And so it was bound to happen… the last day. Surely there should be a sense of relief, of excitement in going home, in being glad for our own space, our own bed, back to work and life. And of course there is some of that. But there is also sadness. This has been such a blessed time for each of us. One of the pilgrims said to me at dinner last night “I don’t think I have ever felt so loved in all my life”. For me, that sums it up. The beautiful bond and companionship that has been shared amongst the special people in our group. Each one has contributed in a unique and special way. Each of us has grown because of the presence of each of the others. We have felt loved and respected by each other. We have prayed, walked, cried, laughed and faced challenges and setbacks together. Each time, we have done it together, as a team.
I am going to miss these 15 people immensely. I have learnt from each of them. From Andrzej’s immediate willingness to give, to Ladan’s assurance and support, to Zena’s affection, to Lauren’s strong sense of God, to Chris’s ability to bring our time together in prayer so beautifully, to Sam’s sincere questions, to Mesak’s new eyes, to Melissa’s scrap booking and remembering details, to Michael’s willingness to say yes, to David’s energy and laughter, to Jacinta’s love of her family and children, to Marina’s selfless giving of her language and Brazilian knowledge, to Carina’s openness and joy, to Robyn’s unfailing support and humour; and to Bishop Eugene’s love and respect of young people no matter where they are on their journey.
We shared one final Mass together at our retreat house last night and it was just beautiful. Bishop Eugene created a time of dialogue in the homily, and it was one last opportunity to voice the questions stirring in our hearts. We stood around the altar during the liturgy of the Eucharist, offering ourselves to God, all that we are and are to be. Our hopes, our dreams, our fears, offering it all.
During our time in Brazil, we have learnt about Bahia Bands. I first learnt of them from Erica, whilst sitting at the front of the Sao Judas Church late one night. These ribbons combined the superstitious nature of African faiths with the miracle granting powers of Catholic Saints. In the 19th Century, the Bahia bracelets were silk made and the writings on them were done by hand with ink or silver. They were worn on the neck as a necklace, upon which were hung medallions and holy images. Today, ribbons are affixed to the church gates or around the wrist or ankle.
These days they are generally worn as a fashion accessory as well as a good luck charm. The wish ribbon is tied around the wrist with 3 knots. A wish is made for each of the 3 knots tied. Once the Bahia band falls off the wrist on its own, it is believed the 3 wishes will come true. That night out the front of the Sao Judas Church, Erica tied one on my wrist and with each of the three knots, I thought of three prayers in my life that I would like to see realised.
To mark the end of our time together, we had a ‘Christo Redentor’ Bahia band for each pilgrim. One by one, they came up and each of the three knots were tied by Robyn, Chris and myself (our pilgrimage leadership team). With each knot we made a specific prayer for that pilgrim.
These Bahia bands, and the prayers they hold for our pilgrims are now a constant reminder for them of their pilgrimage. They will see it each day around their wrist. But even when the band falls off, the prayer continues. Being from across our large diocese and having made friends from all across the world these two weeks, as we go we could risk feeling far away from each other. But the truth is we will remain always together. In each Eucharist, in each Mass, we will meet in our God.
While it feels that this is an ending now, it is most definitely a beginning. And there is much joy, much hope and a real passion and desire to go and be the very best disciples in the world that we can be.
We continue to pray for you as we journey home. I’ve just offered up my morning prayer for you all and it was with much joy.