Anitra Yu's WYD 2013 Experience

When it comes to writing about my World Youth Day experience, I don’t know where to start to be honest, but perhaps it’s good to start from those months of preparation before I left Sydney. Months leading up to World Youth Day, I found myself trying to balance studies, family life, social life, extra curricular activities and my spiritual life and in between all of that, organising my checklist of things to buy and things to pack. Yet in the midst of busyness, the words of Pope Francis were ringing in my mind, “Prepare well, prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the world”. When I heard these words, I was reminded that I was going to South America as a pilgrim and not a tourist and it was these words that helped me in my preparations with other pilgrims for our journey to Rio.

And…in a blink of an eye, I found myself on the other side of the world in Lima, Peru. Yet tired as I was from all the flights and jet lag, one of many highlights was the visit to the Basilica of St Rose of Lima (built next to her bedroom) where we prayed the Stations of the Cross and celebrated mass, the house of St Martin de Porres and the convent of St Dominic, where we learnt about the lives of St Rose and St Martin. The next few days were spent doing mission work in the shantytown of Pamplona where we built a 150m staircase. For those who have never done mission work in a less developed country before, it can be a little overwhelming and confronting. Not only was I in a country where I couldn’t speak their language but also a town that shouted the word “poverty” everywhere. We carried cement buckets up and down a 45-degree hill for 5 hours each day and by lunchtime we would be physically and emotionally drained. Yet it was these tough moments when God’s grace was overflowing.

These cement buckets became prayer buckets filled with the prayer intentions of our family, friends and the Church. Building a staircase for the locals was a great achievement, but little did I know that I had received so much more in giving of myself. It was in being open that my heart was touched by the love and generosity of the locals but more importantly, I learnt to surrender my day to the Lord – whatever challenges, expected or unexpected, that I met along the way or whatever graces He wanted to flood me with that day, I was called to be open in order to receive them. In coming face to face with the simple lifestyles of these people, not only was it a bit of a reality check but it became so clear to me that joy doesn’t come from material possessions – these people had very few belongings but their hearts were overflowing with joy and love and I will never forget their smiles with which they welcomed us.

With tears in our eyes, we left the community that we had bonded so well with, to the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro – but our trip was not one without the unexpected. The Notre Dame group was told that we were chosen to take the earlier flight to Rio but the story didn’t end there. After a tiring day of building stairs and being told that our flight was delayed, we made our way to a restaurant for dinner, but…just as we were lining up to pay the bill, a convenient phone call tells us the flight is no longer delayed, giving us 30 minutes to get to the airport – that includes rushing back to the retreat house to finish packing before heading to the airport. With stuffed bellies, we ran towards the retreat house and somehow managed to get onto a bus that would take us back to our accommodation. It was a moment of desperation and stress, though looking back on this experience, not only did we get to the airport on time but it’s definitely one of those moments of grace that will never be forgotten!

Arriving one day earlier than the rest of the group gave us the opportunity of going up Sugarloaf Mountain the afternoon of our arrival where we enjoyed a sunset view of the city, Christ the Redeemer and of Copacabana Beach and took some time to reflect on God’s beautiful creation.

After a slightly more relaxing day on Monday whilst pilgrims from all around the world arrived, World Youth Day week kicked off with a memorable Opening Mass on Tuesday at Copacabana Beach with an unexpected many drops of rain. The discomfort that came with the rain was an invitation to be patient and to really experience the true spirit of a pilgrim, which by the way, lasted for most of the week. Spending the next few mornings at Catechesis opened up my heart to the World Youth Day message: Go and make disciple of all nations. To really understand what it means to be a disciple and then to “go and serve” in the words of Pope Francis was definitely a message of great challenge. To welcome the Pope and then hear this resounding message of discipleship created a deep desire in me to commit to this demanding task. It was in being vulnerable and in turn asking Him for courage that will help me carry out this call of discipleship; a call which is so fundamental to our identity as baptised sons and daughters of God. 

Very soon, whether I was waiting in the bathroom line or roaming the streets of Rio, I was able to see other pilgrims as my brothers and sisters in Christ. To experience the universality of the Catholic Church throughout the week and particularly at the Vigil and Final Mass is something that words fail to describe. Knowing that it is Christ who has brought millions of young Catholics together is incredible and it was through praying and meditating the Stations of the Cross that brought this message back home to me. Seeing the Vicar of Christ, going up to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer, having my brothers and sisters in Christ celebrate my 19th birthday with me in Rio, sleeping out at Copacabana Beach with millions of young people and waking up to even more people is only part of my World Youth Day experience and is nothing in comparison to the personal encounter I had with Christ.

Wonderful memories of the pilgrimage remain with me and looking back, Christ’s hand was present in every moment; whether it was the rain that led to the cancellation of the Vigil and Final Mass at Guaratiba or the lack of sleep, it was the love of God that brought us through everyday. Trusting in God and His providence wasn’t easy and even as we go back home to our studies, to our work lives, it’s guaranteed that being disciples of Christ will be difficult, though we can take to heart the words of St Rose of Lima, “Apart from the cross, there is no ladder by which we may get to heaven” and embrace whatever comes our way.

As World Youth Day week came to a close, we spent 3 days living off the border of Brazil and Argentina as we reflected on what we had experienced. Spoilt as we were, we were blessed to see the Iguaçu Falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinian side as we stood in awe of God’s amazing and beautiful creation.

Now having come home from World Youth Day on a spiritual high, we must not simply leave behind those experiences in Rio. Rather, we must constantly recall to mind that God’s faithfulness to us and His unfailing Love will be a source of strength as we, the youth of Sydney begin our lives of mission to “go and make disciples of all nations”.