Originally published on Aleteia, republished with their permission
Juan Pablo Barón Rivera, a 17-year-old from Colombia, didn’t let any obstacles keep him from attending the 2019 World Youth Day in Panama. And it was practically a miracle he was able to attend! In an interview with the ACI Catholic news agency, the Colombian youth explained his situation:
“When I was ten months old, I was paralyzed, and between the age of 5 and 6, I went blind in both eyes. At the age of 11, the doctors gave up on me and told me I’d only live to age 14. Since then, I haven’t gone back to doctors. I don’t have anything against them, but it’s been 7 years since I’ve gone back. Today, I’m 17 … I only believe fully in God, I go to daily Mass, I receive the Eucharist, and today I feel completely normal. I manage to move around, and I’m alive. No one can explain that; only God can do it.”
As if this spontaneous and profoundly convinced testimony weren’t enough, Juan Pablo went on to talk about his mission in life:
“My only mission in the world is to show that I’m alive thanks to daily communion. I go to Mass every day and that’s my teaching for all young people. My great dream will always be to speak with Pope Francis; that’s what I came to Panama for.”
The young man suffers from mucopolyssacaridosis, a rare disease that causes severe physical problems and disabilities. Nonetheless, his illness doesn’t stop him from participating actively in the life of his parish, Church of the Risen Christ, in Cundinamarca, about half an hour away from Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Juan Pablo traveled to Panama with his best friend and with his mother, María del Carmen Rivera Torres, specifically to participate in the WYD—and even more especially, to try to meet the pope.
In the interview with ACI, Juan Pablo said that if he got to meet Pope Francis, he’d ask him always to talk about “the importance of daily Communion.”
His mother, María del Carmen, also spoke to ACI:
“My son always brings people a message of change, full of the love of God. We’ve raised him strongly in the faith since he was small, but more than us teaching him, he’s the one who teaches us day by day with his testimony: that there are no barriers, that everything is possible, and that if you hold the Lord’s hand, you can go far.”
Diego López Marina, the journalist who interviewed Juan Pablo and his mother, also shared photos of the interview on Twitter:
Did Juan Pablo meet Pope Francis in person, in the end? We don’t know. But whether or not he achieved that goal, he has certainly managed to teach us that disability and illness don’t make life less meaningful or less worth living. He’s also achieved another goal: to preach, by his very presence, the power of God’s grace—especially in the Eucharist—to give us strength in adversity to overcome obstacles.