Local pilgrims overwhelmed by faith, love in Brazil

Michelle Samartino | Special to The Michigan Catholic

Pilgrims from Holy Family Parish, Novi, gather at Christ the Redeemer in Brazil: Patty Hubbard, John Yokus, Bethany Gilchrist, Jacqueline Puente and Deacon Kevin Breen of St. Genevieve/St. Maurice Parish, Livonia.

Metro Detroit — Faith remains vibrant among Catholic youth at World Youth Day, seen from the eyes of those fortunate enough to have traveled there.

“I know and really believe, after seeing the life and vitality of the young people from all around the globe, the Catholic Church will continue on into the world,” said Patty Hubbard, a youth ministry coordinator who traveled to Rio with a group of five from Holy Family Parish, Novi.

“Honestly, it is so beautifully overwhelming, a few times I had to just sit down and cry,” she recalled. “But it is up to us to be those intentional disciples that Jesus needs us to be to help carry the mission Christ has entrusted to us all.”

Being able to witness the faith of so many strengthened her own faith as well, she said. “Seeing the global Church … reminds me of all the joy and enthusiasm our young people bring to the Church. The Catholic Church has a place and needs the gifts and excitement of young people to continue the mission of the Gospel.”

Madeline Thibault (at left), Michael Cylkowski, Dan Cylkowski, Sarah Kaczmarek, Kelly Andrews and Catherine Thibault, pilgrims from St. Paul on the Lake Parish, Grosse Pointe Farms, enjoy the Brazilian food and culture.

Her father, Deacon Kevin Breen of St. Genevieve/St. Maurice Parish in Livonia, said the diversity of the Church was most evident to him at a Mass in Jacarei, in a church built in the 1700s.

“I was asked to serve as deacon and proclaim the Gospel in English to a standing-room congregation of Brazilians, with the Gospel translated by the Brazilian pastor into Portuguese, with the Mass concelebrated by a Ukrainian Catholic priest who was born in Brazil, along with an American priest from Minnesota,” he said.

“The joy and emotion celebrated with this Mass was a perfect example of our universal Catholic Church, which I will always remember,” Deacon Breen said.

Hubbard agreed, adding the message given by Church leaders was strong. “One thing I really took to heart was at catechesis one morning when the archbishop from Juneau, Alaska, was speaking,” she said.

“He said, ‘We as Christians are not just ‘come and see’ people, but we are also ‘go and tell’ people. We have to go and tell people about the love of God in word and personal witness. Not just one or the other, but both!’”

John Yokus, a teen in Hubbard’s WYD group, said that for him, the best part of the pilgrimage was seeing Pope Francis. “There isn’t much on this earth that can equal that. We got to see our Holy Father for an amazing three times!

“We waited from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. to catch a 3-second glimpse of Papa Francisco,” he said. “I have never in my whole life waited so long for something so short. And every second was worth it. It is so awesome being a Catholic teen!”
Sarah Kaczmarek, youth minister at St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms, will always remember the Mass with Pope Francis on Copacabana beach. “It was incredibly moving,” she recalled. “The faith of those surrounding me was tangible. The Spirit was present and you couldn’t help but feel you were on holy ground.

“If anyone is unsure of the future of our great Church, they should come to a World Youth Day!” Kaczmarek said. “They are the Church of today and not just of tomorrow. They are hungering for truth, justice, and Christ.

“They brought expectation and hope to Rio and then left having seen the face of Christ and hungering for more of Him.”

Holy Family pilgrims celebrate WYD activities with their new friends from Jacarei, Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Kelly Andrews traveled with Kaczmarek and was overwhelmed at the spirituality of her fellow teens. “To see so many youth gathered to celebrate our Catholic faith had an impact on my own,” she said. “It’s refreshing to realize that you are not alone in this world with the probably few friends of yours that truly have faith during this day and age.”

Having seen Pope Francis left an impact on her. “My group and I were fortunate enough to see the pope a few different times,” Andrews said. “When you see Pope Francis, it’s almost as if you know him. He gives off a certain love and joy that a person can find comfort in.”

Just like Pope Francis, the love and outpouring of kindness and faith from the Brazilian people could be felt as well, Hubbard said.

What struck her the most was their faith. “I was impacted by the devout nature and great respect that Brazilians have for their Catholic faith,” she said.

“It was very common for us to see people in public restaurants cross themselves before eating meals, and even the taxi drivers had rosaries and holy pictures of Jesus and Mary in the cabs,” she recalled. “There is a respect for clergy and the Catholic faith that I have never seen anywhere else in my travels.”

She admitted she was amazed at the media’s respect for the Catholic faith. “My host family shared with me that in Brazil, at least the media, for the most part, is civil and cordial with the Catholic Church. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that, especially coming from the United States where much of the time it feels our Catholic faith is misrepresented and judged in the public eye.

“It honestly felt a little surreal at times to be so enveloped in a more dominantly Catholic Christian culture,” she added.

Kaczmarek agreed and said Christ was very evident through the Brazilians they met. “One of our very first encounters with the Brazilian people was in our first time in the metro station. A group of young adults approached us asking if we needed help or directions. They weren’t official volunteers, just young people joining in activities.

“After giving us great directions, they took a photo with us and said, ‘You are very welcome in our country. We receive you with open hearts, and we are happy you are here.’ This was the first of many experiences that led us to realize the many encounters with Christ we had through the Brazilian people.”

Her faith and heart were renewed when she saw firsthand how much the faith meant to so many young people. “The richness of our Catholic tradition is evident,” Kaczmarek said. “No matter where you come from, what you look like, what you have, you are welcome. You have a place at the table, and the unique way in which you express your relationship with the Lord is celebrated and appreciated.

“You truly understand the lyrics to the song sung at many a World Youth Day:  ‘We are one body, one body in Christ, and you do not stand alone.’”

Pilgrims from St. Paul view the sunrise on Copacabana Beach before Mass with Pope Francis.