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World Youth Day Reawakens Faith for SAS Junior

February 22, 2019

“It’s a transformative experience that truly changes the way you view the world,” said Dean of Students Tiffani Blake in describing attending World Youth Day (WYD), along with SAS junior Adriana Sanes, in Panama City, Panama last month.

Held every few years in a different country, WYD brings together millions of Catholic youth from around the world for an opportunity to pray with the Pope. Blake and Sanes were part of a group of more than 50 who attended from the Archdiocese of New York.

“It’s a celebration of faith, where the Pope can get a message out to youth about the role they have in the church and how they should be living out Catholic social teaching in their respective communities,” said Blake, who previously attended World Youth Days in Spain and Poland. “It really gets you reinvigorated. I liken it to a big pep rally.”

“When Dean Blake first invited me to attend with her, it was at a time where I had really been disconnected from my faith, so I wasn’t sure I belonged,” said Sanes. “But I decided that I wasn’t going to block my blessings anymore and was going to fall into the opportunities that come my way. I’m really grateful that I did. Not only did this trip strengthen my faith but it reawakened it in me."

During the week-long visit to Panama, Blake and Sanes participated in numerous activities and celebrations at different sites in the capital city, including various catechesis sessions focusing on the WYD theme with bishops from around the world.

“The catechesis sessions meant a lot to me because the theme of this WYD was ‘I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,’ like Mary saying ‘yes’ to God and ‘yes’ to Jesus,” said Sanes. “Being able to sit in a room with people from around the world who share your faith and your language was a wonderful experience. It felt like it reaffirmed everything for me and that it was predetermined. God had this plan for me from a long time ago.”

There were also several opportunities to interact with Pope Francis. “The Pope is a Catholic celebrity,” says Blake. “You may be all clustered together and suddenly the police say ‘The Pope is coming down this road,’ and you see the whole road shut down.”

While both Blake and Sanes describe the whole experience as extremely fulfilling, it was not without its challenges. “Regardless of what country is chosen, with a million plus people suddenly arriving for an event, it consumes the whole area,” says Blake. “Sometimes you can’t fit on a train or a bus. So every day we were walking five or ten miles in the heat on very uneven roads and you’re carrying a backpack full of food, water and other items so you are prepared for whatever may come up.”

But with the challenges also came a bonding experience. “Literally, you’re caring for each other and I think that’s part of the experience that the Pope wants us to have. How are you helping others through the challenges and how do you sustain yourself when you are uncomfortable? So you’re hot and tired, and sweaty. Do you complain or do you say, ‘I’ve got this. I can do this.’ It really teaches you to be resilient and to not let things get to you.”

 The capstone experience at WYD was pilgrimage day. “By the time we got to the pilgrimage site, there were probably close to two million people camping out, some had tents, some didn’t.” The evening’s program began with praise and worship and then a vigil with the Pope. The next morning, the pilgrimage concluded with a Mass celebrated by the Pope.

“You’re there with all of these people of the same faith and then there are portions of the Mass where it’s totally quiet. To feel that deafening silence across a huge field is just amazing,” said Blake. “You really feel the spirit and it gives you the inspiration you to need to keep going until the next pilgrimage.”

Now that they have returned to CNR, both Blake and Sanes have found the experience has informed their respective roles.   

“Faith is a key component of our mission at CNR. So, as dean of students, how do I sustain my faith in a way in which I’m being the best I can be for students? How am I making sure that we have spaces that are comfortable for students to feel they can express themselves without fear of retaliation? How am I being welcoming and inviting to those who aren’t of the Catholic faith? The whole experience really inspired me to see new ways in which I could keep our space welcoming, inviting, and where students feel that the College is faith-filled in every interaction, whether it’s good or bad,” says Blake.

“The trip really humbled me. And I came back with a different mindset,” says Sanes. “As a resident assistant, things can get very frustrating and I’ve had to sit down and say, ‘okay, just take a few seconds for yourself.’ It encouraged me to become more involved in peer ministry as well. I want to be able to give back. And I would definitely encourage anyone who has the opportunity to go. Not only do you meet a lot of different people, you get to learn a lot and not just about the church, but about yourself as well.”

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