How fitting: We set off on our journey to Rio on the Feast of St. Bonaventure. While on a stop-over in Panama airport, during Evening Prayer in the airport chapel, Fr. Rosica reminded us that this saint's name literally means “bona aventura” or good adventure. That’s what World Youth Day is: An adventure in faith. I wonder if that’s what the disciples were thinking as they made their way down from Galilee to Jerusalem with Jesus for that fateful Passover.
I had been thinking about this the Sunday before we left. For the last couple of weeks we’ve been listening to various readings from the Gospel of Luke. In them, Jesus is teaching the disciples what it means to be a disciple. He tells them it means to pick up your cross; it means to deny yourself. And then he sends them out; first the twelve and then the seventy-two. They go out on a mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God and they do that by healing the sick, caring for the afflicted and expelling evil spirits.
And that Sunday we learned how to really be a missionary: A man set out on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho… (Luke 10:25-37). The story of the Good Samaritan is probably the best well-known parable because it summarizes the missionary life. It summarizes our apostolic call, which is the theme for World Youth Day Rio 2013: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Did the disciples realize that Jesus was transforming them into apostles? Did the disciples realize that it’s not enough to just follow, but at some point we have to be sent?
And that’s what World Youth Day is: A transforming journey from Galilee down to Jerusalem where pilgrims realize that it’s not enough to follow; something has to change. We have to go out. We have to make disciples of all nations; we have to heal the sick, care for the afflicted, be salt and light, bring good news to the poor, set prisoners free, help the blind see… It’s not enough to be a disciple; we have to be apostles who are sent.
And so we began our “bona aventura” not knowing what to expect, not quite sure how God will use us, but trusting fully that He will allow us to collaborate with Him in whatever He is doing in this world in which He has put us.
Rio 2013 is the 28th
World Youth Day, an event that began as a simple evening Vigil gathering of young people with the Pope, “Il Papa e i giovani, insieme,” and has grown into a massive six-day event. On that first meeting with young people on St. Peter’s square in 1984, Pope John Paul II gave the young people of the world a simple wooden cross. This cross has become the Olympic flame of WYD. It is fitting, because that’s where the bona aventura leads us, because the cross is the only way to be a true disciple. How do we follow Christ? We pick up our cross. The Cross is the only way to eternal life. Young people come to WYD seeking Christ. They come as pilgrims to learn about their faith, to celebrate their faith, but do so as they journey together under the Cross, with Mary and the Saints.
And because this land, Latin America is a land of a missionary Church and a land of a Marian Church, we cannot ignore these two aspects of our Faith. Mary is the mother of missions because she always leads us to her son, Jesus. And here in Brazil we have a great patroness in the image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Aparecida. She has been watching over us and walks with us as we journey.
World Youth Day is the largest Catholic gathering in the world. It is a huge celebration of Faith. It is a time for joy and fun. It is also a time for growth and nourishment; a time for formation. But at its core, it is a transformation. It’s so easy for us to be caught up in what we have to do, especially those of us who are working while we’re here. Our Salt + Light team has a huge task: To bring the good news of WYD to all the nations and it’s easy to get bogged down with the details. It’s easy to worry about Internet signals and satellite feeds. It’s easy to grumble and argue, to complain and be frustrated. It’s easy to be like the disciples on the road to Jerusalem, not understanding where we’re going or why.
It’s not easy to understand the Cross. After all, it’s easier to follow than to be sent. But at some point, we have to let the Spirit do his work. We have to surrender to the one who’s brought us here. It’s very likely that His plan is very different than ours.
My prayer for this week is that our hearts are inclined to His will. After we arrived, during a small team Mass, Fr. Rosica spoke to us about the flames of WYD. I pray that this fire of World Youth Day, which sometimes is nothing more than an ember, can be kept alive. I pray that our work helps to fan the flames; to keep those embers alive. It’s not a coincidence that the very word, “Brasil” comes from the word, “brasa” which means embers. Portuguese sailors who came to this land called it the land of the “Vera Cruz” or of the True Cross – but it was commonly known by the wood of a red-bark tree called “pau-brasil” or “Brazil-wood.” It’s this land of the red-ember tree where God has chosen to fan the flames of the Spirit.
May the Spirit, through World Youth Day help kindle this land of embers, with the fire of his love. May all the pilgrims let themselves be taken over by the fire of the Spirit, as we walk on this journey, this good adventure towards Christ, along with Mary and the Saints, with the Holy Father and his brother Bishops, learning about and celebrating our faith in this land of the True Cross.