World Youth Day 2016 Pilgrim Confronts Addiction: ‘The Gospel Heals’

By M. Z. de la Morena

Miguel Ángel Vera; ACN photo

Miguel Ángel Vera; ACN photo

NEW YORK—Just a few years ago, if anyone had told Miguel that he would be speaking to Pope Francis in front of thousands of young people in Poland—telling the story of how he overcame his addiction to drugs—he would never have believed them.

But that is exactly what Miguel Ángel Vera from Paraguay will be doing. At 34, he is health and full of life. He has the responsibility of running one of the Fazendas da Esperança, or “Farms of Hope.” He himself is a graduate from one of the centres that are endorsed by the Church and are setting up shop in many countries around the world. The centers focus in particular on helping young people overcome drug and alcohol addiction.

“I’m going to tell them what God has done for me,” the young man told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. He gets to talk to many thousands of young people from the world at the papal prayer vigil that is to take place July 30, 2016 in Cracow.

“It is not only about reading out what I have already prepared in front of the Pope; God has sent me to do something more than this—with the story of my life I am going to convey to the mercy of God,” Miguel declared.

Miguel is a powerful example of how it is possible to overcome every difficulty, through “pardon, patience, service of others and generosity,” as he put it. Just a few years ago, nobody in his family would even talk to him, “except my mother”—because “mothers forgive everything.”

After spending six years in prison and after various other terrible experiences, Miguel returned to his family home. For the first month of his new life there, one particular priest, called Padre Antonio, came to see him every day, inviting him to visit the local Fazenda da Esperança. “Every day for 30 days, the mercy of God came knocking on my door, and I turned him away,” Miguel said. But after so many times repeating, “I don’t want to go; don’t talk to me about God,” Miguel finally changed his mind and decided to visit the Fazenda.

“As soon I arrived in the community, I felt at home, I felt I was among my family,”  Miguel said, adding that he felt “the embrace of God” just as soon as he crossed the threshold. “The Gospel heals,” he said in a tone of absolute conviction; “the Gospel heals.”

Miguel is attending World Youth Day along with a group of young people whose pilgrimage is sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need, which also supports a number of Fazendas.

Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action. Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world. The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide. For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384. www.churchinneed.org