On a wing and a prayer

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Carmen Ngutavai is heading to World Youth Day in Panama next January.

Young Carmen Ngutavai is about to embark on a trip of a lifetime with 1200 prayers going with her – literally.

The Year 11 student from St Ursula’s College at Kingsgrove has the entire school community behind her raising the much-needed funds to get her to Panama for World Youth Day 2019.

From Year 7 students to the principal, the 1200-strong school is pulling out all the stops to get the quietly-spoken teen on the 18-day pilgrimage.

Cake stalls, teacher car washes (that’s the students washing the teachers’ cars) and raffles are just some of the money-making initiatives the school is carrying out to get her there.

And it’s not just monetary support, the school community is sending Carmen all of its goodwill and prayers.

The 16-year-old is one of about 250 young people from the Archdiocese taking part in WYD under the leadership of Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.

And knowing she has the support of the entire school community is something that still brings a tear to the young pilgrim’s eye.

“There are not enough words to explain how I feel,” she said.

St Ursula’s students take to heart their patron saint’s charism of servant leadership.

“This is a trip of a lifetime, I can’t believe what the school is doing to get me to Panama, it’s just incredible. There is no way I could get there by myself, my family are battlers, this is just something I never imagined would happen.

“My faith means everything to me, and in travelling to Panama I am following in the steps of Christ.

I believe it is his will for me to go, so while I am a little nervous I am also very calm knowing he will be there with me by my side every step of the way.

“I am going to Panama to get more meaning in my life and hope to come back and share my experience with all those I come into contact.”

According to teachers the remarkable teenager was the obvious choice to represent the school, not only for her incredibly strong faith but her eagerness to share it with others.

She was instrumental in her school being named one of the country’s highest money raisers in the 2018 annual Lenten fund and awareness-raising appeal, Project Compassion.

She holds lunchtime Bible study for school friends every Thursday and prayer meetings every Saturday night for members of her Regina Coeli parish at Beverly Hills, welcoming strangers into her home to join her family in prayer, song and worship.

Known as a leader in her tightly-knit Tongan  community, her mum is particularly proud of her young daughter and her faith journey.

St Ursula’s Youth Ministry Coordinator Antoinette Nader said she is sure Carmen will do the school proud at the international event, which will see hundreds of thousands of youngsters from around the world come together.

Ms Nader said that in following the charism of St Ursula, it is a journey Carmen is taking on her own but takes “the prayers of 1200 fellow students with her”.

“It’s remarkably brave for a 16-year-old to go to Panama … but she knows she takes all of our prayers with her,” she said. “Yes, it is an incredible opportunity, but Carmen is an incredible young lady.

“The whole school believes in her and knows she will do us very proud. We are all in this together, the spirit at this school is something that is so very special. As a community we have come together as one to make this a joyful opportunity.”