MaryGrace Donohue, 18, of Holy Family parish, Flushing, shared her journey to faith with about a thousand English-speaking pilgrims.
She told the pilgrims that at first she saw the opportunity to come to Brazil as a tourist adventure.
“I was lacking faithful desire to be here,” she said.
Growing up in an Irish Catholic family, faith was always stressed in her home. “We said grace before meals,” she said. “I’ve gone to Mass every week since I was a week old.”
However, entering her teenage years, she began to feel the lack of a personal bond to the Church and God.
When tragedy struck last December, Donohoe said she needed more support than her friends could provide. She realized she needed a stronger relationship in her life – one with Jesus.
“In the past couple of months, He has become the best friend that would never leave me,” she said.
“The pilgrimage to World Youth Day and the opportunity for Eucharistic adoration strengthened the bond I felt to God,” she said.
She also realized that there are millions of young men and women just like her around the world who harbor a love for God.
“Coming to Rio has made me realize that my story is not as unique as I thought,” she said.
She said she would recommend that young Catholics consider taking a pilgrimage because it transforms believers in ways they would not imagine.