“Having this experience in a Latin American country, with a Latin American Pope, returning here for the first time – it’s so powerful,” she said. “It showed me that I’m part of something a lot bigger than just me.”
“It was amazing to look out and see more than three million people, and to think that this is all due to 12 men who said ‘yes’ to God’s call 2,000 years ago,” said 19-year-old Katherine Bauman, a native of Denver, Colo.
Bauman, who is studying theology, education and classical languages at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., proclaimed the first reading at the World Youth Day Closing Mass with Pope Francis on Copacabana Beach.
The July 28 Mass, which was moved from its original location in western Rio de Janeiro due to heavy rains, drew an estimated 3.2 million people.
Looking out over a massive sea of pilgrims from around the world, Bauman was amazed.
“It was an incredible experience,” she told CNA. “It expanded my perception of the diversity and the richness of our Church…all the different cultures gathered together.”
“Having this experience in a Latin American country, with a Latin American Pope, returning here for the first time – it’s so powerful,” she continued. “It showed me that I’m part of something a lot bigger than just me.”
In early June, Bauman got a phone call inviting her to read at the Mass. She was completely shocked, and it took her a while to process the fact that she would be reading in front of several million people and Pope Francis.
As the event drew closer, she became “a bit nervous” about speaking in front of so many people. But the nervousness was replaced with excitement when she got up on the altar.
“I was just so immersed in the moment,” she said, adding that “it’s really not about me anyway.”
This is the first time Bauman has attended a World Youth Day, although she was just miles away from the 1993 festivities in Denver, where she was born. Just two weeks old at the time, she was not at the events then, but has wanted to attend a World Youth Day for years.
Two decades later, Bauman is finally attending the international youth gathering and will be celebrating her 20th birthday in Brazil, making the event even more memorable, though she does not have any special plans for her birthday.
“It’s a pilgrimage,” she explained, although she joked that “I’m hoping to have ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in at least three different languages.”
Bauman came to Brazil with a U.S. group from the Christian Life Movement, an international ecclesial movement started in South America. They arrived a week early to do mission trips in the favelas – or slums – of Sao Paolo, an experience that she described as “overwhelming.”
Her group painted the local outreach center, conducted catechesis with the children and visited families in their homes to talk with them, pray with them and listen to their stories.
These visits were “startling,” Bauman said, explaining that she was “struck by the openness of the people in this culture in general, but especially of the people in the favelas. They didn’t know us, but they invited us into their homes and they poured their hearts out to us.”
She contrasted this with the United States, where it is “almost a social taboo” to really open up and touch someone’s heart upon first meeting them.
“But we are meant for true encounter with one another, which is what I experienced in the slums, and I believe that we can learn a lot in this area from other cultures,” she reflected.
Bauman has also worked with the poor in Denver for several years, through a program called Christ in the City that brings young people from around the country to serve the local homeless.
Commenting on Pope Francis, who also visited a favela during his trip to Brazil, she said that she is “really touched by what he does, especially by the spontaneity of the love that he shows.”
“It’s clear that he sees the person first, and his primary goal in any encounter is to love the person without reservation.”
In addition to the Closing Mass with Pope Francis, the Opening Mass also made a powerful impression on Bauman.
“I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and I didn’t even notice the rain at times. Even though I didn’t understand the language and I was exhausted, I was just so caught up in what was going on,” she said.
Reflecting on World Youth Day overall, Bauman said that the huge numbers of people were what struck her most.
“Just seeing people pour onto the beach – they kept coming and coming and coming. And then realizing that we’re all there for the same reason; it’s just really powerful,” she explained. “What if we all lived out our faith? What could we accomplish? We could do a lot.”
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