Some background: Magis is a pre-World Youth Day program run by the Society of Jesus. Sixteen hundred participants from 50 countries came to Rio two weeks before the commencement of World Youth Day to participate in different experiences. These included various types of service work, working with local Brazilians, aiding the environment, and more. As I boarded the plane to Salvador, Brazil I had just finished my first year of Jesuit education, and I felt like I was finally understanding what these ‘men in black’ were all about. My understanding expanded after hearing a brief history of the Jesuits while in Salvador. I learned that the Jesuits ‘go where no one else will go;’ they don’t shy away from the difficult tasks. This can be seen today as they work to open a school in Hong Kong. I know from speaking to some at Georgetown that they don’t fear the hard questions; they use them as a challenge to learn more and explore more deeply.
Speaking with my fellow pilgrims was a joy, and as we reflected on what it means to be the youth of the Church, everyone seemed to echo my thoughts and the thoughts of Pope Francis: we are now called to be a church of action and service. We have these great ideals and compassion, but they are only words until we act on them. That is how we, the young people, see the future of the Church. That is why Pope Francis has excited the religious and secular worlds alike. The world is listening to our message because they are seeing our message in action.
After we left Salvador, I headed to Rio de Janeiro with my Magis experience group. The 35 of us from Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, the Ivory Coast, and the United States were to work at the Institute of Our Lady of Lourdes (INOSEL), located in one of the favelas (slums). Rio is known for its poor and wealthy people being neighbors, but seeing it first-hand made it concrete. We would walk ten minutes to get to the school from the university we were staying at, and in those ten minutes we walked from grand apartment complexes and lavish homes to run-down, barely standing, tiny homes packed tightly together. The division was constantly present.
INOSEL was founded in 1959 to provide education for the deaf children of Rio de Janeiro. Today, it serves children and teenagers, both deaf and hearing, from all economic and social backgrounds. The teachers prepare their students for the realities of the world so that they may lead independent and fulfilling lives.
Our task at INSOEL was to paint the sports court, art room, play room, and repair some furniture. These activities seemed insignificant in the grand scheme of the school and all that it works to accomplish, but the students worked side by side with us, and that is where the importance of our experience came from. The school has set up an environment of normality and acceptance. What amazed me was how the children were still children. They teased each other and messed around; it was like any other school. There was no division based on ability. Each child contributed to our projects in their own way. One girl was an incredible artist who painted a mural in the art room. She was deaf and we didn’t know sign language, but we still found a way to work together and create something beautiful.
INOSEL inspired me by its dedication to the students. The administrators were realistic and didn’t coddle the deaf students. Instead they gave them the tools to be successful for the future. They were compassionate and empowering.
My experience in Rio showed me the universality of the Church and its members. After speaking to, hearing from, and observing the youth of the Catholic Church, I can see that our generation values the classic saying: “actions speak louder than words.” Having to communicate across numerous languages-barriers (and the lack of verbal communication), made me see how true this is. There were more times than not when I couldn’t understand those I was communicating with, but through their actions I could understand the work that had to be done, and the love they had for me. This is what Pope Francis is calling us to do: to spread God’s love by our lives.