(A Christian Coachella)
I’ve never been the one to openly talk about my faith. Honestly, I never really explored my faith in depth, which is ironic because I’ve been going to catholic schools for the majority of my life. But that’s just it— my religion was just something I was raised to believe— I never questioned if I actually believed in the values and teachings of the Church or if I was just going along with everything that I was being taught. For the longest time, I thought of religion as an additional set of laws that I needed to abide by. As something restricting and boring. I was what priests call a “catholic that just goes through the motions—” someone who goes to church and prays, but doesn’t actually participate and believe.
Somehow, when the opportunity to travel to Panama for some church affiliated thing called “World Youth Day” arose, I felt drawn to it… I mean, who wouldn’t want to escape the freezing tundra of DC in the middle of the school year to go to Panama? Count me in. I didn’t think much about what we would actually be doing in Panama, but I was content enough with the fact that I got to skip school for ten days to travel.
As my departure date neared, I realized that I was actually about to embark on a religious journey and I didn’t think I was ready for it. The thought of going to mass everyday and hanging out with crazy religious people scared me.
When I landed in Panama, I had no idea what was to come and how much this trip would change my views on nearly everything. Not going to lie, my first day was rough. I was completely unprepared for the long walks across Panama City and the struggle to break the language barrier with hundreds of people.
Once I acclimated to the cultural differences and opened my heart to the experience, everything seemed to click into place. The thing about World Youth Day is that everyone was there for the same thing: to grow spiritually and to connect with people from all around the world in the Catholic community. It is the one place where a flag does not have the power to separate people. Instead of being turned away by someone’s ethnicity or culture, it brought people together and served as a great conversation ice-breaker. I found that despite our geographical differences, I had a lot more in common with the people I met there than some people I’ve encountered in my home country.
If you know me, then you know I LOVE WIERD ENCOUNTERS. World Youth Day was chalk-full of those. To say the least, I thrived. I asked out a group of seven boys from Boston to dance with me at a Christian Rock Concert— they all rejected me. I went anyways and had a blast… I got pulled up on stage and danced in front of a crowd and made a few friends in the process. When I saw the same group of boys a few days later, I bragged about the time I had at that Christian Coachella and they all expressed their regret… yeah, they should be sorry for rejecting me.
I was also told by a man from Denmark named Kaspar that I smelt like “bath powder…” Yeah that Kaspar was a way too friendly ghost. I also met a few french boys, and ooh-la-la, I fell in love. Using my signature line, this time in french, I asked them to dance with me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a grown man get so awkward and nervous. Yeah, you probably guessed it: I got rejected. Again. Bouncing back fast, I brushed it off and continued the conversation in my broken french. Turns out they are 21, 22, and 24 and live in Paris but hate it because the people are mean. They told me to study abroad and visit them in Paris. Good thing I don’t remember any of their names.
When I wasn’t embarrassing myself in front of strangers, I got to explore Panama City. In a city with rich history, the European influence was evident but it was randomly scattered in around the city with rundown buildings attached. It was dry season so the beaches were pretty much nonexistent, but that didn’t stop the sun from scorching my skin. I saw enough churches to last a life time, but each one was distinctly different and had its own charm.