My Experience of Rio 2013
“A tourist always asks, ‘Where can I get this?’ but a Pilgrim always says ‘Thank you!’ to everything.”
These were the words of Bishop Frank de Gouveia of Oudsthoorn diocese while trying to impart the spirit of pilgrimage in us two weeks before we left for Brazil. These words only made sense to most of us while we were already in Brazil but the reality was that our journey became that of big thanksgiving to God and to the church in Brazil.
Far from a challenging experience was the mission which my diocese took in Pompeia, Sao Paulo during the mission week. Later the diocesan youth chaplain would recall the choice of Pompeia as God’s providence. Though the mission week is not as important as Rio, I can say seriously that my wealth of experience and inspiration lies on that week. The people of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish Pompeia were extra warm and open to us. From the time they welcomed us in the airport with drums and singing till the time they chased after our bus on our departure to Rio. All of us got good caring families, and the difference in language failed woefully to prove a barrier to communication. Their strong love speaks so many languages and I can never forget their faces of smiles, their availability and their vibrant liturgical spirit.
I remember vividly the words of the Archbishop of Sao Paulo when he welcomed us, “Be careful of Brazilians, they will get you tired” and that was so true. Later I told my parish back in George that the difference between us and them is that their spirit in soccer and social celebration is still seen in liturgy while we tend to be more active in Rugby field than in the Church. Their culture of volunteering in things is a great lesson for Africa, only the Parish of Pompeia had four hundred volunteers. We had people that cooked for us the whole time, others followed our path, directing and guiding us, all in the spirit of sacrifice and that was most amazing to me.
On Sunday 21 July we left for Rio after a very emotional farewell mass. On the way we stopped at the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida. This Basilica enclosed a statue of black Mary that is very dear to Brazilians. It was discovered by fishermen in a river in the year 1717. The body was seen first and some weeks later, the head was discovered as well. This was followed by innumerable miracles both in that river and around the image. Since then Our Lady of Aparecida has been in the heart of the devotion of the Brazilian Church. Before we got to the Basilica, we had seen many prototypes of this image in many homes and shops, and have heard many stories about it. So entering the basilica itself was a great honour.
On reaching Rio around midnight, life was as noisy as in the day of where we came from. The time for the warm family houses were over and now the real pilgrimage started. Even though many people were packed in one place, hospitality was still felt. The sight of many young people from all over the world, eating together, dancing, singing and jumping together is really a great gift to the world. One usual picture is the sight of a flag or two leading each group of people that flocked together, yet each group seems to be more interested in the other groups. Hence there was this constant request for pictures, souvenirs or flags from another country. We gathered every morning together with many other English speakers in a parish also with the name of Our Lady of Aparecida. There we had daily Masses, Catechisms led by different bishops, confessions and meals. It was also from there that I had the opportunity to visit the Pallottines in Rio through the help of Fr Daniel Rochetti. He took me to the seminary and to other five Pallottine Parishes. It was really a unifying experience for me
Another incredible touch was the visit to the Statue of Christ the Redeemer. One of the most amazing monuments I have ever seen. Reaching the statue only after Six hours that we began the journey from the bottom of that mountain, I realized that being there was worth the long waiting and long standing in the dense queue. However the spirit of the people standing in lines were not damped. People continued singing and dancing all the way “THE CHURCH IS GREAT”
Copacabana beach, a place of great memory! We visited it almost daily amidst the struggle in the metro station and all the difficulties with the maps. On the third day, the Holy Father appeared. Pushing and struggling for the first hand view started already three hours before his passage through the barricaded road on his way to the altar. But that few seconds of his glorious sight was all people wanted. He is truly a man of deep humility and strength of soul; no protocols around him; constantly smiling, waving, and spontaneously picking up babies to kiss. Despite all the shouting and calling for him, he seems to have enclosed the millions of people there in his heart with a deep sentiment. For the rest of the time he spoke from the front, we could only watch from the screen amidst the applause that followed every one or two sentences he made. Back at home I realized that people that watched the EWTN actually followed the Pope’s preaching than those of us there, but the constant sight of his white garment flashing at a distance in front of us meant so much more than words.
I think the Stations of the Cross and the vigil were the climax of the whole event. Praising the Lord in the unending music and dancing is still a constant melody in my heart. Grace of God seemed to follow everyone present, whether asleep or awake, in noise or in decorum. There were times when my youths collapsed or when we were hungry or in misunderstanding but all of it became very necessary for the whole experience to be transforming. We came back much enriched and many are already longing for the next World Youth Day in Poland in three years time.
By Rev Fr. Cosmas Onwukwe SAC