Beyond the hashtag #BLESSED : The Experience of World Youth Day 2016

What the widely used hashtag meant to me in my experience at the largest event for young Christians around the world.

Guess who got promoted. #blessed
Excited to drive this baby, thanks dad for the new car! #blessed
I woke up like this. #blessed
Officially yours. #blessed

What would the social media atmosphere be without the existence of hashtags? A hashtag is intended to filter or categorize posts under that title. Others use hashtags to express a thought they do not wish to include in their captions, or what not. #saysomethinglikethis #doyagetwhatimean?

Surprisingly, #blessed is considered as one of the “most annoying hashtags” voted by social media users. (Source here, here, here). Initially, one who expresses being “blessed” denotes to have a sense of thankfulness for fortune/s brought forth in one’s life; a bonus would be acknowledging [the] god of their respective beliefs for pushing it to happen. Interpretations have gone a little for some users who have become cynical; irking annoyance, unfortunately. They figure utilizing #blessed is rather abusive already; used for the wrong reasons: fishing for compliments,  easing arrogance, etc.

Disclaimer: I have nothing against social media users who use the hashtag; the only time I used it was in that one post on my Instagram account where I saw Pope Francis in his crusade during WYD. The intention of this post, with all honesty and the purest intentions, is to explain what is beyond the hashtag of #blessed for me, especially in my experience in World Youth Day. Travelling has drawn me to epiphanies, EVERY TIME. (See here to know more about the lessons I learned while travelling alone).

Being #BLESSED entailed me to be a blessing to others. The vast population of World Youth Attendees are estimated two million, young and old from over 187 countries. Being an attendee allows you to mingle with others. Some of whom I met were able to trade in souvenirs from their country while I gave ballers in exchange that has “Manila, Philippines” imprinted on it. There was one woman I encountered (she was Polish, if memory serves me right) who told my mom and I, “You are a blessing. I will pray for you.” Knowing that you are a spark of kindness and love towards one person is just as heartwarming as it is to hear. Being #BLESSED entailed me to mingle with people I share the same beliefs with.

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Meeting people from around the world! The rain did not stop us from praising Jesus and enjoying the company amongst other Christians.

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Being #BLESSED enabled me to take control of things and be on top of dire situations. My parents, brother and the rest of my relatives went ahead to Europe leaving my two younger cousins and myself to follow a few days after. It was their first trip abroad without their parents so I was their legal guardian. This experience has drawn me closer to my cousins in the duration of the 20 hour travel time including delays and layovers. When we arrived in Prague, to our dismay, there was no one to fetch us because unfortunately the bus cancelled us out. It took me a while to negotiate and find ways of leaving the airport for a fair fare (see what I did there?) and ended up taking an Uber with the kindest driver and conversationalist. What may seem inconveniences at first are actually blessings in disguise after all. 🙂 We ended up exploring the rest of the afternoon in Prague, just the three of us!

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Being #BLESSED allowed me to learn more of history on site. The Auschwitz Concentration Camp (there were two of them) was exclusively open to WYD delegates for a week. We walked the fields where many lives were mercilessly killed through mass murders such as gas chambers, public hanging and firing squads. The wired fences and doors denoted either an exit to liberation, or an entry towards death. The former was impossible where about 2 million lives were murdered when the Nazis took over. It was only that in that visitation where I felt weight heavier than boulders on my shoulders – oh wait, no – it was my heart sinking in sadness. I had the similar feeling when I visited the Schindler Enamel Factory. I’ll be writing a more detailed part of my travel, soon!

Being #BLESSED was an opportunity to pass on mercy, hope and peace. This year’s theme was blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Hearing the Holy Mass in different languages made me feel like the whole world spoke one language – love. The World Youth Day has allowed its delegates, attendees and visitors to become aware of the values God wants us to possess as a Christian. Spread the love!

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I was so happy to see Pope Francis! His smile and his wave instantly made my day. He is the cutest!
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Being #BLESSED allowed me to spend time with my family, growing in Christ.  If there is one person who has been a strong influence in focusing my eyes on Jesus for my entire Christian life, it would be my grandmother. She is the reason why a hefty number of 25 family members is tight-knit and close despite the continents and timezones that separated us. My family and I love travelling together but this is a first of us to travel for the purpose of enriching our Christian life as well as strengthening our ties as a clan. I am so thankful, indeed, #blessed. 🙂

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My best friend Angela was a volunteer in World Youth Day and I am so proud of her lending her kind heart of service. <3 So happy we got to tick off another country in travelling together!ELTZ7333

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My WYD experience was cut short because I had to head back home since I took a short, unexcused leave from school. Nonetheless this experience is something I’ll always treasure forever – nothing I’ll ever I trade for in the World. Walking for kilometers in mud under the pouring rain was totally worth it. 🙂

The next World Youth Day will be in 3 years time in Panama. For more updates and to know more about WYD, you can visit this website.

Photos by Jenin Vitangcol