World Youth Day participants share stories of forgiveness, conversion, mercy and challenges they live with
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[At the World Youth Day Vigil, prior to his address to the pilgrims, Pope Francis and the gathering heard the witness of three participants who gave personal testimonies to the power of Christ and his mercy in their lives. We urge you to read their very moving stories — Ed]
First Testimony: Natalia (Poland)
On Sunday, 15 April 2012, I woke up in my house in Łódź, the third largest city in Poland. At the time, I was the chief editor of a fashion magazine, I had been away from the Church for 20 years. I achieved success at work, dated nice men, went from one party to the next – this was the meaning of my life. Everything was fantastic. Until this one Sunday when I woke up with anxiety. I felt that the way I was living my life was far from good. I understood that I must go to confession that very day. I did not really even know how to confess, so I googled the word “confession.”
In one of the articles I found, I read this sentence: “God died out of love for us.” I completely understood this: God died because He loves me, He wants to give me Eternal Life and I am standing in the kitchen smoking a cigarette, acting like I do not care.
That is how I saw it. I started crying. I took a piece of paper and started writing all of my sins. All of my sins were very clear, they appeared in front of my eyes on their own. I realized that I had broken all ten commandments. I felt the need to speak to a priest. I went back to the computer and found that confession would be offered at the cathedral at 3:00pm. I ran to the cathedral, but I was afraid that the priest would tell me: “Your sins are too serious, I cannot help you.” But I gathered the courage and confessed.
I said everything; I cried heavily the whole time. The priest was quiet and did not say a word. When I was done, he said: “This is a beautiful confession.” I did not know what he was talking about, there was nothing beautiful in my sins. “Do you know what day it is today?” he said: “Divine Mercy Sunday. Do you know what time it is? Past 3:00pm. This is the Hour of Mercy. Do you know where you are? In the cathedral, where Saint Faustina prayed every day when she still lived in Łódź. It was to her that God said that on this day, He will forgive all sins, no matter how serious. Your sins are forgiven. They are gone, do not go back to them, do not even think about them.”
Those words were strong. Before my confession, I was sure that I permanently lost my chance at Eternal Life, but what I heard was that God had erased everything bad that I had done from my life forever. That He had always been waiting for me and that He chose this day for our meeting. I left the church like a battlefield – extremely tired but, at the same time, overjoyed, with a feeling of victory, and belief that Jesus was returning home with me. I have been preparing WYD in Łódź for the past two years so that others may experience what I experienced. God’s mercy is alive and continues today.
I am a witness of this and I wish the same for every one of you.
Second Testimony: Rand Mitri from Syria
My name is Rand Mittri. I am 26 years old, and I am from Aleppo, Syria. As you may know, our city has been destroyed, ruined, and broken. All meaning of our lives has been stripped from us. We have become the forgotten city.
It may be difficult for many of you to understand the full breadth of what is happening in my beloved country, Syria. Further, it will be very difficult for me to communicate to you a life of pain in only a few sentences, but I will do my best to share what reality of daily life is for us.
Every day we live surrounded by suffering, by death. But, just like you, each day we close our doors behind us as we leave for work, or for school. Unlike many of you, however, we are stunned by fear in that very moment that we will not return to our homes or our families as we left them. Perhaps, we will be killed that day, or perhaps our families will. It is a hard and painful knowing that you are constantly surrounded by violence and bloodshed, and worse, there is no escape; no one to help.
Is it possible that this is the end, and that we were born to die in pain? Or, are we born to live, and to live life to the fullest? My experience in this war has been a harsh, difficult and terrifying. Yet, it has helped me to mature and grow up before my time; to see things in a different perspective.
I work at the Don Bosco Center in Aleppo. Our Center receives more than 700 young men and women, coming with a hope to glimpse a smile and hear a word of encouragement. They are simply seeking something that is otherwise lacking in their lives: genuine human treatment. For me, it is very difficult to offer joy and faith to others, while I myself have been deprived of these things my entire life.
Through my short life experience, however, I have learned that my faith in Christ supersedes the circumstances of life. This truth is not conditioned on living a life of peace, free of hardship and pain. More and more, I believe that God exists despite all of our suffering. I believe, further, that sometimes through our pain, He teaches us the true meaning of love. My faith in Christ is the reason for my joy and hope. No one will ever be able to steal this true joy from me.
I thank you all and I earnestly ask you to pray for my beloved country, Syria.
Third Testimony: Miguel from Paraguay
My name is Miguel, I am 34 years old and I am from Asunción, Paraguay. I am one of 11 children, but I was the only one with drug problems. I overcame my addiction at Fazenda de la Esperanza San Rafael (Farm of Hope) in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
I used drugs for 16 years, since I was 11 years old. I always felt that I had problems with communicating with my family, as I did not feel close to them nor did I feel loved. We were always arguing and there was this tension all the time. I cannot recall being seated at the table, dining with my family. So, “family” was an unknown concept to me. My house was only a place to eat and sleep.
At the age of 11, I ran away from home, as the void within me was too big. At that time, I was studying, but I wanted “freedom.” Within a couple of months, I had my first experience with drugs on my way to school. This only deepened the void within me: I did not want to go back to my house, to face my family, to face myself. A while later, I left school and my parents would not let me come back home, as they lost all hope. At the age of 15, I broke the law and went to prison. When I was there, my father visited me and asked me if I wanted to change. I quickly answered “Yes.” I got my freedom back, but I broke the law again a while later. One day, I committed a felony and was taken to prison once more, this time for 6 years, during which I suffered heavily. I could not understand why none of my siblings would visit me. Years passed by and my prison sentence ended. My parents were still connected to the Church.
After getting out of prison, a priest – a family friend – invited me to a place called “Fazenda de la Esperanza.” My life had no sense nor direction. All those years lost were reflected in my eyes, in my face. I agreed to go there, and for the first time I could feel what a family was. At the very beginning, it was very difficult to connect with people, to live with people. In this community, the healing method is through the Word of God, through living the Word. In the healing process, I had a house-mate whom I could not forgive. I needed peace; he needed to be loved. In my seventh month in the house, I was given a responsibility in the house of helping it function better. This is how I understood that God wanted something from me. So, this house-mate got a letter from his wife. Their relationship was not doing well. This helped me understand him better. I handed him the letter and he said to me “bro, could you forgive me?” I answered “yes, of course.” From that very moment, we had an excellent relationship. God truly transforms us, He restores us.
I recovered completely 10 years ago, and I have been responsible for the “Quo Vadis?” house at “Fazenda de la Esperanza” in Cerro Chato for 3 years.