“Teach me to be brave like you” – Carla Beshara
To celebrate Mass, sing the same hymns and read the same prayers with the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church on the other side of the world was truly an affirmation of how great our God is. But I don’t know if there will be another World Youth Day (WYD) pilgrimage like this again. There was something extraordinary and unique about South America. Despite WYD week festivities and Mass being the pivotal point of the pilgrimage, the mission seems to be the one experience any pilgrim will never forget. It was this experience of helping in the shanty towns, whether doing the catechesis with the children and students, or working on one of the mission sites, which essentially shaped this entire pilgrimage.
When we returned to our homes, we returned to comfort. We take for granted the basic needs we have and abuse our abilities to attain the things we want - over and over again. One of the homily’s given while in the shanty town reminded us of how a life lived simply was a happy life; the less we own, the less we become a slave to the world. The more we have, the more we ask, yet we are never satisfied. Those in the shanty town were happy, joyous people who I believed to be brave to live in such conditions. It seemed that they taught us more than we taught them. If there was one thing I won’t ever forget was their generosity. Like the elderly woman crouched at Christ’s feet giving all her savings and some children and villagers offering us food and drink even when they had so little. They desired to share with these new strangers out of their love for God.
They desired to know us and be with us. I heard of a little boy from the pre-school who attempted to jump on the bus as the Sydney school students were leaving. If only mankind would be open to the stranger, which is God, just as these villagers accepted us strangers into their lives. These brave people taught us how to knock down the door that we often have closed, that door that allows us to love. It was with these thoughts we worked the mission sites, eager to make their lives that little bit more comfortable. It was strenuous, energy consuming, tiring, and even mentally draining. But it was worth it - seeing the villagers, the children, even the dogs using the steps at ease. And, secretly, a few pilgrims enjoyed their muscles which had grown overnight! Needless to say, if your life had changed dramatically since that week, it was probably because you were mentioned as one of the hundreds of intentions we offered up with every bucket we passed!
Mission played such a vital role in the WYD pilgrimage as it reminded us that we are missionaries regardless of where we are and who we are with, for we are all sent by Christ. We are pilgrims on this journey of life, and as St. Mary of the Cross MacKillop would remind us, “We are but travellers here”. Everything about Rio de Janeiro seemed to have tested us; it was as though Lima was our training for what was to come. We truly needed to be brave - the weather, the living conditions, the sanitation, the food we were given, the transport (i.e. our feet) and the language barriers. Even the idea of being tested as a pilgrim and trying your hardest to not be a tourist. It was truly a POPE (part of pilgrimage experience) journey and it was so worth it. We are rarely ever given that opportunity to be pushed out of your comfort zone and realise just how easy life can be. To be open to the life of a pilgrim is a stark reminder that there are a lot of less fortunate people out there and many are happy because they have faith in Christ. I can truly say I was blessed to be on this pilgrimage, not only because of the people I journeyed with, but the experiences we shared. I can say now I understand why Papa Francisco really emphasises the needs of the poor. It is when you empty yourself and help others that you are truly filled with the Holy Spirit. As our beloved Papa once said, “Ask Jesus what he wants from you and be brave!”