In 2013 I went to Brazil to attend World Youth Day (WYD) for the first time. It was an amazing experience, as I met great people and discovered things about myself and about my faith.
The first thing that we were constantly reminded of was that we were pilgrims and not tourists. To be honest, when I signed up for this the year before, I was more of a tourist rather than a pilgrim. Even two months before travel, I was more excited about visiting South America, rather than the spiritual benefits that I could gain from this trip. But I went with an open mind and with absolutely no expectations, besides hand gliding in Rio and checking out the great food!
To be honest, I did not have much of a proactive spiritual relationship with God before this pilgrimage. These things are not developed in the space of a month, however, I have realised the involvement of God in my everyday life. It is one thing to hear it constantly from Church or from your family of how God is always there, but when you open your eyes and really acknowledge His presence, that is a completely a new step in the direction that we all strive for.
For me, a highlight of the trip was our stay in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. I stayed with the most genuine family. My host brother and sister were my age, and they spent a lot of time discussing their faith with me. It came to a point where I admired their dedication and commitment to their faith.
The actual World Youth Day week, was very interesting. We were left to our own initiatives, with a few events being labelled as compulsory. Being around so many like-minded people was such a stepping stone for me. It was the more random events, far too many to talk about, that got me thinking about my faith. From following a few people to the middle of nowhere for a Christian concert, to trying to find toilets in a city among three million people with the same agenda, or seeing how a homeless man whom we judged and thought was going to knick our stuff at the sleep out, ended up spending time with us after we gave him food and a place to chill.
I cannot say that I learnt the following lessons, as these are things that we hear often, however, my two greatest realisations from this pilgrimage was leaving all my problems, worries and fears to God. I had many worries and fears during the pilgrimage, but the reassurance from just reflecting on it, and leaving it in God’s hands was so empowering.
I also realised the importance of placing my ambitions, dreams and goals in God’s hands, and praying for His direction. For the first time, in a very long time, I started praying. Not only when I wanted something or when I was giving thanks, but just having God in my head and walking each step as a Christian should.
The second point that got me pondering was the realisation of God’s presence around me. After WYD, I went traveling with two friends around Brazil and Argentina. The extended trip was a real eye-opener. I was talking to Fr Mark (At the time he was the WYD Chaplain), about this when I got back to Perth and in a nutshell, I realised that it was ‘providence’, which are situations being changed by God’s presence.
There were so many incidents in the last two weeks of my travel that I truly felt that God was watching over us. One in particular was during our transit to our different individual destinations and the feeling of sadness came over us as we were finally splitting up. But during our last day while walking around Sao Paolo, we bumped into a group of Belgians who arrived at the hostel. They were also WYD pilgrims. We immediately connected and joined them for an evening mass. We hung out and played X-box with them all day, all night and into the early morning. When time came to leave, we were just filled with joy after having such a nice send-off party. Previously, I would have just said we were at the right place, at the right time; however my first thought was “thank you Jesus”.
It is very easy being a committed Catholic during the pilgrimage, especially when you’re surrounded by an Archbishop, a Bishop, five priests, and 65 other committed pilgrims. The challenge is how we go about it when we go back to face the reality after an amazing pilgrimage. This was an issue, especially for me because of some questions that I had, however, the same answer I kept receiving was just to keep on praying and to keep working on my relationship with God, and I know with His grace, keep winging it.
*Josh Lopez went to his first pilgrimage to Rio de Janeiro Brazil for World Youth Day. He is a member of Bateman Parish’s Young Adults Group and works in the Shipping and Logistics industry.