Notre Dame Students Attend WYD in Rio de Janeiro

About 40 Notre Dame Students recently attended this year’s World Youth Day (WYD) in Rio de Janeiro.  Nineteen of these students went with the Sydney Archdiocese (SYD05), which consisted mainly of university students. The group was made up of 72 pilgrims, one cardinal and four chaplains. 

Unique to this WYD pilgrimage for the Australians was the aspect of the missionary work in a shanty town of Lima, Peru, a week prior to WYD.  Our group was assigned to help construct a 150m concrete staircase on the steep, rocky hillside of Pamplona.  We worked three days, passing buckets filled with concrete up the hill.  The work was hard and challenging but our pilgrims tackled it wholeheartedly.  The staircase will serve the people of Pamplona with a safer and easier pathway to walk on.  For most of our pilgrims, this was the first time they saw extreme poverty with makeshift houses made from whatever materials people can find and rubbish is everywhere.  Although the experience was disturbing and very confronting, our pilgrims welcomed it with great joy and enthusiasm, giving generously their time and energy to build the staircase.  To see the love of our pilgrims for the people, living out the Gospel so truthfully, was very inspiring.  The experience has allowed us to appreciate the gift of life, and the little things that are often taken for granted.

Australian Pilgrims in Rio de Janeiroiv>

Our students also spent a day teaching catechesis and playing games at the local kindergarten.  This was a great opportunity for our education students to show off their teaching skills. 
“Even though language is a barrier for us, I find all children are the same and have the same need,” said Samantha Azzi. 
Our students also taught the children how to brush and floss their teeth.
After Lima, we went to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to begin the week-long celebration of WYD.  Here the atmosphere was completely different to Lima.  Rio’s streets were alive with incredible joy and excitement as the young people gathered from all over the world to meet with the Holy Father.  “Esta es la juventud del Papa!” - Spanish for “This is the youth of the Pope!” - This call from the countless thousands of young people continuously filled the air.  

Pilgrims welcome Pope Francis on the Copacabana Beach

The constant rain during the week didn’t dampen the spirits of the pilgrims.  No one seemed to mind the wet.  Everyone just put on their “Capa de chuvas” (raincoat) and continued with the event as normal. 
One of the traditional events of WYD are the catecheses held over three days: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  Led by a bishop or cardinal, each catechesis is a moment of reflection and an in depth examination of the WYD theme.  It was also an opportunity for young people to ask the bishop questions.  For most pilgrims, the catechesis was the highlight of their WYD experience.
The event that set the tone for the week was the Papal welcome ceremony on Thursday afternoon.  Being South American, Pope Francis was well received in Rio.  Millions came out to welcome him, especially the Argentineans. 

The culmination of the WYD celebration was the prayer Vigil and the Final Mass the weekend on Copacabana Beach.  We began the morning with an 11km walk from “Aussie Central” to Copacabana.  About three million people attended the prayer Vigil, a most moving and powerful evening.  A young Brazilian man in a wheelchair captured everyone’s attention on the night.  In front of a shocked crowd, he told the story of his accident and how he had been in a coma.  Confined to his wheelchair he said, “This is my cross, the cross the Lord sent me to come closer to him, to live more openly his grace and love”.  After the prayer Vigil, many of us remained behind on the beach for the sleep out.  The sight of the stars of the Southern Cross made us Aussies feel much more at home. 

Staircase in Pamplona now complete

The WYD celebration finished with the Final Mass presided by Pope Francis.  I was inspired by Pope Francis’ simplicity, his direct messages and his off-the-cuff remarks to us.  In his homily Pope Francis reminded the young pilgrims of the theme of this WYD, “Go and make disciples”.  He said, “With these words, Jesus is speaking to each one of us, saying: ‘It was wonderful to take part in World Youth Day, to live the faith together with young people from the four corners of the earth, but now you must go, now you must pass on this experience to others.’”  About 3.7 million people attended the final mass, making it the second largest gathering of human beings ever recorded. 

Following an intense and amazing two weeks, we concluded our pilgrimage with a post-WYD retreat at the magnificent and spectacular Iguazu Falls, located on the Brazilian-Argentinean border.  We spent a few days in peaceful reflection on the previous two weeks and to look forward to the future.
The incredible experience of WYD has left us with a deeper appreciation for our faith and love for Our Lord.  For some of us, it was a life-changing experience.  It has allowed us to feel a deep oneness as members of the Catholic family, united around our Holy Father, and this was a source of great joy for us. 
The University invites all staff and students to attend the ‘WYD Welcome Home Pilgrims Party’ on Wednesday 25 September.  Mass will be held at St Benedict’s Church, Broadway, at 12.35pm, followed by a barbecue lunch and cakes in the Courtyard at 1.10pm, where a number of pilgrims will share their reflections.