CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Maryknoll students at World Youth Day


Jasmine Lo and Nicole Tong, from the Maryknoll Convent School in Kowloon Tong, reflect on their experience at World Youth Day in Europe during July and August

It was the longest trip I have ever been on, lasting a total of 17 days. We went first to Vienna, then Bielsko and Krakow, and finally Warsaw.

We stayed with host families in both Bielsko and Krakow, where we visited many places such as Auschwitz, the Black Madonna, the Basilica of St. Faustina and St. John Paul II’s home.

In Bielsko, I stayed with a family with two sons. The whole family is really sporty. We played sport together after returning home, even though we were very tired after all the visits.

I enjoyed many new experiences, such as barbecuing in the garden, picking berries and eating them straight off the bush, playing volleyball barefooted on the grass and bouncing on a trampoline.

On leaving this wonderful family, I just could not hold back my tears. I really enjoyed my stay with them and feel really grateful for their hospitality.

In Krakow, we stayed with a totally different type of family, this time with a grandmother. The atmosphere was totally different.

I actually felt a bit disappointed until one of my teachers talked to me. She said that the host families had no obligation to offer us shelter. 

They would be offering us all they possibly could and we should always be grateful and appreciative of what they were doing for us.

Her words reminded me of a quote from St. Francis de Sales, “Ask for nothing, refuse nothing.” From then on, I never complained about the host family and found that the grandmother was in fact really cute!

During the main events of World Youth Day 2016, we went to Blonia Park twice, participating in the opening Mass and the way of the cross.

I had never seen people performing the way of the cross, so it was totally new to me. We missed the papal welcome for some reason, which was a pity.

The vigil was another completely new experience for me. I have been to many camps, but I had never slept under the stars with no roof over my head. Although there were many queer insects, a man we did not know offered to help us kill the bugs.

He even said that if we saw any insect at night, we could wake him up so that he could help us. We were really touched, because a stranger whom we had never met before was willing to sacrifice his own sleep just to offer some fearful girls a helping hand.

Words just could not express our gratitude to him.

Since making the trip, I have become more caring. I have always been an independent girl, but before, I only did things to help myself so that I could live better. I never thought about others.

I believed that everyone should have the ability to help themselves, otherwise, they did not deserve what others had. However, that attitude was totally wrong.

The theme of this year’s World Youth Day was, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. We should always be merciful towards and care about others, because this is what God wants us to do.

I now find myself more faithful to God. I attended catechism classes at school last year, because I wanted to become a Catholic, but I skipped half of them. I did not even know if I would be able to attend Mass every week since schoolwork takes up so much time and is so tiring.

However, now—I have no idea why—I believe that I am able to do so. I think this trip actually helped to bring me nearer to God.


                              Jasmine Lo
Form Three  

Being a pilgrim from Hong Kong at the 2016 Krakow World Youth Day was something I had never envisaged.

Attending a Catholic school from the age of six and being at the same time a member of a Christian Church, I attend Mass, arrange summer camps and lead worship, but never have I thought of joining an international event for young people organised by the Catholic Church.

However, God always has his plans.

In the middle of the trip, news about the terrible incidents in France spread and terrified me and my friends.

I phoned my parents, feeling determined to leave Europe and return home immediately, but my parents would not hear of it.

I tried praying, but was still unable to let go of my fear and gradually fell victim to phobia. I cried all day, became dehydrated and had to be admitted to hospital the following day.

In retrospect, it was clearly extremely silly of me to worry when I had God by my side and still wonder who to rely on.

One of the most treasurable and unforgettable memories of the trip must be the time spent with our host families. It was a really precious, rare opportunity to enjoy such an experience.

I was excited, but at the same time quite nervous before meeting them for the first time.

We had no idea what to expect, from how many people there would be in the family to which classmate or teacher we would be paired up with. Fortunately, I had a great time and communicated perfectly with our host families.

Their very generous hospitality made me think of my own family much more often than I expected to as I seldom get homesick while travelling on my own to fencing competitions and training.

I learnt to be grateful for what others did unconditionally for me. Saying that I learnt not to take things for granted might sound like a cliché, but I sincerely mean it.

Looking back on the experience, I truly miss the starry nights and the skies that were so good at being skies in Poland. By contrast, here in Hong Kong with all its air pollution, street lights and neon signs, it is virtually impossible to look at the stars, let alone enjoy blue skies.

I miss Scooby as well, my host family’s Labrador Retriever, particularly his snoring while fast asleep. I miss his enthusiastic welcome when we came home; his energetic bounding around when we played with him.

On learning that the next World Youth Day will be held in Panamá, I was quite disappointed, as it is really too far from Hong Kong. However, it is not necessary to worry about this at all since, as we know, God always has his plans.

I gained many valuable experiences and life lessons throughout this trip, which was so much more than I expected. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to be a pilgrim at the 2016 Krakow World Youth Day.

This may be the closest I’ve ever been to the fear of facing death. “Yet death is the destination we all share” (Steve Jobs). Have the courage to follow your calling from God. Thanks be to God.


                                 • Nicole Tong
Form Four

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