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A journey of faith: Mitiaro youth leader at World Youth Day event

Monday 28 August 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Church Talk, Features

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A journey of faith: Mitiaro youth leader at World Youth Day event
Kimiora Rangi (right) at the 2023 World Youth Day (WYD) Catholic festival in Lisbon, Portugal. 23082501

World Youth Day (WYD) is a recurring Catholic festival held every four years - a meeting of young people from around the world with the Pope.

It was instituted by St. John Paul II in 1985, and has since been a moment of encounter and sharing for millions of people around the world.

The festival serves as a platform for spiritual growth, connection and unity.

This year, the event drew 1.2 million youth from all around the world to the festival held in Lisbon, Portugal between August 1 and 6, 2023.

In a journey of faith and inspiration, 23-year-old Rangi Kimiora, the youth leader of the St Therese church in Mitiaro had the honour of representing the Cook Islands at the renowned Catholic youth festival.

Reflecting on his profound experience at World Youth Day, Kimiora expressed his deep gratitude to Bishop Paul Donoghue for the opportunity to attend the event for the first time and meet Pope Frances.

Drawing from the experience, he said he feels more enlightened in the Catholic faith.

“I feel more positive and stronger in my faith,” he says.

His highlight of the pilgrimage reached its pinnacle when he had the opportunity to meet the Pope in person, a cherished lifelong memory that will forever resonate in his heart.

“I actually held the hand of the Pope Francis in the Vatican Meeting Room, in Rome,” he said in awe.

“We were the first audience seated in the front row when the Pope was speaking to the crowd of over 1000 people.

“I had the opportunity of shaking his hand and seeing him face to face, I felt so blessed.”

With the assistance of an interpreter, Kimiora said the Pope asked where he was from, then said “your small nation will be blessed”.

When he received the call to represent the Cooks at WYD, Kimora said he was “surprised” and overwhelmed.

“I felt quite emotional and I appreciated Bishop Donoghue for giving this opportunity to one of us in the Pa Enua.”

Kimora departed Rarotonga on July 13, joining the 200 strong Tongan delegation at Auckland airport and through transit stopovers to Spain.

From Madrid, Spain the group caught a bus to Lisbon, Portugal where over a million youth were congregating for over a week.

“I was proud to display our flag at the opening ceremony, it’s a memory I also won’t forget,” he said.

“People were asking me a lot of questions about where I was from, who we are and where we are, it was very special.”

Immersed in a sea of enthusiastic youth, all sharing a common faith and a desire to deepen their understanding of Catholic teachings, Kimiora said “meeting people from all over the world was also a time to strengthen our faith.”

Thought provoking discussions and uplifting prayer sessions fostered a sense of community and empowerment among the participants.

Discussions involved topics such as: How strong is the Catholic faith?

“A priest from Scotland noted that if the Catholic faith is dying, then why is that we have 1.2million youth all around the world come to Portugal?’ Said Kimiora.

Also, the youth would like to play more of a role in the church, he added.

 “What stood out for me in Portugal was the big number of priests and nuns.

“The vocation is so strong in their country, at the young age of 16, some boys and girls are going into priesthood and learning to become nuns,” he said.

The village of Fatima in Portugal, is where on May 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, appeared to three young peasant children: Francisco (10), Jacinta (9), and Lucia (7).

It is written that these youngsters were tending their family’s sheep when “a Lady all in white, more brilliant than the sun… indescribably beautiful,” standing above a bush, appeared to the them.

Kimiora started “tearing up” when visiting the shrine of the ‘Lady of Fatima’.

“For myself it was very emotional, being there made me really think and I had quiet time to pray.”

He praises the people of Portugal saying, although they don’t speak English their generosity was amazing and they were always willing to help.

Kimora also visited the birthplace of St Francis of Assisi who was born in 1181 in Assisi, a region of Spoleto, Italy.

St. Francis of Assisi gave up a life of materialism and wealth and found his purpose in Christ.

Throughout his life, St. Francis preached the Gospel and shared his love of all God’s creations.

“We stayed in Assisi for a day a tour, it was so wonderful, so quiet and peaceful,” he said.

Kimiora returned to Rarotonga on 13 August, rejuvenated.

He expressed that the World Youth Day experience has reinforced his commitment to his faith and inspired him to make a positive impact in his community.

“One thing that has changed about me from when I left is my attitude -  as in my tone of voice.

“I’m a very loud person and I can react quickly and defensively in some situations.

“I think I have changed in how I use my tone now, I’m more calming now and I take everything in before reacting.”

Kimiora departed for Mitiaro yesterday and is motivated to give back to the community.

“I want to strengthen the activities for our youth in our church and including all our Mitiaro youth in the community.

“I would also like to share my experiences with all the youth and hope it will be encouraging for them.”

Kimiora would like to thank Bishop Donoghue, the Catholic Diocese and the Mitiaro St Therese parish,  for their “trust” in him to represent the Cook Islands.