My personal preparation for the journey to Magis and WYD began not in July but in January. Daily personal prayer was critical in preparing for the journey ahead, as well as getting to know my fellow Georgetown peers who also would be pilgrims on this journey of faith. Personal prayer was a part of the process to fully commit our spirits to the journey that lay ahead and was a daily reminder that I was trusting in the Lord to guide me.
It was a constant reminder that I was placing my life into his lands in offering of his love. I let go of any preconceptions or expectations and set myself free of the warnings from my own family. And, honestly, going with no expectations was the best decision that I could have made, because it allowed me to fully indulge in the experience. Our Jesuit values foster community in diversity, and in those initial days I was able to witness the grandness and the diversity within the Catholic Church. Young Catholics from more than 250 nations had gathered in Salvador da Bahia to recognize one another as family, as members of a community in which we all dwelled—a community with the same Jesuit values.
In preparation for our experiences, during which pilgrims would be sent to more than 70 different sites to experience Brazil through our Catholic faith and Jesuit values, Father General Adolfo Nicolás gave us a sending-off message of love. Our experiences would be an opportunity to grow in God’s love and spread God’s love to those we would encounter on our way. Father General wanted us to become vulnerable so we could look into each other’s hearts and have the willingness to learn from each other and together through spiritual, social, and cultural experiments, experience Brazil.
Another Georgetown pilgrim and I joined thirty others from countries such as France, Germany, and Australia, as well as Brazil, in Rio di Janeiro to begin our experience at the Instituto Nossa Senhora de Lourdes (INOSEL): an institute founded primarily for deaf children, which over the last couple of years has integrated hearing children into the school. Every morning for five days, RJ 18, my experience group, would walk up the road to reach INOSEL. Before arriving at the school, the details of the work we would be carrying out were extremely ambiguous. The Excel spreadsheet that I had received in late June included the description “since the reform of a school for hearing-impaired children and the community life, this experience aims to enable pilgrims to encounter with the incarnate Christ.” There was an additional note that asked us to bring “comfortable clothes (which may be spoiled).” Hearing such news, I have to admit, was terrifying, because I feared my non-existent Portuguese paired with my lack of skills in sign language would build into a mound of communication barriers in a matter of seconds. But my worries would quickly be overcome by the joy of the children of INOSEL.
In thinking about INOSEL, I expected a place where silence would reign. Instead my experience group was struck by the laughter and chitchat of the students that grew louder as we approached the school. I have never seen as much joy within children as in that piece of paradise.
It was made clear that after introductions we had a workload to complete. Four projects were taking place simultaneously: remodeling the playroom, the art room, the basketball court, and the school furniture. It became clear that the clothes would be spoiled due to the paint parties that would take place over the next couple of days. We wanted not just to repaint the areas but create wonderful spaces where they would be able to play and unleash their creativity and imagination. But the most important aspect of my experience was engaging the children in our work, in actively involving them in the process, and in having them rejoice over the completion of their tasks. The students at INOSEL helped us sand and paint the benches and tables that would be used in the rooms, as well as to paint the art mural that a hearing impaired student at INOSEL had designed herself. It was there where I felt the Georgetown spirit come alive, for together we were working to be men and women for others for generations to come.
The memories in my heart are marked by the long hours of arduous work along side my fellow pilgrims as we got to experience God’s love through the children we worked with to complete the greater project of our faith. It was through taking a walk along the streets of a favela that the children of INOSEL call home; it was witnessing Jesus Christ‘s message of faith come alive in those areas categorized by economic inequality; it was finding the peace promised to us by Jesus Christ in the Tijuca Rainforest as RJ 18 celebrated the Eucharist that I realized that I too was a disciple of my faith. My journey has only begun. But as “nations await us” my message to you is this: in everything, to love and to serve.