August 9, 2013

World Youth Day pilgrims say Brazil experience deepened their faith and opened their hearts to God

Meghan Bender, left, Lauren Klosterman, Morgan Klosterman, Julie Doran and Chelsea Walker relax by the sea during World Youth Day on July 26. (Submitted photo)

Meghan Bender, left, Lauren Klosterman, Morgan Klosterman, Julie Doran and Chelsea Walker relax by the sea during World Youth Day on July 26. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

“A beautiful disaster.”

That’s the intriguing way that Brie Anne Eichhorn describes her experience as one of the 3 million young people who joined Pope Francis in Rio de Janiero on July 23-28 for World Youth Day.

“I describe it that way because I had expectations for this trip that I didn’t even know I was having, and those expectations were completely torn apart,” said Eichhorn, a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis who was one of 32 young adults from the archdiocese to travel to Brazil for World Youth Day.

“I thought I was being completely open to God’s plan for me on this trip, but when faced with challenging situations, I found myself disappointed or angry that the trip was not going the way I had thought. I was split from my group and stayed with strangers who did not speak any English. I had to wait for hours in crowds of millions. We spent most of our time outside in rainy, 50-degree weather. And I found out it would be a miracle to receive the Eucharist among 3 million people.”

And yet from those moments of seeming disaster came a beauty that deepened her faith.

“The beautiful part was that God planned it this way so that I would remember the reason I was going to Brazil. It wasn’t to have a vacation, but to have a true encounter with Jesus Christ, his Son. And that is exactly what happened. I stayed with a beautiful host family. Although they had nothing, they showed me love in ways I had never experienced. They gave me their bed to sleep, fed me, prayed for me and with me.”

Photo Gallery:
Photos from Allie Hensley
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Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six-Seven

One moment captured the essence of that connection: “As my host family and I were failing miserably at communicating one night, my host dad got out his smart phone with a translator, and with a smile showed me in English what he was trying to say in Portuguese, ‘We speak different languages, but we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.’ ”

That feeling came to life in an even more intense way for her when she participated in eucharistic adoration with Pope Francis on Copacabana Beach with millions of other young Catholics.

“I bet you can imagine the noise 3 million people can make as they greet the Holy Father, but imagine the silence 3 million people can make. We all spoke different languages and barely understood each other, but all 3 million of us knew who was with us on that beach. I could truly feel the awesomeness of the one, holy, Catholic Church.”

That feeling resonated among the pilgrims from the archdiocese. Here are some of their thoughts and memories of World Youth Day.

Holding back tears

One of the most inspiring and touching moments of the experience for Father Jonathan Meyer came when he translated the words of Pope Francis for his group.

“I brought a radio and headphones to tune into the local radio station that was set up for English translations of the papal events,” recalled Father Meyer, pastor of the Jennings County parishes of St. Ann, St. Mary and St. Joseph. “I was the only one in our group that had a radio, so at the events I would listen to the translation and then speak the words to all those around me.

“There were moments I had to hold back tears because I was so moved by what was being said by the pope or the other people speaking. It was humbling to know that what I said was the only thing my group was going to hear. It was a great analogy of life. The Gospel is only heard when we proclaim what we hear. The world needs Christ, and the only way it will hear his voice is through his disciples proclaiming it.”

A harmony of worship

Transitional Deacon Timothy Wyciskalla was awed by the size of the crowds, their international flavor and their behavior in the midst of difficult conditions.

“Crowds that large, especially when they are exhausted and bottlenecked as we were—sometimes waiting hours to move out of Copacabana beach to get back through the city—can often become dangerous and angry. At World Youth Day, the only thing the crowd did as we moved slowly and relentlessly through millions of people was sing songs from their home countries and pray the rosary in every conceivable language.

“One of the most powerful moments for me came during the final Mass. Countless people and national flags filled the world’s most famous beach. And yet, when Pope Francis arrived, all the flags went down, the international crowd became a single family of faith, and everyone knew exactly when to stand, when to kneel, and when to offer the sign of peace during Mass.

“The source and summit of our relationship with Christ, the Eucharist, is the only thing on Earth that could do something like that.”

Bonding in a special way

For Jennifer Lutgring, World Youth Day “renewed my gratitude for the beauty and the gift of my Catholic faith.”

“I will also say that it was quite inspiring to see and experience the constant joy of the archdiocesan group that I was traveling with amid the many struggles and near constant confusion, chaos and crowds,” said Lutgring, a member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood. “I think there is something about suffering with people that bonds you together in a special way.”

Strengthening a commitment

Matt Faley regularly gets to witness the commitment of young Catholics to their faith as the archdiocese’s director of young adult and college campus ministry. World Youth Day strengthened his commitment.

“It stretched my heart in a big way. It reminded me that our Church is full of hope. Working with young adults, I get to see this every day. It is one of the great blessings of my life. But being with 3 million Catholic young people who are on fire for our Lord and his Church has an impact on you that is lasting.

“Witnessing such a thing made me aware of my own call to a deeper ‘yes’ to our Lord and reminded me of Pope Francis’ words, ‘Don’t be part-time Christians.’ The world is longing to see the reason for such hope, and I am convinced even more of my call to share it.”

A moving experience

“My favorite experience was the vigil the night before the final Mass with Pope Francis,” recalled Lauren Klosterman, a member of St. Mary Parish in North Vernon. “Having adoration with 3 million people all on their knees on a beach next to the crashing waves was really moving.”

Bringing the hope home

For Father Eric Augenstein, the memories of World Youth Day are etched in his mind. Now, his focus is on how that whirlwind week will have an impact in the archdiocese.

“At the end of World Youth Day, we all have to go back home—to return to our regular lives, jobs and ministries,” said the vocations director for the archdiocese. “For me, having the opportunity to spend World Youth Day with a group of young adults from the archdiocese is what gives me the greatest hope for our local Church. These young men and women from the archdiocese are people of inspiring faith, strong Catholic convictions and a zeal for service.

“It’s often said at gatherings like World Youth Day that the Church is alive and the Church is young. We don’t need to go to Rio de Janiero to see that. Getting to know more young adult Catholics right here in the archdiocese gives me great hope for our Church.” †

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