It was Wednesday, 17th August 2011, I was on a pilgrimage for World Youth Day (WYD) in Madrid and unintentionally met my Indonesian community Chaplain in Brisbane, Fr Nestor Sinaga. Since that day was a Commemoration for Indonesian Independence Day, we tried to look for the Indonesian Catholic youth gathering event in hope for a little celebration. But in the end we couldn’t find any, and instead we met two random Indonesian seminarians studying in Madrid. We ended up having a nice little celebration dinner with them. However, after exiting the restaurant, we were suddenly in the middle of thousands of demonstrators who were protesting against WYD. I was super confused, because we the pilgrims came in peace but why this reaction?
With all the pilgrim attributes we wore, they recognised us immediately, they started mocking us and a woman even came over “flashing” at Fr Nestor. I was so afraid that we were trapped and lost, but thank God the two seminarians (with their local knowledge) were able to lead us safely out of the sea of protestors.
The message in today’s Gospel is terrifying, that Jesus would cast a fire upon the earth and bring division in the family, yet I further learnt that the context there is a world of “dysfunctional family”. Just as my experience in WYD 2011, it means there are those who will be against us when we follow Jesus.
Never before had I experienced my faith being confronted until that moment. In the midst of my fear, Fr Nestor consoled me not to be afraid, keep wearing the pilgrim cross around my neck and to not to hide it (as he wouldn’t hide his collar either). The two seminarians with calm voices told us “do not worry, we know the way, come follow us”. On our way out, the protesters were on our left and right shouting and insulting at us, although it was all in Spanish and I barely understood it, it still hurts. Something then struck my mind to reflect on, “so is this what it is like when Jesus carried the cross to Golgotha while the surrounding people mocking him?”
My experience was nothing compared to when Saints and Martyrs were persecuted, but it has a similar message. What were my chances, out of 1.5 million pilgrims, meeting Fr Nestor, the seminarians and having that memorable faith experience, if it is not God’s plan telling us He was there all the time.
It is really a reminder that when we follow Him, the whole world may not like us, they may even hate us, but we keep carrying our cross, hold on to our faith and know that He is there with us.