Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Beauty of World Youth Day

It has officially been one week since I came back from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro and I can still feel the impact of this journey. This experience was truly an incredible way to encounter Christ. 

Our group had the opportunity to stay with homestay families and it was through this experience, that we really encountered Christ's love. We were welcomed with open arms by the community and were well taken care of. After living with our families in Paulinia for about a week, we left with tears in our eyes and sadness in our hearts. I couldn’t believe how much love we received from those families in only 5 days. This experience has helped me to truly understand what is meant when we say that we are all Brothers and Sisters in Christ. From this experience, I have learned to open my heart to others and love those whom I do not know. 

Looking back, I recognize that our time during missionary week in Paulinia really prepared our hearts for the challenges that we were to face in Rio de Janeiro. The moment we arrived at the Rio train station, we already encountered locals telling us that it is unsafe to travel to our accommodation in the evening. Some other groups chose to camp out at the station but our group was fortunate enough to locate a bus that would take us closer to our area. We arrived as a group safely at our designated parish, only to then be divided up into different home stay families, which was unexpected. There was a flurry of chaos and we didn’t even know how we would meet again the next day. Some of us were alone, but most of us were in at least pairs. These are moments where you just have to trust in God that everything will be okay.  

We didn’t see each other till later in the afternoon the next day. In comparison to Paulinia, the home stay families are not expected to drive us around, so we had to be prepared to establish ways to meet up as a group and learn the transit system in Brazil. All of us were blessed with wonderful homestay families who were so welcoming. Unfortunately, not all of us had the best homestay conditions. This was the toughest part…seeing a few of my group members encounter bed bugs, cockroaches, a mouse, bats, stray dogs and a sketchy walk home each night. But all in all, the beauty of this journey is that with each of the challenges that we faced, there was significant growth in each of us. The Lord knows us so well that He searches us and challenges us to go beyond ourselves. And, our group bonded over tough moments such as these and became true friends in Christ. The friends that I have made on this 2 and a half week journey are truly friends for life. 

We also had the opportunity to get a close glimpse of Pope Francis as he moved among the crowds. He truly is an example of Christ on earth and he was so compassionate to everyone. Seeing 3 million other young people from around the world has inspired me to live my life for Christ more fully and to become disciples of all nations. WYD is an event that I would highly encourage every young person to attend. God knows our weaknesses and strengths and on this spiritual journey, He truly does challenge each and every one of us to trust Him more. For those who have not experienced WYD, I hope you will open your heart to journey with Christ at the next WYD in Poland in 2016!!!

Winetta Lee 
Our Lady of Sorrows Parish

Monday, 29 July 2013

"A home away from home" for Star of the Sea pilgrims!

Today has been the definition of bittersweet. We are currently on our way from Missionary Week in Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro for WYD. While we are excited for all of the events in Rio and anxious to see what this week holds for each of us, the past week with our new family at Santa Zita parish has been one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. From the moment we arrived last Tuesday, we were welcomed with wide open arms and extreme joy.
The Sisters of the Carmelite Mission made their house a home away from home for us. We weren't merely guests in their home, but felt like we were meant to be there.

Some of the highlights of the week were a visit to a facility run by the Carmelites where children from the favelas (slums) are sent to live because it is too dangerous for them to stay in their homes. We spent some time just singing and dancing with them. It is amazing to see these children who have so little and face so many challenges and dangers in their lives, yet they are full of spirit and joy.

Another highlight was a regional celebration for everyone participating in Missionary Week in the Santana area of Sao Paulo. There are 2 memories from this afternoon that will stay with me for many years. First was the heavy rainstorm that sent all of us running for cover. Our shelter under an overhang quickly turned into a little dance party with our voices being the only music. Not even a torrential downpour can dampen the spirits of World Youth Day pilgrims or the volunteers who host them.
The second is the short ceremony at the beginning of Mass. One representative from each country present processed in carrying their country's flag and a small container of soil from their country. Then, each one poured their soil into one container and a tree was planted in it. Through that tree, we are all united and have also left a part of ourselves in Sao Paulo.

Our days were always full of activity, be it spiritual formation sessions, cultural activities, prayer, Eucharist or just having dinner, but the best part of all was sharing it with my fellow pilgrims and the people of Santa Zita Parish. Many of the volunteers did not speak English or spoke very little, so communicating was not always easy, but we are bonded by one faith and the one language that is universal - love.

And so this morning, after sharing in the Eucharist one last time, we had to say goodbye to our new family. There was hardly a dry eye in the house as we hugged, kissed and waved goodbye. But we leave grateful for the time we had together and hopeful that we will see each other again one day.
We will carry the members of our Santa Zita family in our hearts through World Youth Day and for the rest of our lives.

Star of the Sea Parish

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Monday, 22 July 2013

Last day of Mission Week with Holy Cross WYD Parish pilgrims

Visiting a sick parishioner of Nossa Senhor Bom Conselho (Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish), Senhor Juca, along with other parishioners.
Celebrating our last night in Sao Paulo at our send off mass at Segrada Cathedral with all the pilgrims in the Diocese of Campo Limpo

Saturday, 20 July 2013

A visit to a very large and beautiful Basilica

Day 4 of Mission Week

I can definitely say that it was worth the wake up call at five AM in order to bus out to the Nossa Senhora da Conceicao Aparecida Basilica. As we drove into the gates, the view of the beautiful mountains and a dome tower faced us. Thousands of people were there to look at this beautiful place. We started in the market, filled with a huge food court which contained at least twenty food choices (surprisingly McDonald's was there too). There were just as many shops. Mostly the shops were selling religious keep sakes. Every store sold the statue of Saint Aparecida, who is the patron saint of Brazil. I also purchased a beautiful rosary in a soft blue colour for my mom. The shops were lively and beautiful. 

We also attended Mass at the Basilica. Inside were high ceilings and intricate stain glass windows. It is absolutely beautiful inside. So at noon the procession began and the world could be seen in the rows in front of me and behind me. Though there were also many Brazilians accompanying us, I could see many people wearing the shirts of their country. France, Poland, Columbia, Tobago, America and Canada (Vancouver AND we spotted Edmonton). In the beginning the bishop had asked all the guest priests to introduce themselves. We had Father Patrick Tepoorten who was very proud to represent Vancouver, Canada.

As this missionary week comes quickly to a close, I can't help but feel melancholy. Sao Paolo and our host Parish in Brazil have been so spectacular. Tomorrow will be our last full day with out host families.
Signing off, Stephanie Nguyen and the IC Delta Pilgrims

Playing for the Lord's Team!

Day 3 of Mission Week

After a breakfast of ham, cheese, papaya, cereal, Brazilian cheese buns (which are delicious), fresh baked rolls and your choice of peach or grape juice, milk, tea, and strawberry yogurt drink we headed down to the parish for Via Crucis (the stations of the cross).  It was a beautiful experience as we circled the parish with a large wooden cross and the warmth of God`s love (though the sun was strongly present as well). 

Definitely one of the highlights of the day was the big soccer match. It was the event that the parish has been excitingly describing to us all week. The Brazilian`s really take their football seriously. They had let us borrow real team uniforms to wear, and they blasted music and booked the public field for us to use. The Brazilian girls won 2-1 against the Power Rangers (which consisted of Tobago, Trinidad and Canada). Surprisingly, the Tigers (Tobago, Trinidad and Canada) boys team won in their game through a shootout! Did I mention that they had to borrow a Brazilian player? He was their goalie. One thing we had in common was that we were playing for the Lord, God`s Team! 

It was such a fun day! An article is anticipated to come out in the next few days in the local Guarulhos newspaper! 

Signing off, Stephanie Nguyen and the IC Delta Pilgrims!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Visiting a seniors home, a zoo and making a lot of new friends
At the Zoo including pilgrims from Brazil, Tobago, Trinidad and Canada.  

After starting the day in Mass, the group of visitors which consisted of our Canadian group (and one friend from the country of Tobago), were broken up into three prayer groups. In my group, we visited a seniors residence named Lar de Paz (which is Brazilian for Place of Heaven), we sang songs, heard their stories and prayed with them. What I found strikingly prominent in Brazil is the amount of friendliness and love that is shown to all of us. This was also seen during our visit to the senior home. We were greeted with hugs, kisses, smiles and handshakes. I am reminded today that like the Brazilians, I must keep an open heart. The parishioners here are so generous and kind. I am very blessed to be with such a warm community! 

We also visited the Guarulhos Zoo! From a lion (and his lioness), ostriches, and snapping turtles, we saw them all today during our visit.  When we passed the otter, there were many "ooohs" and "so cutes," but humourously we all agreed that the otter couple at the Vancouver Aquarium can´t be beat!  
Signing off, Stephanie Nguyen and the IC Delta Pilgrims!  

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish´s dining hall. We have most of our meals here.