Sitting family-style around a table at Joe’s Shanghai, a restaurant in Flushing that is known for its savory soup dumplings filled with hot broth and other Shanghai fare, was a group of World Youth Day Kraków pilgrims and parishioners from St. Bartholomew, Elmhurst.
If it weren’t for one man dressed in a clerical collar, guests at the other dining tables might have guessed that a group of brothers and sisters were sharing a late-night meal together over laughter and smiles.
As an outsider looking in, I was overwhelmed by just how warm and welcoming these individuals were, let alone collectively. What was the clear-cut rationale behind why a group of friends would invite a total stranger to break bread with them? Surely enough it was self-evident: their love for God and neighbor.
But such phileo, or the love shared between friends, was not something that magically appeared between this group. It was their shared experience witnessing to a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pray with Pope Francis and millions of other young Catholics in Poland last summer that sealed this bond.
“It feels really good to know we went there and since then, we became a family,” said Wendy Caceres. “We just did Holy Hour and we’re planning to do another one.”
As the restaurant server laid the multiple platters of pork and crab dumplings on the table, we did what any family gathered by God’s grace does before a tasty meal: we prayed together.
More than just prayer and food was passed around that night. For one young woman, it was a cultural exchange because she never used chopsticks before. Eventually with the help of her peers, she maneuvered one hot dumpling onto her plate by using two small, wooden sticks. It was glorious.
Witnessing a fraction of what attending a World Youth Day can do for a group of friends-turned-family, attending the upcoming World Youth Day in Panama 2019 might be worth more than dollars and dumplings can ever offer.