the 26-year-old.

The UR booklet is CCO’s tool for evangelization that tries to explain the Gospel in a way that encourages young people to personally encounter Christ.

“When I shared the UR for the first time with a girl who opened her heart to Jesus, I felt a joy well up inside of me that I had never felt before. Despite my initial fears about sharing the faith, the Lord gave me so much grace to overcome, and I had no idea that it was possible to be that happy over someone returning to the Lord or coming to Him for the first time,” said du Quesnay, who is majoring in second language teaching.

It was a joy to see young people grow in their faith, said Ho.

“It was a huge gift to my own missionary heart to witness the student missionaries grow in a heart for the world and in understanding the importance of evangelizing. So many of them experienced great joy the first time they stepped out in courage and faith to share the Gospel personally with someone. This joy of the Gospel propelled them to continue evangelizing, and they each grew in understanding their personal call from Jesus to engage in His great commission,” said Ho.

Victoria Zilio’s path to WYD was a bit different than du Quesnay’s and Ho’s. Having been connected through a friend, she went to Lisbon with a diocesan group from British Columbia as a pilgrim, not a missionary. The “Days in the Diocese” — the week preceding WYD — was most rewarding for Zilio. 

“We went about a week early to Porto. Families from the parish took us into their homes. We got an idea of what Portuguese culture was like as if we were actually living in the country,” said Zilio, who is currently working as an early childhood educator in Orangeville, Ont. “The families that hosted us are people I want in my life now — and definitely at my wedding.”

The Days in the Diocese, which spanned 17 dioceses across mainland Portugal and the islands, integrated young people into parish dioceses to foster a true experience of mission and evangelization in the Catholic Church.

Emerging themes from WYD for Zilio were vulnerability and faith.

“In not having a hotel or an Airbnb to go back to, we were completely dependent on total strangers to take us in and to feed us. I was allowing myself to become voluntarily vulnerable, becoming helpless so I could be more dependent on God. The sense of peace I felt in my uncertainty was very surreal and impactful,” she said. 

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