WYD Rio was a whole new faith experience for me. It was almost three weeks of pilgrimage to the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; three weeks of encountering the Lord, meeting people from different countries, experiencing the Brazilian culture and the warmness of its people and celebrating the gift of faith the Lord has given me. After the WYD gathering, I could not help but be more proud about being a Filipino Catholic serving in Couples for Christ Foundation for Family and Life.
I thank the Lord for allowing me to experience the universality of the Church with pilgrims from all over the world. This gave me a sense of pride to my Catholic identity. We were blessed to have spent the Missionary week with the people from Brazil, Panama, and Venezuela. We were the only English-speaking country in our host parish, but despite the language barrier, we were able to survive and understand each other, because the language used was not our respective dialects but the language of God, which is love. His love is the universal thing that binds all of us. Every day in Brazil felt like Pentecost, because His word and His fire of love consumes each of us as we celebrate Mass, relate with each other, have our group worship, and a lot more.
I also thank the Lord for blessing me with extremely loving and generous host families during Missionary Week in Maua and WYD Proper in Rio de Janeiro. My WYD buddy and I may not have Internet at home and may have eaten seafood instead of the usual meat that Brazilians serve, but our host family never failed to surprise us everyday with small gifts and grand acts of love. Right then and there, I felt how the Lord was embracing me and making me feel at home even though I was away from home. I later realized that the reason why God gave them to me was because He wanted me not to be distracted. He wanted me to build relationship with my host family, and more importantly, to focus on Him and converse more with Him.
I also thank the Lord for allowing me to witness the transformation of my brother, Kuya James. In WYD Madrid, the Lord has won back the heart of my older brother, Kuya Gam, who is now an active SFL member and a mission volunteer for the Live Pure Movement. This WYD, my Kuya Gam and I got to see the beautiful conversion of Kuya James. On our third day in Brazil, after we had our YFL group worship, my brother suddenly hugged me, with tears gushing out from his eyes, and told me how much he missed worshipping. My brother and I joined YFL in 2003 but he became inactive along the way. From then on, I knew that the Lord has already touched his heart. I knew that my brother would return to the community. That was one prayer intention crossed out from my list. It was indeed a fulfillment of God’s promise to me as he proved once again that He answers our prayers as best suited to His plans.
I also thank the Lord for giving me an opportunity to take care of the Assumption girls that we were with. We were not really assigned to take care of them. But applying the missionary spirit the community taught us, which is translated in outdoing one another in love and generosity, these girls felt the Lord through our actions. And we know that it was the Holy Spirit whom they felt, not us. It is amazing because we received the same blessing that they received as we were affirmed of our calling to evangelize the youth that the Lord has entrusted to us.
As I write this, I could not help but be emotional. I miss Brazil so much that it hurts. I miss my host family, the WYD spirit, the vibrancy of the Mass, the street foods – pipoca (caramelized popcorn) and churros, the beach – Ipanema and Copacabana, the cool weather, the breathtaking Churches and a lot more. But I realized it is not Brazil per se that I miss. What I miss the most are the Jesus experiences, and the small and grand moments wherein I encountered the Lord.
A priest I met in Brazil told me that the secret why there are not as much poor people in Brazil as it is in Manila is because the former really live out their Catholic faith. Filipinos have the idea of faith in their minds, while the Brazilians have it in their minds and in their hearts. That is why it drives the Brazilians to do something and really act out their Catholic faith.
Brazil will always have a special place in my heart. I went to Brazil with the wrong disposition of heart, thinking that it would be the same WYD I attended two years ago in Madrid. But the Lord proved me wrong and gave me more unforgettable and moving moments, which I can be reminded of when times get tough. I will always hold on to these Jesus experiences.
The challenge for me now is to translate that Brazilian culture to my everyday life, to bring Brazil and all the beautiful memories I have experienced there here in Manila. The gift of Catholicism is too beautiful not to be shared. The Lord brought me back to Manila with the proper disposition of heart, a heart that is overflowing with God’s love and a heart that is not ashamed to tell others about my Catholic faith.
I am proud to be a Filipino Catholic. Always and forever will be.
Shared by Ate Gem Itao, Fulltime Pastoral Worker
Campus-based Program Coordinator