Last week millions of Catholics participated in one of the largest and most anticipated events for young people globally—and among them were 16 members of the Fordham community.
A delegation of 14 students and two campus ministers left July 11 for World Youth Day 2013, held this year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The group joined more than two million young Catholics from around the world for a week of prayer, music, cultural events, pilgrimages, and a celebration of Mass with the pope.
The group provided live updates of the experience from its Twitter account @FordhamWYD and on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/FordhamWYD2013. While in Brazil, they celebrated Mass with Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., Superior General of the Society of Jesus, made a 73-mile pilgrimage through the Bahia region, and visited the famed Christ the Redeemer Statue at the top of Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro.
Their journey began in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, the site where the Society of Jesus arrived in the 17th century to begin their mission in Latin America. There, the group participated in Magis 2013, a pastoral experience held in the days leading up to each World Youth Day. Grounded in Ignatian spirituality, Magis brings together members of Jesuit institutions from around the world for a week of cultural immersion and solidarity.
The Fordham delegates and their international companions convened in Salvador da Bahia and then split into groups for immersion experiences. Activities ranged from volunteering on themed service projects, such as justice-oriented and environment-oriented excursions, to going on a pilgrimage.
“The students are really excited about the Magis component, because it means we’ll immerse ourselves in the Brazilian community as men and women for and with others,” John Gownley, assistant coordinator of liturgy for campus ministry and a chaperone for the trip, had said before the group departed.
They traveled to Rio de Janeiro on July 20, and on July 23 they joined their fellow World Youth Day pilgrims to officially launch the experience.
In addition to being an event held only every two or three years, this World Youth Day was particularly exciting for participants, because it is the first one to be attended by the newly-elected Pope Francis.
“When the students signed up to go on the trip, Pope Benedict was still the pope,” Gownley said. “Once we found out that a Jesuit had been elected, it changed things in a sense, because we feel a deep connection.”
The group—which comprised seven students from each of the Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses, as well as Gownley and Carol Gibney, associate director for campus ministry at Lincoln Center and director of Ignatian Programs—met throughout the academic year to prepare for the trip. In addition to fundraising, they had met monthly for spiritual reflection, cultural instruction, Portuguese language lessons, and even packing tutorials.
“I told them that before they leave, they should pack their bag and then walk down to their local mall and back. If they can do that with no problem, then they have packed well,” Gownley said.
For Deborah Adewale, a rising junior at Lincoln Center, knowing what to pack was hardly a concern. The Staten Island native went with her home parish to attend the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid. The effort it takes to prepare for the trip is well worth the experience awaiting the pilgrims, she said.
“It’s so uplifting to see youth like myself praising and worshipping together,” Adewale said. “The beautiful thing is that it shows how religion can unite people from different countries and walks of life.”
And despite being a World Youth Day veteran, Adewale felt the anticipation as the date of departure drew closer.
“I would like to grow more in my faith through this experience,” she said. “But I do not know what to expect, so I hope for all the best.”
Gownley said that he hopes each student will receive from the experience just what he or she needs.
“At World Youth Day, you get to experience Catholicism on a global platform and see the real presence of God’s work in a way that is alive and active and not isolated to me here in my community,” Gownley said. “It validates something for them, especially because our students are growing up in a world where faith is secondary and is constantly challenged for them.”
See the group’s adventures live on their Twitter account @FordhamWYD and on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/FordhamWYD2013.