I was born and raised Catholic. I was super involved in youth group and ministry. But I didn't really have a love for the Eucharist, or for the sacraments. They just weren't important to me.
I was 19 years old and entering my sophomore year at a major Christian university. At this time, all my friends were Protestant, non-denominational, and I was in love with Protestant services — the way they focused on Scripture, and the music, and the worship teams. My heart was shifting more towards that form of devotion and that type of prayer. Because of that, I didn't see the importance of the sacraments or the importance of the Eucharist. I stopped going to Mass and I didn't want to be heavily involved really with anything that was Catholic, because I felt like I found my home in a form of Christianity that fit me.
It got to the point where I was even wanting to be baptized at a megachurch that I was attending. I was only going to Mass when I really felt like it or had time for it. It wasn't like a priority. My priority really was [the Protestant] service.
But also, while all this was going on, I was signed up to go to World Youth Day in Australia with my youth group. I had signed up before I even went to college, because it was a two-year process to fundraise and plan for the trip. Since I had paid for it and I still had good friends who were involved in the Catholic Church, I still decided to go, but a lot of my Catholic friends knew where I was in my faith.
I went to World Youth Day, and I was excited to go because it was Australia and it was a fun opportunity. During the opening Mass at World Youth Day — which I believe was on the second day we were there — I was leaning against a rail and there were, I think, 500,000 people at this Mass. The Lamb of God prayer was being sung by this beautiful choir. And at that moment, I remember priests from all over the world, going up to the altar and preparing to distribute Jesus in the Eucharist.
And in that moment, I remember thinking to myself, ‘There is no way that they're going to distribute the Eucharist to everyone here. There's no possible way.’ I thought maybe they would give it to the people in the front, or the people who needed it most. Because, of course, my way of thinking was: ‘This isn't that important — we don't all need this.’
And I remember having this thought, ‘I don't really believe in this the way I should believe in it.’ I knew the theology of it and what Catholics believe – and being Catholic myself, there was a part of my heart that wanted to believe that this was Jesus.
And then the priests started coming around after that, and I started thinking, ‘Oh, they are actually, really going to distribute the Eucharist to everyone here.’ And out of nowhere I just started crying and I didn’t know why. I started crying and the song that was playing was ‘We Are One Body,’ which I had previously thought was a very cheesy song but it was really hitting my heart at the time. It was a song I sang my whole life, and here they were saying, ‘We are one body,’ and I was just sobbing, in tears.
My youth minister at the time was just looking at me and knew I was a mess. And I think everyone in the group was thinking, ‘Gerardo’s kind of having this whole moment right now with the Lord, so let's just leave him alone.’
At that point, I don’t think the priests really knew where to go to distribute Communion. They were just in this sea of people and kind of starting their own distribution lines wherever they wanted to start. I remember that I made eye contact with this priest from Africa — I'm not sure the exact country. He seemed kind of confused, looking around in this crowd of people, and made eye contact with me. He didn't say a word. He just kind of walked up to me, kind of shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, ‘I'm just going to start my line here with you.’ So, he just said, ‘Body of Christ.’ And I said, ‘Amen.’
It wasn't some crazy Eucharistic miracle, but I think at that moment I knew that this is everything. I knew that the Eucharist means everything to me, that there's nothing that can replace it or should replace it in my life. Since that time, there have been ups and there have been downs, and the journey has been very difficult, but I've come to realize that life with the Eucharist is always better than life without it.
Experience it for Yourself
Jesus is truly present. Jesus is always with you. Sit in his presence and open yourself up to his voice.