Christ is ‘the Good Shepherd that called me home’

Olmer Pineda gave his testimony at Martim Moniz Square in Lisbon, Portugal on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023. There were many stages placed around Lisbon for World Youth Day. (Photo/Michael Mickle)

Olmer Pineda, Blessed Sacrament, Harrisonburg, was one of thirty pilgrims to travel with Blue Eagle Ministries from Richmond to Lisbon for World Youth Day, joining over 1.5 million faithful at the celebration. On Aug. 2, the second day of the event, he was invited onstage before a multitude of his fellow pilgrims to share his testimony about the power of God and the destruction of darkness in his own life.

After he spoke, Pineda was greeted with warmth, enthusiasm and hugs from those whom his story had touched. A procession of a statue of the Virgin Mary followed his speech, which Pineda felt to be reassurance from Our Lady after having prayed for her company during his morning rosary.

Here is the testimony Pineda gave Aug. 2 at World Youth Day:

I was baptized in 1999, but later, my family later strayed away from the Church. In the years away from the Church, many things happened – bad, sad, traumas and unhealed wounds. It’s been a very rough road. I struggled with addiction. I’ve had to fight off fears and hardships. At moments, I thought about giving up. But I said, “God did not make me a coward, I will take on the world.”

I started drinking at 11. I was rebellious, and I was sent to El Salvador where I worked day and night to make $20. I was too proud to ask for help. Then, my father passed away, and that hurt. I loved my old man. This happened the first year in El Salvador – more ammunition to my alcohol addiction.

I came back to the U.S. in a life of alcoholism, smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, and using illegal substances, all at 16. I was in affiliation with a certain group, and in this group, I was not to become a good man. I hurt people. I cheated, manipulated and robbed. I was lost and I didn’t even know it. In my mind, I knew I wouldn’t live past 21.

It isn’t what I want, though – it’s what God wants. I reached 21 and I was still alive. “What’s going on?” I said. “I should be dead by now.” I was done with it. I was drunk and drugged out of my mind, and I said, “God, I’m tired of this life.” But nothing changed at that moment. It took eight years. It was the same thing – drugs, alcohol, gambling, representing my group. I’ve had multiple years of sadness, hardship, struggle, loneliness and emptiness. It was a fight for my life.

Then, in 2021, I was asked to be a godfather by an old friend of mine. I needed my first Communion and confirmation, so it was RCIA for me. The Lord works in mysterious ways. He sends the right people to do his work. In the Church, I saw actual community, kindness and happiness. In other words, the Holy Spirit was there.

I didn’t know Jesus Christ – I only knew him by name. But now I know he’s the Son of God, roaming the world and offering us salvation. I realized I needed him. I realized I could not live without him. So I said, “God, I will give you one year of my life. Full dedication, 100% prayer.” I’m talking prayer at 3 am, reading the Bible daily, worship, adoration, confession – a lot of seeking, knocking and asking.

On Saturday, Aug. 5., Olmer Pineda and his fellow pilgrims joined 1.5 million young Catholics at an overnight prayer vigil in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo/Michael Mickle)

I needed this, but it wasn’t easy, and I fell multiple times. But I believed and grabbed onto the hand of Jesus Christ extended out to me. And on Jan. 8, 2023, I completed that one-year mark. There was a lot of work I had to do, and a large part of it was accepting Christ and allowing him to work within me. I think about him all day, every day. He is my light, my love, my peace, my autumn breeze.

Lord, you have brought life to what once was dead. You’ve taken the sadness, emptiness, loneliness, the fears, the doubts and you’ve put the light in my darkness. You’ve cared for me without me seeing, and you’ve brought beautiful and wonderful people in my life, and in each of them, I see your light.

I talk to God all the time, and once, I asked him, “God, you have so much work for me. How will I do it?” And he answered me: “He is with you.” I felt the grace of God that day. It gave me so much joy that he found me worthy to serve him.

In 20 months, God has destroyed 17 years of darkness. I have felt the grace and mercy of Christ, the peace, compassion and love. I give thanks to him, for he is the Good Shepherd that called me home. Though the waves crash, the storms destroy all of what’s around you, don’t let go of the hand that Jesus Christ has extended out to you, for it leads you to green pastures.

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