For years, 17-year-old Justin Lizama has heard about World Youth Day from his uncle, who attended the past celebrations in Brazil and in Spain. His uncle told him about the experience of sleeping on the ground during the Saturday night vigil that occurs during each World Youth Day, and Lizama has wanted to have that experience ever since.

On Jan. 26, he will finally be able to do so, when he is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world for the overnight vigil in Panama City, Panama during the 2019 World Youth Day. Lizama is one of the three teenagers from the Archdiocese of Washington who will be traveling with Tex Phelps, the archdiocese’s director of youth ministry, to World Youth Day this year.

“I can’t wait to feel the experience he felt,” said Lizama. “He said, ‘You’ve got to open your heart and you’ll feel Jesus come through and speak to you.’”

Lizama’s dad left his family when he was young, and he said it was hard growing up without him. He hopes the experience of World Youth Day will help him to be a better man and future father when he gets older, and to more clearly hear God’s call in his life.

“What’s my reason I am here; what am I supposed to do?” he said. “…I want to feel the feeling that I’m here, not alone, and people are right there that care about me.”

Lizama, who is a parishioner at St. Raphael Church in Rockville, said he is also excited about the cultural experience of World Youth Day, and wants to try all of the Panamanian food. He is looking forward to trading flags with people from other countries, and since his dad is from Peru, he hopes to get a Peruvian flag to hang on his wall.

After World Youth Day, Lizama said he hopes to share his experience with others like his uncle did with him, especially with his  brothers, so they can also get interested in going.

Princess Nwadije, a 16-year-old parishioner of St. Matthias the Apostle Church in Lanham who is also attending World Youth Day with the Archdiocese of Washington group, said she hopes to learn more about prayer and the Bible while there. She will be praying for her friends and loved ones and for those who were not fortunate enough to be where she is, Nwadije said.

Gabriel Ntitebem, another parishioner of St. Matthias who is in 11th grade at DuVal High School in Lanham, said he is looking forward to learning about other cultures, particularly how they glorify God in Panama, because “maybe it is a different way of praising than we do here.”

“I am hoping that the experience will humble me to different things,” he said. “It is always good to come down to Earth and realize that not everybody has it the way you do.”

Ntitebem was born in Cameroon and moved to the United States when he was two years old. He said he recently had the experience of being humbled in this way when he visited Cameroon and went a whole month without having a hot shower.

“The world is a rough place…all we can do is pray that God protects us,” he said. “Every time I pray, I make sure to include Cameroon; people who may be sleeping on the streets; people in jail. You can never be too far to receive God’s love.”