World Youth Day 2013

A Profound Experience of Faith

“Go and make disciples of all nations . . . ”

gmg13 01World Youth Day (WYD) was initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1985 and brings together millions of Catholics around the world, especially young people, to build bridges of friendship and hope among continents, peoples and cultures. It is a time for a shared experience of spirituality.

I am very grateful to the Congregation for giving me the opportunity to participate in this event! I was overwhelmed when I received the news. I went out immediately -- seeking all the young people I knew in our neighboring community in Goiânia, the Residencial Sonho Dourado, to motivate and invite them to participate. After speaking with their families, eight of them said Yes!  Another joined us later and so we were nine. I gave each some formative materials which focus on strengthening the mission of young people in the Church.

As the days passed, I felt more and more enthusiasm and energy to bring this event to fruition. I worked with our Parish WYD group, which was very helpful to me in preparing our nine-member neighborhood group. I was caught up with their youthful strength, energy, hope, joy and liveliness. This moved me forward and inspired me.

For whatever reason, five of our nine people group dropped out, which was disappointing. I did not lose heart since three young men confirmed their participation and brought back my enthusiasm. They expressed a burning desire to go to WYD 2013!

As in other cities, a Pre World Youth Day event was organized, welcoming seventy young Italians who joined us for an intensive week of mission development and fun.  They experienced a little bit of everything of the Goiás culture – our local food, songs, dances, exuberant prayer – and the warm welcome of the families who were hosting them in their homes.

As the departure date approached, I felt my heart burn with joy and enthusiasm -- despite a certain fear for our safety. Brazil has been going through a very restless moment; large crowds were moving on to the streets, protesting their dissatisfaction and indignation regarding public policy and economic justice.

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We are Pope Francis’ Youth!

We set off together for Rio de Janeiro. Arriving there, we found challenges: much rain, the wintry weather combined with having to take icy showers (for which we waited in long lines), lack of sufficient bathrooms and tight living quarters at our lodging. The subway was overcrowded and the rides long to Copacabana beach for our encounter with the Pope.  But we faced it all with courage, for the love of Christ; and because we were young and ready to give our lives for the life project God has for each of us. We are the young people who trust and believe in the Catholic Church. We are Pope Francis’ youth!

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Our challenges however, soon turned into grace for me since I was experiencing the life of many underprivileged people. My discomfort made me think about the reality of our world today, of so many homeless people and so many without food... And so I offered my inconvenience as a prayerful sacrifice for our destitute sisters and brothers, and I experienced God’s abundant grace. We actually had to get out of our comfort zones, and that initially made me uneasy.

We left the hotel at 7:00 each morning for the long program, and returned around midnight. We began each day with an abundance of energy and vigor. Even when we returned, weariness and discouragement were not part of these days when we were together!

The Church is Alive!

gmg13 06According to the Organizing Committee Chair, World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro exceeded expectations; about 3.7 million people attended the concluding Sending Forth Mass!
We were a sea of souls in an atmosphere of great excitement, joy, diversity, vitality and sharing. We covered up the soft sands of Copacabana Beach. We were from different parts of the world, each with our own culture, language and peculiarities; despite the differences, we were one in our fellowship.  In the kiss of peace, in praying the Our Father each in our own language, all witnessed to a deeper unity among the youth. We are the people of God, we are the youth of Pope Francis. We returned home transformed by the love, kindness and peaceful feelings we shared, believing that with courage and faith we can reach out to other young people. We can and must be missionary disciples!

Pope Francis captivated our young hearts with his simple, loving, selfless, charismatic, warm, and humble ways. He asked young people to be revolutionaries of love and to actually enflesh the theme of WYD: “Go and make disciples of all nations. . . .”  to evangelize, to experience the joy and surrender to God's kingdom, undertaking with courage the mission with which He has entrusted each of us.

Before his departure, Pope Francis asked us to pray for him. All of Rio de Janeiro was overtaken with deep emotion. That moment was unique, something extraordinary, invigorating. We realized that the Church is alive!

This World Youth Day was such a unique and precious experience. I still cannot express myself in words how grateful I am in my joy. Each day in Rio I could see that same joy in the faces of others. Rain, cold weather, crowded subway rides, only strengthened my faith and willingness to get close to the Pope who represents, in all his humility, Christ’s command.  I keep etched in my heart the unforgettable sight of those millions of young people from around the world, with completely different origins and mind sets, proclaiming our one faith in our one God.

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Sister Lécia José da Silva

Published: October 1, 2013


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