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By Keishla Espinal

World Youth Day Miracle Changes Lives

August 14, 2023 | Pilgrims from the Diocese of St. Petersburg joined over one million pilgrims from across the globe for World Youth Day in Portugal August 1-6, 2023. They experienced moments of incredible unity and prayer with strangers who quickly became friends. But that wasn’t the only amazing part of their journey.

On July 29th, 117 diocesan pilgrims visited the Church of the Holy Miracle just outside of Lisbon, home to one of the Catholic Church’s Eucharistic Miracles. They were able to see the consecrated host that mysteriously bled after it had been stolen from the church in the year 1247. This Eucharistic Miracle, approved by the Catholic Church, is on display in a monstrance located within a golden tabernacle high above the altar. People can see it close-up by walking behind the altar and climbing up a set of stairs one person at a time.

“I have never seen a bloody host before, I think it is such a sign for us who believe, that Christ is really present at every Mass in the Eucharist, body, blood, and soul and divinity,” said Austin Smith, a seminarian for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. “For those who struggle with believing God’s true presence in the Eucharist, it is helpful that there are these miracles out there.”

This pilgrimage was grace-filled for Smith even though it was a grueling journey that tested his endurance, even before he arrived in Portugal.

Less than 48 hours before departure, Smith was not even sure he would be attending World Youth Day, because he lacked a U.S. passport. Some might describe how he overcame this challenge as another miracle of sorts.

After several months of waiting, and no word from the State Department on the status of his passport, Smith received help from a woman named Mary.

“I called the passport agency one more time, and I was put on the phone with a woman named Mary,” Smith said, “which I think was significant since we would be seeing a spot on the trip in Fatima, Portugal where Mary had appeared.”

After talking with Mary on the phone, she informed Smith there was only one agency with an opening for a same-day passport. The only spot open was in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

On July 26th, he drove to Orlando and caught a midnight flight to San Juan. After his arrival, he was driven to government offices there by a family member of a staff person at the Diocesan Vocations Office. He received his passport on July 27th and made it back to Tampa just in time to meet the rest of the pilgrims as they began their journey to Lisbon on July 28th.

“I think that while I was exhausted, the overall experience was full of grace. I think Mary and God are teaching me more and more to surrender and to know that anything is possible,” said Smith, who grew up attending Nativity Catholic Church in Brandon.

Throughout the pilgrimage, Smith reflected on the theme from World Youth Day: “Mary arose and went with haste.

“Providentially, I think the theme applies very much to my situation on being able to attend this pilgrimage, as well as walking many miles in the heat through exhaustion at different times throughout the pilgrimage. I think this goes back to the theme of being wedded to the heart of God. In that surrender to Christ and His will in whatever situation he puts us in, there is a certain peace and joy available to us, the greatest of which is intimacy with Him.”

“I will treasure this trip for a lifetime, I am so thankful I was able to go,” he said.

About the Holy Miracle of Santarem:

In 1247, there was a poor woman living in Santarem, Portugal, whose life was made miserable by her unfaithful husband. Lacking in faith, the woman followed the advice of a sacrilegious person who told her to steal the Eucharist from her local church and bring it to her house. The woman did as she was told, and the host started to bleed as she carried it to her home wrapped in a veil. Realizing her mistake, the woman took the host back to the church where it was placed in a small case of wax. The host, which bled for three days, was placed inside a beeswax pyx and locked in a tabernacle. About 100 years later, another miracle happened. When a priest opened the tabernacle, he found the wax pyx had burst into tiny pieces and the Blessed Sacrament was enclosed in a crystal pyx. 

Click on the orange arrow below to view related photos. Also, click here to view more photos from World Youth Day 2023.

Church of the Holy Miracle in Santarém, Portugal . Photo by Keishla Espinal
Austin Smith, seminarian for the Diocese of St. Petersburg praying inside of the Church of the Holy Miracles on July 29, 2023. Photo by Keishla Espinal
Austin Smith, seminarian for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, praying the rosary alongside his brother seminarians at at the Sanctuary of Fatima on July 30, 2023. Photo by Keishla Espinal
Benjamin Harris and Austin Smith on travel day at St. Paul Catholic Church in Tampa. Photo by Keishla Espinal

The pilgrimage was organized by the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, funded by gifts to the Catholic Ministry Appeal.