By Jessica Easthope
More than a million and a half people started out on a 6-mile trek in triple-digit heat — to the vigil that defined their pilgrimage to Portugal, with their sleeping bags in hand.
For Vincent Flores, a pilgrim from Our Lady of Help of Christians in Midwood, he remembers lying on the rocky ground as the sun went down, feeling closer than ever to his faith.
“Doing the walk, my faith has grown,” Flores said. “It’s become deeper and stronger. It was definitely very grueling, but God carries me through all struggles.
“My prayer life will definitely be changed when I pray,” Flores said. “I’ll be praying more deeply and from the heart.”
Bishop Robert Brennan knows the pilgrims sacrificed for their faith — that long walk and all throughout World Youth Day.
“They’ve been making those sacrifices all week,” Bishop Brennan said. “There were early mornings and late nights and looking out for one another and in that sense bearing the hardships, dealing with big crowds, they are sacrifices, but in the end they found it was worth it,”
Bishop Brennan was also in that crowd as adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament began ahead of the overnight campout.
“They brought the Blessed Sacrament out and everyone just quieted down, can you imagine that,” Bishop Brennan said. “A million and a half people in one place in total silence in the presence of the Lord. It just goes to show you the depth of the Catholic faith, we know how to have a good time and enjoy each other’s company but we also know when it’s time to focus on Jesus.”
Father Dwayne Davis, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Flatlands, said the most rewarding part of the pilgrimage was seeing it all come together for the pilgrims.
“At night when there was so much quiet for the Holy Hour and we were all there worshiping Jesus together,” Father Davis said. “Seeing them grow in their faith, seeing the light come on in their eyes, it was really a great joy.”