BY Daniel Harkins | February 8 2019 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


The Glasgow pilgrims who beat the odds to see the Pope in Panama

Trio from Scotland travelled 7,000 miles via Spain and Costa Rica to reach World Youth Day

A trio of young pilgrims from Scotland who beat the odds to see Pope Francis in Panama have said World Youth Day made them feel less alone and helped them ‘recharge’ their Faith, as they returned to Glasgow.

No Scottish diocesan or national pilgrimage groups were organised this year to World Youth Day, which brings together young Catholics from across the globe every three years, and it was thought that Scotland was unrepresented at the gathering.

However, the trio from St Thomas in Riddrie, Glasgow, would not be beaten in their goal to attend and financed their own journey by selling almost 4,000 candles in churches and reaching out to a group who were travelling from Portugal.

Through December and January, they raised £4,000, covering more than half of the £2,000 cost each of their 7,000-mile journey from Glasgow to Madrid, Costa Rica and over the border into Panama.



Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Panama City from January 22-27. Among them were Madalena Fonseca, 21, Louise Swan, 21, and David Sanchez, 19. All three are part of the Neocatechumenal Way, a Catholic movement with around 100 members in Scotland.

Madalena came to Scotland from Portugal 10 years ago, David arrived from Spain four years ago after his father was asked to evangelise here by the movement, and Louise was born into the Way after her father was introduced to it by the woman he would later marry.

After putting out a call to friends in the movement, Madalena—who has been to World Youth Days in Madrid, Rio and Krakow along with Louise—managed to secure a space on the Portuguese pilgrimage.

Serendipitously, Portugal would later be announced as the venue for the 2022 World Youth Day, meaning the three pilgrims from Scotland were given a prime spot on the stage with Pope Francis during Mass.

Madalena studies optometry at ­Glasgow Caledonian University, David sports and coaching at the City of Glasgow College and Louise is enrolled in French and Spanish at Glasgow University.

Despite busy university schedules and exams, they took time out because ‘World Youth Day was more ­important,’ they said.


Faith recharged

David said WYD helps young ­people ‘recharge their Faith.’

“I say it’s like a battery of a phone. In Poland [for World youth Day 2016] it was 100 per cent, then after three years I was running out of battery and I needed to recharge it.”

He said the vigil Mass in Panama was an incredible moment. “I spoke to everybody that night, from all over the world,” he said. “From Canada, America, Columbia.

“When I went to [World Youth Day] my Faith wasn’t the best, but I could feel Him there, and that filled me up and I can now evangelise again.

“When the Pope was talking about Mary saying ‘yes’ to God, it reminded me of my situation when I had to come [to Scotland]. I felt like the Pope was inviting me to evangelise—and when I get back to college I’m thinking about telling them all what happened.”

Madalena said WYD was a ‘powerful’ experience.

“[The Pope] said some times young people can feel invisible and for me in my life I feel that a lot. You can feel very isolated here in your little life and nobody else believes and then you go to WYD and see all these people who believe the same as you. It’s incredible.”

She added that she hopes to spread what she learned at WYD back in Scotland.

“In my head I say, ‘yes, I’ll do the work of God,’ but when it comes time to act, it’s hard. It’s scary when you come back because you feel like you are in a bubble there, that everything is perfect, and then you come back home to reality. So it can be very hard to give witness to my Faith. But this pilgrimage was a very strong invitation to not be scared because God will be with us. I received so much at WYD that I’d feel very selfish if I keep it all to myself.”

Louise, who also attends St Joseph’s in Clarkston, took a Saltire with her on the trip, and proudly wore it at the various papal events—although she says many of the international pilgrims did not, unfortunately, recognise it.

She said that her Faith gives meaning to her life, and that joining the thousands of young people from across the world gave her hope.

“In Scotland it’s quite easy to feel alone, especially as a young person. Even in a church it can be quite empty. Most of my friends are not Catholic or if they were they don’t go to Mass and no longer believe in God. It’s very hard to be seen as different, and almost put yourself at risk to be mocked or not have any friends—which I know wouldn’t happen, but it is a fear.

“So it’s good to see other young people in the same situation with the same problems as you. It made me feel less isolated. Maybe that’s a problem—that we don’t interact with the youth enough in Scotland in the Church.”

The Neocatechumenal Way was formed in Madrid in 1964 by Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández. In Scotland, they provide catechesis, with groups meeting during the week and for Mass on Saturdays.

Madalena said the Way helps her find answers to life and deepen her Faith. “You participate—you’re invited to share what you’ve learned,” she said describing the movement. “You’re not just there sitting down and filling a chair—you are there because you are giving your life.”

And she encouraged other young people to follow the trio’s lead and attend the next World Youth Day. “It’s not impossible—we took 30 people with us to Brazil, again by selling candles, and its funny how people remember us,” she said. “It is possible if you really do desire to go. Go to World Youth Day—it gives you the strength to carry on.”

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