The boys group of the Home of the Mother of the Youth of Guayaquil wanted to make the most of the vacations that we had the last weekend in May (24th-27th). We decided to have a boys’ get-together and take a pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Our Lady Guardian of the Faith in a small village in El Cajas, in the province of Cuenca. The Shrine is in a beautiful environment surrounded by green valleys and the Andes Mountains of Ecuador.
We began our pilgrimage Friday morning waking up at 5 AM to leave from the parish at 6 AM in a private bus. The change of altitude and the climate were crosses that the boys had to offer up but they did so with great generosity. The altitude of Guayaquil is at sea level, while the village of El Cajas is at around 3,500 meters above sea level. For some of the young people it was their first time in the Sierra experiencing cold weather.
We arrived at the Shrine at 10 AM in the morning. We first went to the garden which is where Our Lady appeared many times from August 28th of 1988 to March 3rd 1990. Our Lady appeared to a 16-year-old girl, Patricia Talbot that at first wanted to be a model and follow her vanity; however, in due time Mary conquered her heart and she decided to dedicate her life to spread Our Lady´s message: conversion, praying the Rosary and visits to the Blessed Sacrament.
At the garden, we prayed the Rosary, singing songs to Our Lady and reading the messages she gave there. After the Rosary, we participated in Mass in the chapel on the shrine grounds. Before Mass began, a young man named Javier Vasquez entered in the Home of the Mother of the Youth. Later when he gave his testimony, he said that he felt much peace and joy, but that it was difficult to put into words. Fr. Peter celebrated the Mass and the Servant Sisters sang, as they were also on a pilgrimage with the girls. After Mass, we said good bye and gave thanks to Our Lady asking Her to help us be faithful in our path to holiness.
For the second half of the day we went to the National Park of El Cajas which is right down the road from the shrine. There, we ate lunch and afterwards we told the boys that those who wanted to could go on a hike to the peak of the mountain. Many were unsure if they wanted to go or not, because of the cold weather, the rain, etc. However, in the end they decided to step out of their comfort zones and go. When we started the hike it was 3 o´clock in the afternoon and we had to begin the return trip to Guayaquil around 5:30-6:00. We thought that we weren´t going to make it to the peak when we started; however, the more we advanced up the mountain the more promising it seemed that would arrive to the top. In the end, we made it to the top and we even had time for fifteen minutes of prayer in silence, contemplating God´s creation.
Going down the mountain was also very adventurous. We shared many laughs, because the ground was wet and many slipped and fell. At times, we had to cross the small creeks, soaking our legs and feet. We got back to the bus at 5:20 PM and we were able to leave on time to return to Guayaquil. In the trip back we prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, sang songs and some took long naps.
When we returned to Guayaquil, we ate dinner all together with the boys. After dinner, the boys slept well after our long day out. The following day, Saturday, they woke up again at 5 AM to pray the Rosary at dawn followed by Mass. After Mass we went to a place where one of the parishioners let us use his soccer field. There we also had a formation meeting and lunch. When we returned to the parish we watched the Champions soccer match: Real Madrid vs. Liverpool.
That evening, since we were still in the month of Our Lady, we had the Cantata Mariana in the parish. In the Cantata each group from the parish prepares a song to sing to Our Lady. This year the HMY chose to sing “We Are Not Afraid”, a very upbeat and joyful song that sums up the spirituality of the Home of the Mother.
After eating dinner, the night was still young and we went to a Marian Prayer Vigil in Semanes Park where they exposed the Blessed Sacrament and the “Padrecitos” sang songs of praise to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and each priest gave a five-minute reflection.
The following day, Sunday, the boys could finally sleep for a couple more hours. After eating breakfast, the boys learned how to make Banana bread. After Mass, in the HMY meeting, the boys were able to try the bread they had made and it was quite delicious. In the meeting, many also gave their personal testimonies of the graces they received during the weekend. It seemed that many had suffered in El Cajas, however offering up those small sacrifices helped them grow and mature. We are thankful to Our Lady for all the graces we received during our get-together and pilgrimage.