We are the first international group to visit and stay with the Sao Judas parish. Over the last few days they have shared with us how they have been waiting with excitement since September last year to meet us. Many meetings, plans and activities have come together. And although their Church has 50,000 visitors a day to its Sanctuary to St Jude, they have taken to heart this visit of ours.
Our days are full and the joy in each of our guests is evident! We grab as much sleep as we can during the night, 7 hours if are lucky, an then dive into days with a lively program and a very excited and welcoming parish community, eager to share their lives, faith, culture, music, dance and social projects with us.
There are 31 pilgrims from Australia here (15 of us and then 16 from the Adelaide/Port Pirie group). To support us the parish has over 100 volunteers! From cooks, to security, to bag watchers, to interpreters, musicians, photographers and guides. There are colourful signs (in English!) everywhere to help us find our way, a beautiful ‘chill out’ space of couches, flowers and magazines to rest in – not that we have gotten to use it yet! There is no doubt that we are extremely welcome in this special place of faith.
The message is clear – we are one. One in faith, one in understanding, one in Christ. This is the meeting of brothers and sisters who have up until now not been able to meet. This is the start of something special. But a continuation too of what we have always been. But now it is more intimate – more personal. And in each moment of each day – from our host families to the cooks to the english interpreters to the parish priest – we feel this intimacy in Christ.
This parish is huge (please look through their website), two churches, a presbytery with 11 priests (many retired), and their many good works. An orphanage, social centre, numerous outreaches, charity shop, piety store, 7 Masses a day, two active youth ministry communities which will have over 150 go to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day (JMJ). This is a parish on fire for God and in spreading his love and truth with others. Their joy is indeed infectious. Dear Lord, let it spread!
I will never forget the parish welcome Mass for our Aussie group. After communion, Fr Daniel called us to the front to face him. He addressed us in thanksgiving and love. It was so special, his words so heartfelt and beautiful. He is so good with words – even in a second language. But little did we know there was more to come! As we turned around to face the parish, they were all (hundreds of them) holding up signs “Benita, welcome!” or “Michael, welcome!” or “Andrzej, welcome!” Well the tears just filled my eyes. There would have been at least 10 signs for each of us. And so began a beautiful time of going to the people holding our name and them personally welcoming us. There was laughter, joy, hugging, broken English and Portuguese and tears! We spread throughout the church eager to meet all those holding our name. And we were met by such welcoming people so eager to meet us too.
As I type this I am literally full of joy (definitely not sleep!!) and so it seems are the guys walking the streets now in the early hours as they celebrate their team winning the football! It is football night here in Sao Paulo and its final night. There is much joy in the streets. My joy is complete right now in all that God is gifting us with in this special time with this community. God is shining an enormously bright light into our lives through this time here with the people of Sao Judas. May God bless each one of them, and us in this days to come.