Saturday, August 3, 2013

World Youth Day in Rio: A Salesian Pilgrimage

World Youth Day in Rio
A Salesian Pilgrimage

By Fr. Abe Feliciano, SDB

Despite never having experienced a World Youth Day (I’ve had a few “almost went” attempts), one of the aspects of Rio 2013 that stands out most for me was the genuinely “Salesian feel” that the pilgrimage experience held for me and for many of the others with whom I was privileged to journey in Brazil. Some of the reasons for this were quite deliberate and explicitly Salesian, such as the Worldwide Salesian Youth Movement Forum, while others were much more subtle and unanticipated.

Our two SDB North American provinces were fortunate enough to send a delegation of 64 members to participate in this year’s WYD. The participants hailed from all around the U.S.: California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Washington State. Some of our group spent a total of three weeks in Brazil, engaging in two weeks of service with Salesians in the Amazon region before the official start of WYD 2013. Another group participated in service at the Salesian works in São Paulo a week before WYD started, while a group of eight U.S. representatives participated in the first-ever Bi-continental SYM gathering, July 18-21. By July 23 all of our U.S. pilgrims were together for the opening ceremony and prayer service on Copacabana beach.

Rain poured down on all of the pilgrims during the opening prayer service, and would, in fact, affect most of the WYD events. It rained for all of the first three days, and the rain even forced the changing of the location of the final Mass from the original designated field to Copacabana beach due to flooding.

But the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits, as the grace of the moment filled each of us with the joy of this singular and intense experience of Church. In spite of the gloomy weather and the inconveniences it forced upon both pilgrims and Rio natives, an authentic and palpable spirit of optimism and joy pervaded. The smiles were no less in number, the laughter no less loud, and the prayer no less devout.

Though it might seem implausible to some, there was also a genuine sense of family spirit among the pilgrims from all nations. In a very real sense, it felt as though we were gathered with three million friends and family. Those of us who come from the Salesian world continued to find each other throughout Rio, often greeting each other with shouts of “Viva Don Bosco!” In addition, we were treated to an experience of Salesian Family in Niteroi on the day of the SYM Forum and party, where Fr. Chavez and Mother Yvonne Reugnoat spent time with their spiritual sons and daughters in moments of prayer, discussion, meals, and family fun. One of the young adults from our province who met Fr. Chavez for the first time commented that she felt as if she had just met Don Bosco himself.

Lastly, though the overwhelming majority of us had never met Pope Francis before, and all but a very select few would have the opportunity to greet him personally, it felt as though every one of us did meet him personally. His glances and his words all felt directed at each pilgrim who was present. He didn’t speak merely to the crowds before him. He spoke to each one of us directly, especially the youths who were present. And he challenged them in a very Salesian way, reminding them of their call to discipleship in the here and now, and their current ability to be missionaries and evangelizers as youths, to youths today. Many of us felt our hearts swell with joy and pride when he stated, “Do you know what the best tool is for evangelizing the young? Another young person. This is the path to follow!” Though Pope Francis is a Jesuit, and he chose the name of the founder of the Franciscans, he clearly showed that he was educated by the sons of St. John Bosco and has true Salesian DNA.

“Go and make disciples of all nations,” (Matt 28:19) was the theme of the WYD 2013, a theme that was echoed over and over again for the more than three million participants who journeyed from around the globe to be renewed in their faith. This pilgrimage was truly a moment of grace for all those in attendance, but it was a special opportunity to be renewed as Salesian disciples, committed to bringing the love and message of Jesus to the young the world over, especially to those most in need.

Fr. Abe is the New Rochelle Province's delegate for youth ministry and a member of the provincial council.

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