Early morning woke the crowds, and I was able to find my group situated in front of the second to last tv screen. We were able to enjoy the closing Mass together. The theme of WYD is “go and make disciples of all nations”, and the Pope spoke on that theme. He challenged us from the first speech with regards to getting out there and evangelizing. The Pope has said that we need saints without cassocks, and what he means is that ALL of use can be saints…and should be saints! We should all be working toward that. Powerful words.
Later that afternoon I took a large part of my group to the world famous Ipanema Beach. It was fun just to see them have fun! They said Ipanema was more impressive than Copacabana, and I know they enjoyed it. One of the highlights was meeting the folks in my group and seeing them enjoy the WYD and all it offered. Sunday was a long day, and most were quite happy to hit the hay bales early.
At one point we saw a street corner loaded with bishops from all over the world. They were talking to folks, praying with them, and giving blessings. What a great ministry to see them on the streets with the people, so fun! It was encouraging since it was a reminder for me to get involved more and meet people where they are. Perhaps just wearing a CATgear shirt is a start in that it could spark a conversation about the Catholic faith. As one pilgrim told me, “hey, if that Catholic faith isn’t the faith then please enlighten me after you study and understand the Catholic faith.” Great point. Most folks who don’t support the Catholic faith simply do not understand it. Most of those folks have done zero research into the faith and yet the disagree with it. Hmmmm. Yes, I’d encourage folks to research a topic on the Catholic faith BEFORE disagreeing with it. Makes sense.
Last Saturday started with a great breakfast then a quick change of plans. Since the Vigil had been moved to Copacabana Beach, the walk was to be changed, too. We took the metro to Gloria then did recon on the box lunch distribution. It was a mess, lines were long, etc. so we did some negotiating and grabbed our 60 lunches. After a break and some food, we started walking toward Copacabana Beach along with thousands of others. Flags from all over accompanied us as we headed south. Sure we were sore, and yes, it seemed a bit long especially with a pack. However, the energy of everyone along the walk just simply pushed us along. It was neat to see flags from all over the world, and it gave me a better sense of the catholic (as in universal) church. Angola, Zambia, Lichtenstein, New Zealand, South Korea, China, and much more! So fun! We walked back to the hotel, and the excursion took about 6 hours total. After a quick change, our group split and spread throughout the beach. By this time it was close to 6 pm, and the beach and road were packed with people, tents, sleeping backs, cardboard, and a variety of camping goods. It was crazy! I saw a few from my group, and I eventually headed to the office to watch Benediction. From there I saw my good friend Jose Diaz enroute my room. Great to catch up with him, JP, and Michael as the represented Brooklyn. They told me that the bishop was with their group for a few hours on the beach earlier that evening!
I was so tired last night, so I crashed and burned. Thursday was another fun and great day. The weather was rainy and cold, but we made it great anyways. The breakfast jumpstarted my day, then I dodged droplets to meet my group at their hotel. From there we took the metro to Cinelandia where we walked to Vivo Rio for catechesis. Brisbane Arbishop Coleridge spoke about discipleship, and he was funny and engaging. With his Aussie accent he encouraged us to snorkel below the surface of Sacred Scripture and the catechism in order to really experience it. He also described christianity as “a real encounter with Jesus Christ” rather than a religion. Wow, great perspective! Of course he echoed the mantra of WYD and challenged us “to go and make disciples of all nations.” Easier said than done, but waterfalls start with one drop. Just ask Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
We took a bus back to Copacabana, and it was better than any theme park ride. The driver must have done Formula 1 at some point because we were speeding and braking! A group of Brazilians were with us, and by the end of the ride everyone was friends. The Papal Welcome Ceremony was later that eve, so we made our way down to the beach to prepare. The beach was soon covered with pilgrims, and I caught up with fellow guides until the Pope zoomed by. It was fun to watch everyone react to him. Someone asked why he’s so important, and it’s the position that we recognize. The Pope is Christ’s Vicar here on earth, and the Pope goes all the way back to Peter. Amazing how God has used people who are so “unqualified” throughout the years. Look at Sacred Scripture, and you’ll see countless examples of this including Peter. I’m always reminded that if God can use them, then surely, in some small way, He can use me.
Also, Thursday was the Feast of St. James the Apostle, and Sal, my brother, and I hiked the Camino de Santiago a few years ago. Today was a great reminder of that pilgrimage and of my time with Sal. Yes, we’re going to do it again, this time from France! Stand by for that adventure!
Today started with breakfast then a later start to catechesis at Vivo Rio. Cardinal O’Malley of Boston spoke, and while he was not as engaging as Cardinal Dolan or Archbishop Coleridge, he was very good. One thing that stuck in my mind today was that he encouraged men and women to have children as that is one of the main reasons for marriage. Before you say otherwise, I’d encourage you to look into the Church’s teachings on marriage as it is unitive and procreative. Otherwise, why get married? Great question.
Before we left Vivo Rio for the last time, I met two people. The first was Clarence Gilyard Jr. who played on WALKER TEXAS RANGER, TOP GUN, and DIE HARD among other films. Clarence was always the first to greet us upon arrival complete with cowboy hat. He was there rain or shine, and he always had a smile and warm greeting! It was only today that I figured out his Hollywood connection. Odd, but one of his DIE HARD lines was “and the quarterback is toast”, which is a personal favorite. Second, I met Javier who is studying to be a Jesuit priest. This, of course, is AFTER he’s been a gynecologist for awhile. I asked if he was a late vocation, he said no. He felt he was called to be both a doctor who specializes in Catholic church teachings with regards to gynecology AND to be a priest. Go Javier!
Another bus ride brought us back to the hotel where the group waited for their host families from the week prior to WYD. That part of their trip was quite powerful as they forged some incredible friendships with some very gracious Brazilian families. The families’ really showed them hospitality, Brazil style! The crowds surged again, probably 3x of that the night prior, for Stations of the Cross. Again, the Pope zoomed by enroute the altar. Once there, he said many things but a few things stuck. Enroute the cross, Christ encountered many people. Sometimes we can be like Pilate who did not have the courage to go against the tide to save Jesus’s life and instead washed his hands. Sometimes we can be like Simon of Cyrene and help Jesus to carry that heavy wood. Sometimes we can be like Mary and the other women who were not afraid to accompany Jesus all the way to the end, with love and tenderness. And you? Who are you like? Like Pilate? Like Simon? Like Mary?
Tomorrow is in a state of flux. We were supposed to make the hike to a site on the edge of the city for the Vigil then the closing Mass. That’s changed for safety reasons because of excess rain. Now, the Mass will be held on Copacabana Beach. We shall see what tomorrow brings.
Another great day behind us. I started with breakfast at my hotel which is on the beach (across the road). They really do up the breakfast, I’ll have to take a photo of it tomorrow. I sat by the window and enjoyed it. I mean, I really enjoyed it. Last WYD, we had very simple lodging, so I slept on the floor with 100 of my closest friends and ate food from a box for breakfast. Yes, it was part of the pilgrimage, but I guess it paid off this time around. Basically, I am NOT complaining. I walked the 20 minutes to meet my group, and then we headed to Vivo Rio via the metro for catechesis. Steve Angrisano led the praise and worship to get things going. Does Steve age? I’m not sure what he’s taking, but I want some. I think it’s the M&Ms at the conferences, I’m not sure. Cardinal Dolan was next, and he is a wonderful and engaging speaker. He’s down to earth, and I really enjoyed him. He spoke on a number of things, but two things resonated with me. First, he told a story that’s crux was each of us is a child of God. We are not measured by the car we drive, how much we way, how much we have or don’t have. It was a great reminder that the extra stuff really doesn’t matter, and the most important thing is that I feel (I mean, really FEEL) that God loves me. Second, the Gospel reading from Matthew was about “come to me all who are burdened and I will give you rest”. Hey, I know I’ve been tired, worn out, or just plain running from God. Over the past week or so, there have been times that I’ve been tired and “burdened”. What a wonderful reminder that God is still there, pursuing me, waiting for me, regardless of how selfish I can be. Mass was powerful, too. Just something to see so many young folks there celebrating the Eucharist together. After Mass we had some free time to meet new folks and catch up with some old ones. Bishop Soto of Sacramento bought pizza for everyone from his diocese again. He’s a simple and approachable bishop, that’s for sure. He was even going around handing out extra pizzas and even gave some to a homeless guy. What a great example, thank you Bishop Soto! From there, we decided to head back to the hotel as it had been raining throughout the day and it was quite chilly. While it was a little after 6 pm, it seemed like it was closer to midnight. Several folks relaxed and chatted in the lobby, and that was great to see them engage with each other. While it’s a group of 60, we have several churches represented, so reaching out and meeting others is key. Fun to see them make new friends and share their experiences. I’ve been laughing and talking with my fellow guide, Erik Gonzalez, of Monterrey, Mexico. We’ve chatted about our day as well as some similar experiences from WYD in Madrid. Some great laughs for sure! Catechism tomorrow morning and the Pope arrives tomorrow night!
Well, we got after it today. Breakfast was incredible. Lots of pastries, meats, strong coffee with hot milk, breads and butter, and fresh fruit. Yes, that was at the hotel that’s “hosting” me until Monday. I was hungry and ate lots along with Erik, my compadre in food crime. I headed to meet my group at their hotel which is about a half mile away on foot. From there, we headed to the metro then into Carioca metro station to see the cathedral. Let me tell you about busy. The metro station was hopping with groups from all over the country singing songs, carrying flags, and generally just having a grand time. The walk from the metro to the cathedral was again teeming with pilgrims from all over the world! Some of our group had never been on a metro, so that part was great for some. Enroute the cathedral, I ran into Father Jose Lucero SDB! It was great to see Father as his community hosted me when I was in LA in the spring. Small world! It was fun to watch the people from all over, so amazing! From there we walked past the American consulate then to Vivo Rio which is a complex that will host our catechesis the next few days. Our next stop took us on the metro to the church near the Gloria metro stop. There we broke into small groups to briefly share then take a look at the church. We ran into a group from Nebraska, and they had several priests AND their bishop with them. What a great testimony from him! We ate lunch, and I made sure to try some of the Brazilian bbq as they cut various pieces of meat off the stake. We were given a debit card with 15 Reals per meal (about $7.50) for lunch and dinner over the next 4 days and then dinner on Sunday night. The metro back to Copacabana was crazy as the car was so packed. Just when we didn’t think we could fit anyone else in the car…we did. Of course the trip was accompanied by singing and chanting. I think the Brazilian group was singing a version of Father Abraham which sounds so much better in Portugese. A break at the hotel followed, then we split into small groups and headed to the opening mass on Copacabana Beach. We ended up on the beach close enough to see the altar but not close enough to make things out so we followed on one of the big screens laid out on the beach. Of course we were with thousands of our closest friends, so that was different. Like any big gig, it took awhile to start, and I thought it was more concert than anything else. Then, the rains came to mix things up a bit. Yet, the Mass is powerful, and it unfolded as it always does in such a beautiful way. The first reading was from Samuel, and it was about God calling Samuel in the night. The song “here I am, Lord…is it I, Lord? …” (sing along, please) is taken from this reading. This reading ALWAYS gets me….always. It seems to be directed at me, apparently regardless of my location…including the sands of Copacabana Beach. I’m not sure of the rest of the readings since “here I am, Lord” was resonating through me (along with the raindrops). The Eucharist was powerful in that it was so quiet and reverent during those precious moment. It was a wonderful was to close a wonderful day. Bed soon, beat. Early day tomorrow as we have catechesis back at Vivo Rio followed by Mass. Should be another fine day in Rio!
It’s a bit rainy out today with the temperature much cooler than the past week. Definitely jacket weather today. Just had a great hotel breakfast with Erik Gonzalez, a fellow guide. He’s off to meet his group, and I have a few minutes to get organized before I meet mine.
My group is from Granite Bay, CA, and they are great, 60 strong. We did some area familiarization yesterday to show them the grocery story, post office, money changing place, laundry, and then the beach. They had spent several days with families in a place called Petropolis, and apparently many of them had a wonderful time connecting with local families. The families didn’t have “much”, but they gave what they did have. It was a great lesson in giving and hospitality that made an impact on my group. After some beach time, they relaxed and prepared for a trek through Copacabana to an 8 pm Mass with their bishop, Bishop Soto of Sacramento. The gospel was about Mary Magdalen and her search for Jesus. Bishop Soto reminded us that we are like Mary, constantly searching for Jesus throughout our day. There are days when my search is cursory or not at all, and other days, my search is frantic. Yesterday was also the first day, so it was crazy at times. I found that Mass was quite and centering, and it reminded me how important that Mass is to me. Like a vitamin, it’s necessary to my soul.
A couple of funny stories happened, too. First, I was walking down the street and some folks asked ME for directions! I actually knew where the metro stop was, so it was good. Second, Deacon Gervan, who’s a Brazilian studying with the Diocese of Nashville, was looking for his cousin who happens to live in Rio. Now Rio is a pretty big city, so they were on the phone trying to figure out where the cousin lives. As it turned out, Deacon Gervan was calling from the 11th floor of a building and his cousin lived on the 5th floor…same building! Small world.
It was great to see the Pope arrive via tv yesterday. It was an impromptu arrival, so we weren’t there to see it, but it was powerful nonetheless to see it on tv. People were watching at all the local tvs as if a soccer game was being broadcast! Neat to see so many tuned in. Tonight is the opening Mass on Copacabana beach with the archbishop of Rio, so that should kick things off in a mighty way. Our hotel is close, so that’ll be a plus. Off to meet my group in a bit then doing some exploring.