LISBON – Three siblings raised by a single mother in the Boston projects have voiced their conviction that God wanted them at World Youth Day in Lisbon this week, and that a miracle is what allowed all of them to make it.
“I’m telling you, miracles. If you only knew. We grew up in the projects for more than 20 years and my mom, and faith, faith brought us out of there,” the eldest of the siblings, Irvana Pereira, told Crux.
She said her mom was a single parent who to this day works two jobs so that she could raise enough money for all three of her kids to travel to the global World Youth Day (WYD) gathering in Lisbon this week, with Pope Francis being the guest of honor.
“We talked about coming here, just getting outside the country,” Irvana said, saying she and her siblings Iman and Yowen all wanted to attend WYD, but “we were stressed because we didn’t know how we were going to be able to afford it.”
Irvana, who is pregnant with her first child, said they had done fundraising to pay for the plane tickets and other travel costs, but were still quite a bit short as the deadline for the final payment approached.
“We had a check come in the mail, and that same day my mom said she put it down at the altar and said we’re able to go,” Irvana said, saying, “God is good, but you have to just trust in God’s hand.”
She described her mother as “a fighter” and credited her mother’s faith for getting the family out of projects and into a better situation.
“We got a house for the first time, my mom got an education, she brought us out of the projects, to the point she was like, I’m going to save up every penny,” Irvana said, saying her mother has always held down more than one job, and there is not a day that has passed since they’ve been in Lisbon that she has not called her mother to say thank you.
“My mom’s faith is why we’re even here today and we continue to be unified together. We love Christ. Miracles are real, you can’t tell me miracles aren’t real,” she said.
Irvana said she believes the money that allowed them to attend WYD came from an overdue paycheck, because her mother is a teacher and for several months worked at a public school in their area, but her salary for the months she worked there never came.
“But randomly, you don’t understand, it was only a couple of days before, and we were struggling and she’s like, where’s this going to come from? And then she opens up the mail and there’s a check. There was the check for every single thing we needed for this trip,” she said.
“At the last minute, it just came to us in the mail. It could have come at any other time, but it came when we most needed it,” Irvana said, saying she calls her mother daily from Portugal to show her “that it’s not just for us.”
Iman echoed the sentiment, telling Crux that the experience of WYD is “not just about the people that are walking in the streets and the people that are participating in World Youth Day, but there are people at home that I know are also part of it.”
“It’s not just about physically being here, but there’s so much love still going around all around the world at home as we speak, and at this moment,” she said, saying it is “surreal getting closer to God and seeing the love of God through other people.”
“The Lord is so real. Even when we stepped off the airplane, you could feel the love, you could feel the unity. It’s almost like a glimpse of heaven on earth right now,” Iman said.
Yowen, the youngest of the three, described the crowds at WYD as “a community unlike any other. I came here with the intention of just following my faith and opening my heart up, and I’ve been opened up to a community that I didn’t even think existed like this, on this level, on this scale.”
He said he initially did not believe that the predictions for a turnout of over a million youth would be accurate, but he has been surprised by the size and diversity of the crowds.
“To think about it and see it are two very different things and just seeing it and seeing so many people here just following their faith, exploring their faith, it’s beautiful,” he said.
Irvana said the experience so far “has exceeded all of our expectations,” and that she is happy that her unborn child is surrounded by so much joy.
“To receive the blessing of so many people around, there are so many bishops, and they’re willing to just stop and talk to you, it’s such a great feeling. I’m excited about just meeting so many other Catholics around the world, that’s been a incredible experience,” she said.
“God created so many miracles throughout this entire journey to the fact that we’re able to be here at this point, it doesn’t even feel real,” she said, saying, “I can’t believe we were actually able to do this.”