Rambling Pilgrim (My Blogspot for World Youth Day 2013, Rio)

This blog is an account of my experiences in Rio de Janeiro during World Youth Day, 2013.

Where to find this blog: http://ramblingpilgrim.blogspot.com/

The WYD pilgrims have been commissioned

Last night it began.

Well, if you can call a sending forth blessing from Bishop da Cunha of Newark Archdiocese a beginning, then it's fair enough to say it began. Then again, if that counts as a beginning, so can the moment I officially decided to go to Rio for World Youth Day seven months ago, and so can the moment I made the first deposit in my savings account for the pilgrimage, or when I finally paid the full $4,000, or when we started actually hosting fundraisers for the trip, or when I finally received my visa.

I guess there are still a few solidifying events that still remain ahead which also can count as beginnings, like driving to the airport July 21, landing in Rio the next morning, and then starting to see the other pilgrims from around the world who will be incredulous at the same time as I because they'll realize they've finally arrived.

It's hard to find a true beginning really, because so much has already gone into this event, so many demands tug at us for attention, so many go-aheads, wait-a-seconds, 'do you have this and that's, 'did you do that and this'es, all pushing to be top priorities, that the true beginning, the true moment when I CAN REALLY SAY THAT I'M GOING TO WORLD YOUTH DAY never seems to really, actually, technically, literally arrive.

A bishop's blessing can be pretty convincing, though. So can driving an hour and a half up to Newark to get the blessing, come to think of it. That little adventure, in my beat-up Buick, with a phone GPS losing power, made me notice that even the smaller journeys in our every day lives can be seen as pilgrimages. Zigzagging through Newark, I certainly offered up my share of prayers while hoping that I make the right turn to get to the archdiocesan retreat center in Kearny. I'm still not exactly sure where it is even after going there.

We all make sacrifices. Every blessing comes with its sacrifices, including this chance to go to WYD. My sacrifice is an emptied bank account. Even though most of the trip has been paid for by others, this pilgrimage has already left me broke; and it hasn't even started yet. Nonetheless, just like our guide from Regina Tours told us last night, "No one has ever gone to World Youth Day and said I wish I hadn't spent all my savings to go."

Burning with anticipation, I can only hope that she's right.    

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What to expect of Rio, what should Rio expect of us?

What comes to mind when I think Rio? There’s the Christ the Redeemer statue, the laid back beaches hugged by mountains and high rises, and the controversial shanty towns in the foothills. There’s the recent riots against bus fares, the 6.3 million citizens, and Portuguese (which I told myself months ago to learn, but still haven’t). Then there’s the FIFA World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics of 2016.

With the exception of Mexico, I’ve never been to another country where English wasn’t a common language. In fact, with the exception of Mexico, Canada and Ireland, I’ve never been to another country, period. Ironically, with the exception of Canada, I’ve never been to another country for anything other than missionary purposes– unless you count that one time I crossed over to Nogales just to get a real Mexican poncho, or the time I accidentally took the San Diego rail line into Tijuana. The trip to Ireland was with my college rugby team, but even then my team, the Franciscan University Barons, saw sports as an opportunity to evangelize the teams we played and their fans.

Remembering that mission to evangelize adds to the adventure of this journey to Rio. It is a strange way to be a missionary though, I must admit. Usually you think of missionaries serving in hospitals, feeding the poor, or building new homes for the homeless in ‘mission territory’ where there really aren’t many other Christians. But we’ll be attending concerts, drama skits and inspirational speeches with about 2 million other Catholics in a city that is at least half Catholic and at least three quarters Christian. Yes, we will be about 2 million strong, and we still won’t outnumber the local Catholic population of Rio.

The media is expecting World Youth Day to boost the economy of the city. That’s really the core element of missionary power here… our presence, the sheer magnitude, the communal power, of so many young Catholics being there. Even if you are Christian, it is possible to be re-evangelized by such an extraordinary witness. And that’s what WYD really is: so out of the ordinary. Even the cultural Catholic could be pleasantly surprised and inspired by this eccentric representation of the Church. We see an aging congregation at Mass on Sunday, the lack of young faces among the clergy, and we walk up to the locked churches all around the country, and we think the Catholic Church’s future is dismal. Then we see the missionaries of World Youth Day. Many of the events in Rio from July 23 to 28 will be entertaining in nature because this is a truly joyful generation of Christians. They bring not only hope but life.

Many Catholics are discouraged by the lack of religious vocations in my generation, but let’s get to the real issue here. My generation has been disconnected from the rich Catholic culture that our elders knew so well. We need to rebuild first. We need to raise true Catholic families before we can get a good influx of religious vocations, because the vocations will come from those families -- and the families will come from those inspired by John Paul the Great’s great idea, World Youth Day.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What's the big deal about World Youth Day?

I have noticed that many people do not know about World Youth Day. I mean they never even heard of it.  When I mention I'm going, they look at me curiously as if I'm talking about some sort of regional high school pep rally that wouldn't garner the interest of a local newspaper. Perhaps they take the word "World" in the title lightly, like "the world's largest corn palace" that only fascinates  people who are interested in buildings made of strange materials, or in all the wonderful things you can do with corn.

No, there's nothing corny about World Youth Day; and it may be the fruit of an abundant harvest, but it's a harvest of a completely different kind. When they say 160 countries will be represented, they don't mean just a handful from each one. They mean hundreds and thousands from many of them. It is the largest gathering in the world, period. Nothing even comes close. They can't even estimate the number that may show up at the Vigil Mass with the pope on the final day. Since the election of Pope Francis, they say many from his home country of  Argentina are signing up last minute. In fact, the Argentine Pope is a source of pride for all Hispanics in a way, so I won't be surprised if his election inspired more people from all around Latin America to come.

So this is my first WYD, first time going to Brazil, and I'm going to