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The Whole Church was in Rio

The Message and the Messengers

George Martell/Pilot Media Group

John Burger - published on 07/29/13

Everything from pro-life groups to ministries for the deaf were gathered in Rio for World Youth Day. Oh, and did you get your Marian Minute coin?

“Go and make disciples of all nations.” This is the overall theme of World Youth Day 2013, and it is not just Pope Francis who discipled the hundreds of thousands of young people gathered in Rio this past week.

From the hundreds of bishops from around the world giving catechetical sessions to people promoting a particular cause more or less consistent with the aims of WYD, Rio is in a way a marketplace of ideas and religious practices.

In the spirit of “pray it forward,” a group called Marian Minute distributed some 30,000 coins that feature a portrait of Pope Francis. But they are not souvenirs of WYD 2013.

“They are meant to be passed along to friends after sharing a minute of prayer for the Pope, in hopes of building a massive global prayer chain,” the Dallas-based ministry says.

Each coin has instructions and places for the holder of the coin and a friend to put their thumbs while they pray for one minute for the Holy Father. The coin is then passed along, in imitation of the way in which the Faith itself is spread from person to person.

Marian Minute was trying to be innovative at the last WYD as well. In Madrid 2011, the group distributed thousands of rosary wristbands inviting people to devote one minute of their day to pray.

The clever introduction to their website drives home the point that for those who might think they have no time for prayer, it’s almost nothing to say a Hail Mary.

Streets Full of Life

Bryan Kemper represented Priests for Life in Rio, for whom he serves as director of Youth Outreach. He’s also President of Stand True, a pro-life outreach to youth.

“I spent time at Vivo Rio, which is the English speaking center for WYD,” he said in an email last Thursday. “Most of my time was talking to youth about pro-life activities and letting them know that Stand True and Priests for Life can be a resource for them. I talked to many groups about coming to speak for them and encouraging their local youth to take a stand for life.”

In addition, Kemper said, he walked “all over the city just connecting with groups of youth and passing out free pro-life stickers and resources.”

“What I have witnessed on the streets of Rio is Christ's love in action as I see pilgrims and priests ministering to locals and to homeless around the city. I see kids getting excited about praising God. I see young priests everywhere, which also makes me happy.

Another pro-life group on the ground in Rio is World Youth Alliance, an international youth organization that promotes and defends human dignity.

“We recognize that World Youth Day is an amazing global gathering of other young people who share our values,” said Emily Dy, Director of Marketing at the World Youth Alliance Foundation. “We want to meet them, give them the opportunity to get to know us and join us.”

Two WYA representatives, Jessica Baptista, Director of WYA Latin America, and Kateri Salas, the organization’s Director of Operations, were there promoting a new campaign called “I Celebrate Life.” At Copacabana Beach, where several of the main events were held, or the vocations fair at Quinta da Boa, their booth featured a photo exhibit of “I Celebrate Life” posters, a photo booth where people could have their photo taken with the “I Celebrate Life” frame and where they could submit testimonials about why they celebrate life, and volunteers who talked about WYA and invited people to join by signing the WYA Charter.

“Whenever people see we’re promoting life, they’re eager to support us. They say ‘What can I do? How can I get involved?’” Baptista stated. “Many are involved in some kind of debate against abortion in their own countries.”

She said her group’s effort had yielded about 1,000 new members for World Youth Alliance. That means WYA represents the concerns of that many more young people of many different nationalities, she said. “Whenever we want to speak out for dignity, we have more strength and impact.”

The group, founded in 1999, has participated in several recent WYDs, including Sydney, Cologne, and Madrid. Baptista recognizes that the youth who attend the international gathering tend to share the principles that WYA has. “Most of them believe in human dignity from conception until natural death; most have strong opinions on the importance of family,” she said. “The fact that we have all these people who are likely to share those principles [means we] have more people together fighting for the same thing.”

In 2014, that will become more important, as the United Nations celebrates the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family. If there were non-Christian ideas about the meaning of the family at the periphery in 1994, it’s likely that many of them will be more fully embraced next year.

“So we will have campaigns to promote marriage and family values, building stronger families, and family unity, that sort of thing,” Baptista said.

The Deaf Will Hear

It’s family that drove Allison Gingras to Rio this year. She traveled with the Deaf Apostolate of the Archdiocese of Boston. Father Shawn Carey is Director of the apostolate. Besides having a ministry called Reconciled To You, Gingras is the adoptive mother of a hearing-impaired girl from China.

“I am going to learn the language and how to sign the Mass for her benefit, and I guess selfishly for mine, too,” Gingras said in an interview last week.

During her time in Rio, she wrote of some of the challenges of learning American Sign Language.

“I must remember to ask one of my new friends how they get into a prayerful state during Mass, since I need to keep my eyes open to watch for the next (or current) Mass Moment,” Gingras wrote. “I found it hard to get deep into prayer – this was particularly true during the Masses that Father Shawn (deaf priest and amazing leader of our group) celebrates completely in ASL. They are voice-interpreted, but since I’m here to learn how to sign the Mass, I don't want to risk missing anything.

“Yet, this is Mass – the Eucharistic Celebration – and I don’t want to miss the blessings of participating in that as I study the language. The Liturgy is too important and sacred to turn into a language class – there must be a way to properly do both – this is why life is all about grace, as I believe the answer to this lies in God’s power, not mine.”

Grace was at work all over. Erin Stoyell-Mulholland, a junior at Notre Dame, was impressed by a meditation she heard at the Vivo Rio center Wednesday evening, where all the Americans were gathering.

"There was Adoration, and the Archbishop of Juneau gave a reflection. He talked about how the Church was born out of scandal with the Last Supper and Judas betraying Jesus and the disciples squabbling about who among them was the best. He then spoke about how not much has changed in the past 2000 years so we shouldn't be surprised by the troubles that the Church has even among the hierarchy. It was really encouraging, especially for someone coming from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and my previous diocese of Spokane."

Athena Mota de Alcantara, a recent graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California, had an opportunity not only to listen to such talks but to put to work the things she learned at school into practice.

"We found a church that gave catechesis in English and we returned every morning bright and early for praise and worship, inspiring talks by different bishops, and Mass," said de Alcantara, whose parents are from South America and who recently moved to Brazil.

"One moment that really struck me was an opportunity for dialogue with gay and lesbian pilgrims after catechesis. During the question and answer session after the bishop's talk, a lesbian who said she was Catholic asked the bishop why the Church did not accept the gay and lesbian way of life. It was a good question and a touchy subject and the bishop gave an answer that could only begin to address her concern. After the catechesis, I introduced myself to her and we began to talk about God's plan for sexuality."

She said that at Thomas Aquinas she learned how to dialogue: listening, understanding the position of the other person, and asking questions so as to help the other understand her premises.

"There was a group of Catholic pilgrims with me and we were able to talk about what the Church teaches about sexuality and how it is reasonable," she said. "Although I don't think that we were able to change the minds of the gay and lesbian pilgrims we were talking to, at the end of the conversation, everyone agreed that we had had a good dialogue and we all parted as friends."

De Alcantara was already beginning to heed the call of World Youth Day: "Go and make disciples of all nations."

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