On the morning of February 11th I awoke to the news that Pope Benedict XVI had resigned. I remember a close friend and I discussing a vital revelation: we would have a new Pope for Rio 2013! Amazing to think that the new Pope would hail from the "end of the earth" and that millions of people would be traveling that same distance 6 months later.
Pope Francis' papacy can already be distinguished by many attributes: his humility and simplicity, his charisma and joy, his simply stated yet profound homilies...but above these ideas, Pope Francis is a man of action.
It seems only fitting for me to describe our World Youth Day pilgrimage as a 'Pope Francis WYD.' Last week, a group of 40 young adults and university students from Brock University, McMaster University, McGill university, the University of Toronto and Ryerson University set out for Lima, Peru ready for action! Under the guidance of Br. Raul Masseur and his community, Christian Life Movement, we started our pilgrimage in the Shantytowns of Lima. Consider this an alternative version of "Days in the diocese."
Lima is a fast-paced, historically rich coastal city in western Peru. Kentucky Fried Chickens and Churros stands line the streets next to 16th century churches. In the hills surrounding the city live some of the poorest people on earth. As far as the eye can see, there are shantytown communities forming what is often referred to as a 'seatbelt.' Closer to the city, on the inner layer are the more developed shantytowns with brick construction and electricity, but the higher up one goes in the hills, the more rustic the communities become.
The Christian Life Movement was founded by Louis Fernando here in Lima. They have spent decades supporting the local indigenous people with infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and churches, along with providing spiritual support. Humility and poverty are vivid themes in the Gospels often calling Christian communities to live lives of justice and love. It is by these themes, that the Christian Life Movement seeks to spread the Gospel.
Our construction project this week consist of building a new chapel for the Paloma Alta community, in 5 days! In addition to the construction, we have been spending time in schools providing catechesis and visiting the hills with the local priests doing house blessings and collecting names of children who need to be baptized.
Much of our experience has been impacted by the people in Paloma Alta. They may be materially poor, but they are rich in spirit. The purpose of our time here is to work in partnership with the locals to help them build a new spiritual home for the community in turn supporting their social and physical needs. Gaudium et Spes 10 states:
"The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man....pulled by manifold attractions he is constantly forced to choose among them and renounce some...Hence he suffers from internal divisions, and from these flow so many and such great discords in society."
Pope Francis is a man of action and through his own actions has called us to a greater life of communion with our hands, heads and hearts. We must find ways to connect our realities in order to multiply the inner wealth of our hearts.
Solidarity on this trip is a partnership...a shared experience of love. There is an interconnectedness of basic Christian principles...a profound love towards God, each other and community, while creating a just community allowing mankind to live in communion with one another without boundaries. This is what our pilgrimage to Lima is about, living our human solidarity in such a way that helps make more visible the human heart of God.
This week, we have put our faith into action. On the construction site, we are learning from the locals how to mix concrete (no cement mixer here!) and set a level floor...without a level. As we walk higher into the hills we can see how centrally located the chapel will be and how this gathering space with support this community. Many times, we have heard how important the spiritual life is to these people but without access to community, to the Eucharist, to formation, societal breakdown occurs. These neighborhoods are just like yours and mine...and the Church suffers with her people.
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the women and men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ and they all need support. (Gaudium et Spes)
Perhaps what has touched me the most has been the hospitality and joy we have experienced. Children run up to us and hug us without reservation. Their eyes twinkle with delight when we play with them. Though many of the homes are not larger than 100 sq. feet they have little flowers planted in front of their door or their houses are painted bright colors. There is a quiet dignity present in all interactions. One of our pilgrims remarked how when you have few material goods, all you have left is love.
As our group prepares to travel to Rio this weekend for World youth Day, we have been touched by a community of love. Our experience has not been marked by the cement that was laid, the walls that were built or the houses that were blessed, though these were important. It was the actions of love: the handshake that affirms human dignity; the shared lessons between young and old, rich and poor demonstrating solidarity for the greater good; and that our actions of faith are a direct response to the Word of God.
St. Rose of Lima, intercessor of WYD Rio, pray for us.
This post comes to us from Lima, Peru, where Oriana Bertucci and her fellow pilgrims are experiencing Mission Days as part of their WYD Rio pilgrimage. Oriana is Director of Catholic Chaplaincy at Ryerson University. She is joined in Lima by students and young people from Ryerson, U of T, McGill, Brock, and McMaster Universities.
(Above: Canadian university students assist in building a chapel at a local parish in Lima, Peru as part of "Mission Days" on their way to WYD Rio. The sign reads "Parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus constructing a Catholic chapel.")