By Matthew Pyrc, S.J.
This summer eight students, five recent SU alumni and two staff members journeyed to Brazil for MAG+S 2013, culminating with World Youth Day in Rio De Janeiro on Copacabana beach with Pope Francis. It was a time of wonder--2,500 people on immersion, three million people at the Papal mass on Copacabana beach! Full of wonder is my description of the three weeks; wonder at the intrinsic goodness of humanity. The joy and excitement of bringing strangers together from across the globe instills hope of the great accomplishments people can achieve when we come together.
The song "Wonder" by Emeli Sand became an unofficial theme song for MAG+S 2013 and was used in a flash-mob dance by the 2,500 pilgrims from Jesuit institutions from around the world. Three lines from the song resonate with the MAG+S pilgrim experience, first: "I can beat the night, I'm not afraid of thunder, I am full of light, I am full of wonder."
The pilgrim experience reminded us of the Gospel message that all of humanity and creation is created by God, loved by God and worthy to be loved. 2,500 pilgrims, mostly Jesuit university students, gathered in Slavador de Bahia, Brazil (the Jesuits first arrived in the New World in Bahia in 1553) to begin a 10-day pre-World Youth day event.
To kick off MAG+S 2013 there was a celebration called a Welcoming of Nations. Delegates from various countries danced and sang, many in full cultural costumes to celebrate our diversity in the body of Christ. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., the general superior of the Jesuits, preached at a mass before sending the delegates in experience groups for an immersion. In his homily he told the story of a diocese choosing a giraffe as its symbol--an animal with one of the biggest hearts because it needs a big heart to pump blood all the way to its brain. Because of its long neck it has a high point of view.
"Humanity is more than any one of us has experienced in our own countries" he stated. Approaching the people of Brazil and their fellow pilgrims with a big heart and a broad view can change their lives. He reminded us that our faith resides in our hearts. He challenged us to not get caught up in seeing the sights and miss the people. He encouraged us to see the people, engage the people, heart to heart and we will be changed. We then were divided into experience groups, comprised of various nationalities and multiple languages and sent all over the country for an immersion. Some went on a spiritual pilgrimage, some had a cultural immersion, some did service. All were transformed.
Another line from the flash-mob song, "Wonder": "This light is contagious, go, go tell your neighbors, Just reach out and pass it on. "Go to your neighbor, MAG+S/WYD was an experience of community. It was noted by several planners of MAG+S that sending people on immersion in groups of various language could be a disaster--no one being able to understand each other. However, that was not to be the case. People took time to sit with each other, find ways to communicate and to share in whatever way they could. It was the common language of the heart that took a potential Tower of Babel experience and made it a Pentecost experience (in which each heard the gospel in their own language). People quickly bonded and formed community with their experience group.
SU student Delaney Piper had this to say:
"One night my Magis small group celebrated Festa Junina with a group staying in São Paulo. We'd been very busy earlier in the day, and many were exhausted and in no mood to celebrate. Some of the group left the party early to relax in the chapel nearby. After hours of dancing with my new friends I, myself now exhausted, went to find my group. When I found them I was greeted with the gleeful smile of my usually reserved new friend Marie. Together we stayed there until the party was done. The next day Marie told me that my coming to find them had made her night, it had felt like we were all family. That hit me hard. It shocks me how such a thing like that, seeking out people where they are, regardless of having been surrounded by festivities in an exotic country, made a night so special for both of us" (Delaney Piper, SU student).
Another SU student, An Le, shared how her relationship with her sister has changed for the better:
"My sister and I both went on the trip, and there was not only a personal transformation, but also a change in our relationship. We have different types of conversations in comparison to before attending Magis and World Youth Day. There's a different tone when we are discussing religion and spirituality."
I believe we will be reaping the fruit of this pilgrimage for years to come. It is a wondrous thing that in such a large gathering of peoples, we can experience very personal encounters and transformations.
After the 10 days of MAG+S, the various experience groups reconvened in Rio for the World Youth Day Celebrations with Pope Francis and the final Mass on the Copacabana beach. In his homily he said what is the Lord saying to us? Three simple ideas: Go, do not be afraid, and serve.
"Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all; he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love." Pope Francis
Finally, the third line from the flash-mob song: "When everything feels wrong, and darkness falls upon ya. Just try sing along, this is a message from Cabana." The theme, the message from Copacabana was "The Nations Await us" they await the love for one another that we are called to share. A rhetorical question was asked of the pilgrims, "Do people really understand the fullness of God's Mercy to everyone?" and "what would it look like for you to live that mercy in your own life?" I wonder? It makes me full of wonder.
The flash-mob video can be found on YouTube at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVfgfKZ-LNo
(Photos provided by Matthew Pyrc, S.J.)