Friday, September 6, 2013

“Collect 200 Blessings as You Pass GO.” – World Youth Day 2013

The pilgrimage began in the heart of South America and continues in the hearts of all those who attended World Youth Day 2013. On July 18th, 2013, 27 youths from the Salesian Youth Movement departed from Toronto Pearson Airport to begin their two week pilgrimage in Brazil for the 28th World Youth Day.

The first week was our “Missionary Week”, which took place in Angra dos Reis, a beautiful city tangled between greenery and oceanic waters. During this week, we lived with host families. These were local Brazilians who had graciously opened the doors of their home to receive the pilgrims staying in this area. The kindness and generosity we received during our stay with our host families was an incredibly humbling experience. Rooms were given up, luxurious warm showers were offered, delicious meals were cooked, and family stories were eagerly shared (conveyed in a mixture of Portuguese, charades, sign language, and a splattering of occasional English). We learned what it meant to live simply, to find joy in the smallest gestures of kindness – a warm glass of milk, a “good night, God loves you!”

Our host families had little to no understanding of English, which made communication rather difficult at times. However, without the ability for words to fall loosely and without thought, every action and intention becomes held to more definite importance. Words become redundant when there is something far deeper reaching out towards each other between the two parties. Smiles, love, and kindness is the universal language that everyone understands, even if we speak different tongues. Parting with our host families was a teary and heartfelt occasion. Host families and local youth volunteers came to send us off before we headed to Rio de Janeiro. With a flurry of hugs, tears, and promises to write, the bus took off and ferried us towards our next destination.

Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city in Brazil, was the host city for World Youth Day. Our week in Rio was bookmarked by early mornings, late nights, and a lot of rain. In the morning, we had English catechesis located in a cathedral close to the school where we were staying. The first catechesis was held by a Cardinal from Australia, the second by a Cardinal from Boston, and the third by a Cardinal from Bangladesh. The catechesis, the homilies during mass, and the Pope’s address during vigil night, all served as spiritual enrichment through deepening our understanding of different elements in our faith. 

Most of the large events such as the opening mass, opening ceremony, Way of the Cross, vigil night, and closing mass were held at Copacabana beach. At all of these events, the amount of vibrancy and joy through our shared faith escalated to awe-inspiring proportions. The four kilometres of golden sand was filled with youth proudly displaying the flags of their country and the love on their faces. When the familiar movements during mass take place – kneeling, standing, praying – the power of millions of others doing it with you, the flags lowering, reminds us that the differences in nationality are irrelevant. We are not alone in our faith. We are united by the Church and the strength of our faith. 

World Youth Day 2013 was Pope Francis’s first international trip after being chosen as Pope. He was a Jesuit who chose his papal name in honour of St. Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis was inspired to take the name of St. Francis of Assisi because of his desire that the Church should serve the poor. He is a man who seeks to serve others first, while asking very little for himself. During the vigil night address, Pope Francis challenged us to “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.” These are the three simple ideas that he preached towards the attending youth. “Go” was central to the theme of this year’s World Youth Day: “Go and make disciples of all nations”. Pope Francis asks that we share the experience of our faith and bring Christ into every area of life. He tells us “do not be afraid” and reminds us to always be aware of the companionship we can find in the whole Church and the communion of the saints. Finally, we are told to “serve”. The Pope tells us that the life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service.

World Youth Day ignited our hearts on fire, burning with passion for Christ, as it came to an end. The life-changing events that took place carried beyond the contours of this South American country, imprinting deeply within the hearts and souls of the travelling pilgrims. The statue of Corcovado, Christ the Redeemer, stands on the peak of a mountain overlooking the city with its arms spread wide as both a reassurance and a request.  Jesus, the Church, and the Pope are counting on us! We are called to build a better world through the vision of Jesus Christ’s infinite love and mercy.

World Youth Day 2016 in Poland awaits you!