Young Seattle couple Luke and Tina Nguyen have been to seven World Youth Day gatherings between them.
But the international event in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 1–6 was the first time they traveled to the weeklong meeting of young people as a married couple — and the first time they traveled internationally with their 14-month-old son, Finn.
“I’ve always loved going to World Youth Day. It’s a great opportunity to travel and I just thought it would be such a special thing for our firstborn to go to World Youth Day as well,” Luke told CNA after the Saturday night prayer vigil with Pope Francis on Aug. 5.
The husband said beforehand the couple had watched a lot of videos on Instagram about traveling with babies.
The videos, he explained, said things like: “‘They might not remember it, but then you will, and they’ll grow so much, and it will be the most special thing.’ And so we were like, ‘Hey, why not? It’s not that bad.’”
“It was pretty bad,” Tina chimed in with a chuckle. “It was very difficult, but we made it work.”
“I think in the end it was definitely worth it,” she added.
The Nguyen family went to Lisbon’s Parque Tejo for the World Youth Day prayer vigil, which had an estimated attendance of 1.5 million Catholics, before heading back to their vacation rental to sleep. They flew back to Seattle on Aug. 6 after a week in the Portuguese capital.
They said the key to making World Youth Day work with a young child is “taking it really, really easy” and not planning to do everything. Pick, they advised, just one or two things you do not want to miss and let anything else you do be “extra.”
The couple, who celebrated their second wedding anniversary the week of World Youth Day, said they were happy to have made it to the gathering’s main events, including an opening ceremony with Pope Francis.
“We made it work around [Finn’s] schedule. He’s the king, of course,” Tina said, noting that their son had grown a lot during the trip, including cutting teeth and learning to walk.
One special memory from the week happened before the pope’s first World Youth Day event on Aug. 2.
“The first day when the pope arrived,” Luke said, “we actually managed to be at the end of where [Pope Francis’] car turned around. And so we raised [Finn] up from the crowd, and I swear to you, the pope was looking at the crowd and his eyes diverted up and he blessed Finn. And I was like, if there’s anything that was great about this entire event it is that Finn got blessed by the pope.”
Tina said it had been a cool experience to see their child interact with the crowds and pilgrim groups, and that his presence had also facilitated meeting new people.
“He’s a very, very social baby, luckily, so he walks up to random people and everyone loves him. And we were able to trade all these trinkets with everybody and meet other new people.”
“I would definitely say if anything, he has been a blessing to others that he has met or approached on this entire trip,” Luke added.
“It’s not often that you see a 1-year-old at World Youth Day. So if anything he has blessed a lot of people, more than we’ve been blessed during this trip.”
The Nguyens said they met in college at the University of Washington when they had a class together. Even then they were both practicing Catholics, Tina said Luke was more “into the faith” than she was.
“He actually tried to get me to go to church with him, and that’s how we kind of started dating,” she said. “He definitely helped lead me towards God.”
Luke said the family’s experience at World Youth Day in Lisbon, his fifth WYD, was “one of the better ones.”
He found it well-organized with happy people around: “The city of [Lisbon] is absolutely beautiful, spirits are very high. You can definitely feel God working in everyone around here as well. Really, really love it.”