Oblate Voices is a JPIC blog that follows stories of hope and is about how Oblates and associates live and experience mission work in the spirit of the Oblate founder, St Eugene De Mazenod of responding to the needs of poor and most abandoned around the world.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Young Catholics From Oblate Parish Journey to See Pope Francis

When Pope Francis addressed an estimated 50,000 in the city of Morelia in Mexico recently, present in the crowd were young parishioners from St. Eugene de Mazenod in Tijuana, Mexico. But according to Fr. Jesse Esqueda, OMI, youth minister and group chaperone, mental preparation for this once in a lifetime event started way before leaving Tijuana. Before beginning the trip Fr. Jesse gathered the group on several occasions to study Pope Francis’ writings and encyclicals. He also spoke to them about potential hardships during the trip: flying from Tijuana then driving two and a half hours by car to Morelia; being outdoors in the hot sun; limited access to food and water; and waiting in long lines for restrooms. He reminded the young men that they were ‘pilgrims not tourists’ and a certain degree of sacrifice was necessary for their experience to be successful. When they returned they would be expected to share their experience with others in their home and church community.
Left to right: Miguel Munoz, Alan Walle-(on one knee), Pedro Verdugo, Fr. Jesse, Luis Herrera, Luis Alberto Zepeda
The Oblate Mission in Tijuana, Mexico is a large parish consisting of fifteen communities: one church and 14 chapels. About 200 young people participate in youth ministry, not counting children in the Confirmation program.

The five young men selected for the trip range in age from 18 years to their early 20’s. They are either in college or about to attend college. Two are studying to become engineers. All are discerning a vocation with the Church.

Excitement grew as departure day approached. A day before the event they first traveled by air then drove two and a half hours to the city of Morelia. They spent their free time exploring the city, interacting with other young travelers and praying. One of the young men brought his guitar and played to small crowds. Being in a city renowned for gangs, drug violence, kidnappings and poverty, the young men suddenly realized that while Tijuana was similar to Morelia in many ways, in other ways Morelia’s youth maybe had it even worse.

On the big day the group arrived at the stadium at 7AM for an event set to start at 4PM. The crowd was exuberant as they waited to hear the Pope, whose native language, like theirs, is Spanish. Despite long lines for restrooms, limited food and water, and in the words of Fr. Jesse, ‘baking in the sun’ for nine hours, none of the young parishioners complained. Then about half an hour before Pope Francis took to the stage, the energy in the stadium escalated as the crowd sang, danced and waved colorful banners.  

The Pope’s message of hope resonated with an audience of young people eager for words of encouragement. Fr. Jesse said they were overcome with emotions and a few of them shed tears as they listened to the Pope’s message. When young people who were part of the program presented Pope Francis with a list of some of the problems they are facing, he addressed each in a ‘humorous and refreshing way’, noted Fr. Jesse. He described the entire experience as ‘very moving and motivating,’ a moment that ‘ignited a fire’ in them. “We were very impressed with the level of excitement the Pope generated among youth,” he said.

After both an exhilarating and spiritual time, the group returned to Tijuana and has since shared their experience with an audience of at least 120 youth.

Fr. Jesse offered some final thoughts on his experience as Youth Minister at St. Eugene de Mazenod. He described the young men he mentors as very driven with high aspirations. Many come from low-income families. Families offer emotional support but are less able to offer much monetary support. Most of the young men work minimum wage jobs, attend university and keep busy with the church.

Having also worked as a youth minister in California, Fr. Jesse expressed that he sometimes forgets the reality of young people in Tijuana.  He gave the example of their youth meetings, which sometimes extend into the evening. Young parishioners then have to scramble to catch a bus or two, or hitch a ride home. ‘Parents don’t drive up to get them like you would typically see at a California parish,” he said.

Fr. Jesse Esqueda, OMI is in his second year of Youth Ministry at the St. Eugene de Mazenod parish in Tijuana. Prior to that he served as youth minister at the Oblate parish of Santa Rosa in Los Angeles, CA. He has BA degree in Philosophy from D’Youville College and made his vows to become an Oblate in August 2013. He was ordained a priest in May 2014 and received his M.Div. from the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. For his pastoral internship, he spent a year at the St. Jude Shrine in New Orleans. He also served as a lay missionary in Honduras.

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