WYD 2013: Rio reminds me that the Church is truly universal

A statue of Blessed John Paul II is silhouetted in front of the Cathedral of St. Sebastian in Rio de Janeiro Photo: CNS

There are not many people who could say they spent their evening on Copacabana beach, Caipirinha cocktail in hand, and say it counted as a team meeting. But that was what the World Youth Day volunteers did.

My team of volunteers consists of a Canadian, Americans and of course the English. That is the best thing about the experience – meeting people who share your faith from around the world.

It was nearly two years ago when I decided to attend WYD, but none of it seemed real until I landed after an 11 hour flight on Sunday night. Dragging our bags, and ourselves, into a taxi we finally realised we were in Rio.

Since then I have met so many new people. On the plane we met Su from Bahrain, Danish pilgrims and the Italians – the largest group from Europe, and familiar faces from Spain. I am staying with pilgrims from France, Germany, Slovakia and Japan. If you ever needed proof the Church was truly universal you need look no further. The best thing about it all is that while these are new faces, they greet you as if they have known you forever. Everyone is included, and that is the spirit of World Youth Day. Whether you are on a beach in Rio, or at home keeping updated online.

This was never clearer than when we had Mass in St Sebastian’s Cathedral. There was a loud hum as we answered the prayers in unison. I could not tell you what we were saying, because all the languages merged as one to create a beautiful rumbling sound that washed over you, but I can tell you how amazing it felt.

I often think when we all come together to celebrate Mass, it does not matter if we can understand the language it is said in. It just matters that we are all there. I know it sounds cheesy, blame the Rio sun, but it is hard to explain unless you have been to World Youth Day. The feeling we are all connected, and the Church is very much alive. Of course if you are already on your way here then you will get to experience it for yourself!