I, Maria Pantin, was invited to spend two and a half weeks with a group of 8 boys and two ladies of whom I have occasionally interacted with since my moving to St. Joseph and my involvement with the parish church two years ago. My interaction with the youth group Tomorrow’s Vibrant Youth and its leaders Sr. Sandra Xavier and Mrs. Maureen Clapperton became more intense weeks prior to our intended departure. These interactions basically dealt with cake sales, and the overall organizational processes in getting things completed before the actual trip. Being the Communications Officer of St. Joseph Parish and a part of the Catholic media, specifically Trinity Communications Network, I knew that upon my return to Trinidad I had my work cut out for me, I would have to give the parish the good news on how these young boys specifically, Andrew Lall, Chike Hernandez, Larry Seelal, Ato Benjamin, Shane Harricharan, Josh Harricharan, Jabari Bajnauth and Jeremy Williams, all between the ages of eleven to sixteen dealt with, overcame and enjoyed their first World Youth Day pilgrimage in Espana.
A mixture of both excitement and anxiety was very evident on the faces of parents as they released their young children into the charge of guardians at Piarco. It was to be truly an experience of a lifetime, where deep spiritual development and a cultural exchange could be thought and learnt. After a quick photo session and a hustle though the thorough security gates, Sr. Sandra grounded the rules and reemphasised her power of authority. As firm as it may have seemed it was all for their own good as they had to learn and understand that she and Aunty Maureen were fully responsible for them. In the end she softened it a bit by stating that for this trip, she will be adopting the role as their mummies and daddies, basically if they had any concerns they could come directly to them. This was a rule that played a vital role throughout the trip in both good times and bad.
The following day I would be separated from the youth group, due to our differences in schedules, only to return with a bus load of our Caribbean neighbours, Jamaicans and Venezuelans a day later. When I arrived at our destination I found everyone was settled in a large stadium in Torledo. The women had to be separated from the boys who were housed in a building on the same compound. However, that little situation was sorted by Sr. Sandra who elected both Andrew and Chike to act as leaders in her place while the boys occupied the dorm. However, every night she visited TVY to ensure that they were comfortable and together. Given that the first three days were considered ‘free days’ (those are days without any set activities) the boys made the most of it. They engaged in football, interacted with the wider Trinidadian community and even took the time to do some shopping for their friends and loved ones. Although they were miles from home, their families and friends remained close at heart as they purchased tiny items from what little spending money that they had to ensure that mummy and daddy received a small memento of Spain.
Aside from the shopping these young lads, explored the dry countryside, given that we had arrived in the midst of summer, and came to fully appreciate the spectacular views that Torledo afforded them.
Apart from the prayers and worship with the Trinidad contingent, both Sister Sandra and Aunty Maureen ensured that TVY prayed as a group. Being a Dominican Sister, Sister often read excerpts from a Dominican book ensuring that all of us appreciated aspects of Dominican Spirituality. Daily Sister reminded TVY to pray for all the parishioners of St. Joseph, Fr. Ferdi, Fr. Karol and their parents. This was particularly evident when we visited the churches and Holy sites in later days to come. Some of the boys had written petitions from St. Joseph parishioners which they offered up at masses. Sister also emphasised the need for silent prayer which the boys appreciated. They adhered to this request and they sat in private places in the various churches and prayed. During the course of our journey, when things got tough sister encouraged the boys to prayerfully reflect on their purpose in Spain and to accept things humbly and lovingly while holding on to each other. Both Aunty Maureen and Sister were very determined in leading the boys into a deeper relationship with Christ, thus, they were often undeterred by disappointments and difficulties.
As the fourth and final day came to a close, we were sent off in a farewell service in the parish church, in a very carnivalesque manner which reflected our very rich Trinidadian and Caribbean flamboyant culture.
After this spectacular celebration we were quickly shuttled off to Mocejon where we were to meet our host families. Here in this small town a new adventure would begin and more favourable memories would be formed.