Being blessed with the amazing opportunity to travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for World Youth Day was an experience I will never forget. The memories and friendships made in Brazil are ones I will cherish for the rest of my life. Having just graduated from high school a mere 4 weeks before leaving for World Youth Day, I was excited to travel and begin my life as an adult. I was preparing to venture out in the world, after twelve years of Catholic education, and attend my first public school at the University of North Florida. World Youth Day provided me an opportunity to witness how other cultures celebrate the Catholic faith, which was the spiritual boost I would need to continue on my faith journey.
Traveling out of the country, to what seemed like a whole new world to me, was a little intimidating at first. However, once I was in the midst of hundreds of Vincentians that first week in Belo Horziante at the St. Vincent de Paul gathering, all my worries melted away and were replaced with a joy and fire for my faith that I had not experienced before.
I met all these wonderful people, not only from different parts of the United States, but also from Scotland, Ireland, and parts of Brazil. The several different cultures were revealed to one another in the trading of wrist bands. Each country had a wrist band that we would trade, as we shared a piece of who we were with our fellow brothers/sisters in Christ. I could not wait to travel to Rio to meet even more people and learn about more different cultures.
Once we arrived in Rio de Janerio, the reality hit me – I was about to see Pope Francis in person! After several activities preparing our hearts and minds for the actual World Youth Day, the festivities began. Several catechesis were held each day that opened little doors in my heart, inviting the Holy Spirit in and preparing me for the Holy Father. Hearing several Cardinals speak was very eye-opening. Cardinal Dolan spoke one of the days and truly opened my eyes to the purpose of World Youth Day. It is about allowing Christ to work through us and be His hands and feet. Being an 18 year old girl in our society waiting for “Mr. Right” can be a little discouraging. The catechesis was about how we must prepare ourselves first and completely fall in love with our faith before we can let somebody else into our hearts. That statement really gave me a peace and understanding that everything will work out in God’s time. I must prepare myself and trust that God has a plan.
Getting the opportunity to be included in the 5% of 3 million pilgrims to see the spectacular Christ the Redeemer statue was such a blessing. I fell speechless when I saw Christ peeking through the fog, standing over Rio, with His arms open wide. It made me even more excited and on fire for what was in store in the coming days. As the day arrived when Pope Francis was coming, I could not describe the joy I felt in my heart! He drove by in his humble jeep, waving to all of his children. What struck me most was how he acclaimed he was here for us. He came to see us! I just broke down in tears. The humility of Pope Francis was pure beauty.
We had the opportunity to see him again in a much more personal setting when we awaited him outside of Rio’s cathedral, where he was saying Mass. I ended up being just five feet from him! I could not help but just watch him as he drove by, humbly waving to all of us; with a joy radiating from him that was definitely a joy coming from Christ.
After a lengthy, yet beautiful five mile pilgrimage through the city and onto Copacabana Beach, we were blessed with the opportunity of Adoration with Pope Francis. It was in the moment of Matt Maher singing “Lord I Need You” that I really felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. It struck me how much I really do need Christ in every single aspect of my life. I could feel and knew this amazing fire for the Catholic faith would stay with me. We all need Christ, every single one of us. The trip concluded with a Mass with Pope Francis – again another event that I will treasure in my heart.
I realize how blessed I have been with the Catholic faith being passed down to me through my ancestors. I am even more blessed that I had this opportunity to deepen and enhance my faith with this trip to World Youth Day. I cannot wait to spread this fire in my heart onto the generations to come. God Bless.