SALT LAKE CITY — “With God in your life there are no barriers. … If you really work toward a goal, you will achieve it,” said Ernesto Méndez, a Sacred Heart parishioner and a member of the Neocatechumenal Way in Utah, describing what he learned after traveling to see Pope Francis during the Holy Father’s trip to the United States.
Some months ago the preparation for the trip to see Pope Francis started for Méndez and 52 other Catholic faithful from the Diocese of Salt Lake City.
Catholics from St. George, St. Francis Xavier and Sacred Heart parishes who are part of the Neocatechumenal Way received the invitation to go on the trip of their lives.
The Neocatechumenal Way, also called the Neocatechumenate, is a Catholic organization dedicated to the Christian formation of adults.
“Our catechesis from the Neocatechumenate told us that we could go to see the pope at the World Meeting of Families 2015 in Philadelphia. … We were shocked,” said Méndez.
From that moment on everyone started working hard to raise the money for the trip, he said.
“In my mind always was that we were going to be able to see the successor of the prince of the Apostles, Peter, as is clearly referred in the Bible, and that kept me going,” said Méndez.
They were successful in their fundraising, and Méndez was part of the group that went to Philadelphia by plane. They first arrived at a small parish, where they prayed for some hours before going to the streets to wait for Pope Francis to pass.
“When we saw him, the tears kept going down my cheeks. I prayed for all my family and for all my brothers and sisters in Utah,” said Méndez, who said that all the time that they waited seemed like just seconds after they saw the pope pass in front of them.
The experience changed in him, he said. “I knew that I had to modify my attitude in life. … I reflected on how materialistic I have been and sometimes we live as we were to be eternals.”
The group also gathered Sept. 26-27 at Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the World Meeting of Families, where they had the opportunity to see the pope again at the closing events.
After witnessing firsthand how Pope Francis radiates love in everything he says and does, Méndez felt the urgency of spreading and sharing the Gospel among all his brothers and sisters, he said.
“He invited us to be prophets in our family, in our communities,” he said. “God is always giving us opportunities, we just have not to be afraid and let him in in our lives and in our hearts. He will always care and help us.”
Others of the Neocatechumenate group spent six days driving across the country to witness the address of Pope Francis during the World Meeting of Families; many of these faithful are not legal residents of the U.S. Among them was Yuriria, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in Salt Lake City, who has been part of the Neocatechumenal Way for two years. Her last name has been withheld at her request.
Yuriria never thought that she would see Pope Francis in person.
“When we were invited to do the trip to Philadelphia, I really didn’t expect that we’ll see him. I was thinking ‘Maybe we’ll see his shadow and just hear his words,’” she said, but they were able to see and hear Pope Francis firsthand.
“This was a unique experience. It was a true blessing,” she said.
Her journey to see the pope began months ago on a road filled with fear and obstacles. She feared that they would encounter checkpoints on the way from Utah to Philadelphia, and that immigration agents would stop them, and that after the trip she would have no money to pay her rent or to buy food for her children.
“When I was told that I would have to help drive one of the vans, I was really scared,” she said. “I couldn’t stop fearing that instead of coming back home to Utah we were going to be stopped and deported, breaking our families apart … and I was also feeling responsible for all the 12 people that were traveling with me in the van.”
But with a lot of prayer and encouragement from all of her companions, Yuriria decided to face her fears.
“It was something unreal. … We were praying all the time, but at our first stop we were welcomed by a family that opened their house so we could spend the night there, and that made me realize that God was with us in that trip,” said Yuriria.
Besides opening their homes to strangers, the families that they encountered throughout their trip were always waiting for them with food on the table.
“They also made some lunches for us to take for the rest of the trip. … It was unbelievable, all the love that we were receiving on our way to have an encounter with the pope,” she said.
After seeing the Holy Father, the journey home was one of praise and singing, she said.
“We were all filled with joy and hope. … I felt different. My heart had a joy and a peace that I can’t describe with words,” said Yuriria.
The trip and the words of Pope Francis taught her that God is joy, and with Him there is no fear, she said.
Now I can say for sure that those who have God lack nothing; God alone suffices,” she said. “He is my joy, and with him in my heart, no matter what may come, I won’t be afraid.”