By Pilgrim Anitra Yu
As the youngest pilgrim on the Inroads’ Guadalupe Expedition and my first pilgrimage overseas and away from my family, my first reaction to my parents’ full support cannot simply be expressed in a few words! I had registered a good few 3 months ago and as I was counting down to our takeoff I had thought about the different places we were going, wondering who we would meet, the food we would have, our accommodation etc but as inexperienced as I am, not one split second did it cross my mind how extremely worn out, how tired and how sick I would be during this 14 day pilgrimage. A 17 year old who had just finished her HSC, that was definitely the last thing anyone could imagine. So leaving for an early flight on 13th January, I was totally pumped though half asleep! Not looking forward to spending so much time on a plane having not been on a plane since I was 4 and not remembering the experience at all. Sleepy but unable to sleep upright, I had no choice but to stay awake and keep myself entertained with movies whilst trying to understand what the other two ladies sitting next to me were saying (unfortunately they didn’t speak English so communication was a bit of a problem).
Nevertheless the other 16 pilgrims (Bishop Comensoli was yet to meet us in LA) and I arrived in Seoul with eyes barely opened and patiently awaited our flight to LA which was made easier with their International Airport wifi! Jetlagged as we were, we boarded out flight to LA (another long flight) and arrived safely where we were delighted to see Bishop Comensoli with a big smile on his face. After our visit to Our Lady of the Angels and celebrated mass in one of their chapels we were excited to arrive at our hotel and sleep properly!
Early wake up call by Jessica Langrell who shared a room with me was probably not the most delightful thing at 5am in the morning but I do commend her for doing it with the slightest nudge of her hand! Little did I know that not only was I very tired and could barely stay awake and that half the time I got my words mixed up, the shock of such long flights was starting to take its toll on me. We boarded a 3.5 flight to Mexico City and like mentioned earlier, the plane was going at extremely high speeds despite the strong turbulence and the landing was indeed ROUGH! It affected not only me but a lot of other pilgrims! As for me, I experienced severe motion sickness. The moment I got off the plane my first thought was: I think I have a phobia to planes now and that’s not a great start considering how many more hours I was going to spend on planes.
My secondthought was: I was dying to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe – it was the height of this first leg of the pilgrimage and being sick was NOT what I had planned. Fumbling around feeling light headed and was about to throw up at any moment, I fetched my travel wallet. Thanks to Lauren Langrell who was quick to notice my awkwardly strange movements she kindly offered her arm to me as she patiently walked me over to immigration. Seeing the lines at immigration (a lot shorter than the ones back in LA) was a bit of a relief but feeling somewhat faint as well, every second felt like hours. So early in the pilgrimage I felt a spiritual battle within myself. I knew that God had called me and the other 17 pilgrims to this once in a lifetime experience and to feel sick so early on brought many questions of doubt but I knew that God wanted me to learn something from that experience and one thing I learnt quickly was to not that the friendship and love of all 17 pilgrims for granted. Each of them had something to offer me whether it was just a friendly smile or a quick, “Are you feeling ok?” Thanks to our coordinator Sam- well’s height he could easily grab the attention of an immigration officer and in the next one minute I found myself sitting in their waiting room.
Lauren and I were immediately greeted by 2 Mexicans who knew no English and all I really remember was Lauren’s repetitive responses, “Hola amigos” and “Gracias” – two complete strangers to us, Lauren’s cheerfulness definitely helped me get through it. First they led Lauren to get paper cups of water for me and I thought I would be outta there in no time! 10 minutes had passed and this time another 2 Mexicans walked into the room, though this time they were nurses and again spoke no English. They held up a needle at my face and seeing Lauren’s first reaction with her mouth open was definitely a never – to – forget moment. With the help of basic sign language I communicated to the nurses that I was happy to take their motion sickness needle. Having taken so many needles in my lifetime and reading the side effects columns on their pamphlets, the last thing to expect from this needle were side effects. As I felt the needle push through my right arm and Lauren holding onto me, I could see in my peripheral vision that secretly she was close to flinching. I learnt later that Lauren has a phobia to needles so I am forever grateful for the 30 minutes she was with me waiting till I could get myself back onto my feet. Going back on not taking things for granted, I realised that by the time I had left the room and met up with the rest of the group that I had delayed our plans. I did not hear a single complain and Sam who noticed I was still recovering wheeled me while I was sitting on luggage! Having left the airport, all looked fine again until….
BAM! I was sitting in the dining area in the hotel for dinner with 4 pilgrims when I felt this heat wave come over me. My right arm started swelling and becoming tense and at once I knew that it was going to take a few days to recover. Dinner was only half eaten and I walked back to my room at 9pm while everyone else was enjoying dessert and were later having a big ice-breaker to get to know each other and to share what they had experienced over the past few days! It really, really sucked feeling like a massive heat pack but a big shout out to Eva Tarchichi for her supply of neurofen! The lack of sleep and the rain that swept us during out visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Tepeyac Hill really pulled me back physically but without this experience I would not have advanced spiritually.
For the first time in my life I felt I was being pulled to my limits but that was what God had in plan for me as well as every other pilgrim. Stepping out of our comfort zone wasn’t easy and giving our time and love to those who were in need was a challenge. During our final day in Mexico, we had the great privilege to spend time with the Missionaries of Charity at their orphanage offering smiles to young children, young adults and the elderly, many of whom had disabilities or were just found on the streets, some in garbage bins. At that moment, I realised I had nothing to complain about – that my sickness was going to pass in a few days but that these people at the orphanage were going to suffer every day of their life – one of the greatest sufferings being parentless. This was where each of us got the opportunity to see Christ present in every person – to realise that everyone is a child of God, to love without holding back and to understand the dignity of human life which is often taken for granted.
Looking back, being sick was the best blessing for me during the Guadalupe Expedition. To all the pilgrims (hola chicas and chicos), if it wasn’t for your help and support while I was sick, I wouldn’t have made it through!