A year ago, people began asking if I planned to go to World Youth Day in Brazil. I thought I’d stay in Darwin and support local WYD festivities. After all, I’d already been blessed to be a pilgrim at two World Youth Days – as an excited 18 year-old in Canada in 2002, then as a 24 year-old, with three of my sisters, in Sydney in 2008. I figured I’d already experienced all that this huge event could offer me. I was satisfied and very happy with Jesus in my life. I figured that I had it sorted. There were probably others who would ‘get more out of going’ to this WYD than me. But, as often happens, God had other plans.
An angel in the form of an anonymous donor from my local parish of St Paul’s wanted to sponsor a young person to go to WYD in Rio. My parish priest asked me if I was interested. After a bit of thinking and praying, I thought, ‘Ok God, maybe you DO want me to go to this WYD’. And if God was calling me to go, He must really want to show me something on this pilgrimage. So I answered with a hearty ‘yes, please!’
Our little NT group of 16 pilgrims enjoyed an array of amazing moments of grace during our journey from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. Two such moments that grabbed my heart occurred in each of these two cities. During our first week, a ‘missionary week’, we were hosted in the parish of San Judas Tadeu (Saint Jude) in Sao Paulo – and God showed me his first surprise!
The night after arriving in the parish, and staying with our Brazilian host families, we attended a joyful mass together in the huge church. It was typical of a Brazilian celebration – with joyful singing, applause after the Gospel reading, embracing peace offerings and just general JOY. At communion time, the parish priest invited us, Aussie pilgrims, to receive communion up on the altar. I was alerted to how much of an honour this was, especially in Brazilian culture, and would never usually happen. This realisation touched my heart and as I returned to my seat, I knelt and felt the tears flowing down my cheeks. I was across the world, in Brazil, but I was made to feel at home. Jesus had called us to meet our brothers and sisters from South America – and here He was meeting us too, in the gift of his own body, in the Holy Eucharist. I WAS home.
Just as I had stemmed the flow of tears, the parish priest, Fr Daniel, called us forward to bless us and thank us for helping him celebrate his first mass in English. As we stood before him in front of the altar, more tears came. After blessing us, he told us that the parish would forever be our home. He thanked us, yet all I really wanted to do was to thank Him – for helping my heart feel so at home and so grateful for this opportunity to be there.
When Fr Daniel asked us to turn around to face the rest of the San Judas parish, what I encountered was pure love and kindness. There, scattered throughout this huge church, were hundreds of signs reading ‘Welcome –‘ and our individual names attached.
He invited us to go and meet those parishioners holding our name, to receive their welcome. I walked around, cried, laughed and hugged my individual welcomers. I was a mess – but I felt the most blessed, loved, and embraced mess.
Jesus was in that crowd with us too, saying ‘Welcome’, introducing us to each other. An initial crowd of strangers had blossomed into a family of faith.
After an adventurous missionary week with our Sao Paulo family, we travelled on to Rio for the official WYD festivities, where we were greeted with moments of surreal excitement, crowds, music, dancing, laughter, walking, prayer and Papa Francesco/“Papa Scheekoo!”(i.e. Pope Francis).
I’ll never forget the moment of running onto Copacabana beach, proudly wearing my Aussie flag, and later standing in the rain with so many other young people, shivering together as rain fell on us at our Opening Mass – and we didn’t care. Young, Catholic, and so very happy to know and love God.
But my moment of most grace in Rio took place at our evening Vigil, as we spent time with Pope Francis on Copacabana Beach before sleeping out for the night. (As the initial location chosen had become flooded, the event was transferred to Copabanana Beach – a sign that God really loves the beach!)
After trekking to our spot in the sand for the night, the sun went down and the Vigil offered music and testimonies, then our Pope arrived! A crowd of 3.5 million hushed as a procession of the Blessed Sacrament took place. Pilgrims dropped to their knees – Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, priests, everyone. We looked to the altar in silence, adoring and thanking the one who had brought us all here. The one who had called us; the one this was all for and all about – Jesus. Amidst the silence, all you could hear were the rolling waves of this landmark beach. When a certain song was played, there came, for me, more tears and a knowing that Jesus was sitting up on that altar, leaning forward, looking out at this huge crowd of his, and all those places we had come from and the people we were connected to, and all He could say was, ‘You’re here! You’re ALL here!’
Honoured. I felt totally honoured to be called by God to be in that moment. To be blessed with such a moment of grace in realising that, even when we think we have our faith sorted/happy/pleasant/fine, God always wants to shower us with more. More of Him.
I am so grateful to my sponsor for allowing me to answer God’s invitation to be in Brazil for WYD and to be inspired about all that is still ahead. All God can use me for now, and in my future vocation, as a teacher – all that I’m yet to discover about Him.
What I know, and what I want to share with you from WYD Rio, is that – He loves us. Loves us SO much – and as a family of love, our role is to share this with others – to truly GO and make Disciples. So that no one misses out on His love.
“Go and make disciples of all nations” – that was the theme of World Youth Day Rio 2013. That’s also the theme for our lives as a family of faith.
And may God bless our hearts as we go out on our way. Amen. Lauren xxx
(As we post Lauren’s testimony, she is in the final stages of her university studies for this year. Lauren is studying Arts/Education at Charles Darwin University. She is immersed in assignments and has a lot to do. This wasn’t helped recently when her laptop was stolen out of her car. So please keep Lauren in your prayers!)