Thursday, 31 May 2012

Make a Joyful Noise to the Lord: A Venezuelan Pentecost Vigil

By Brother Daniel Leckman, S.J.

This past Sunday, the Church celebrated the feast of the Pentecost. This is not usually a big celebration for me. It may inspire some prayers to the Holy Spirit, but it definitely not pulling off an all-nighter to spend some time with the Lord! Things are a little different in Venezuela. Across the city of Caracas, all night vigils were being held for young people to celebrate this feast; one that helps us see how the Spirit can transform a heart into a missionary heart, one more in union and harmony with the heart of Christ.

The idea of all night vigil seemed a little daunting, but for some reason, spending the night celebrating God and his awesome presence in my life sounded exciting, so I didn’t hesitate about it. Even the language barrier would not deter me from a sleepless night with the Lord.

In the end, it turned out to be quite lovely. It was not the spiritual outburst that I hoped for – partly because of the aforementioned language barrier - but it was still prayerful and invigorating in many ways. Despite my struggles with the language, I recognize that Latinos have a very powerful way of communicating with God. Their language, their whole experience of faith and the divine is so immensely rich, that one’s faith can’t help but grow when surrounded by this world. Every day, the language of the Mass inspires me, the spirituality of the people lifts me up, and my heart is filled with the ‘esperanza y alegria’ (hope and joy) that comes with the way they live faith.

With regards to the Vigil itself there is much to share that is not necessarily related to the rich spirituality of the people. This was, after all, not just an encounter with God; it was also an encounter with the youth of this country, with some aspects of the culture, with ministers and their work, with a behind the scenes look at Jesuits at work in their apostolate. I was mostly left in awe of the amount of energy the Venezuelan Jesuits have for their work, and with other religious communities active in Venezuela.

It’s not uncommon to walk down the streets of Caracas, and see people cross themselves as they walk past a church. Last weekend, one young lady I spoke to told me that all of this was very superficial, that she wished Venezuelans were more committed to Jesus and to their Catholic faith. Still, I am moved at the expression of people’s faith here – I assume it’s the same across the continent. It’s refreshing, considering the situation in Canada, especially in Quebec where the youth are simply not getting any exposure to our faith.

I obviously got a taste of that public enthusiasm for the faith during the Vigil: Fifty or so students were all there on their own volition; out of their own desire to deepen their faith and to get closer to God. I think the most moving expression of that desire came in the first minute of the vigil or so when all the young people were gathered in a circle, and the animator said something to the effect that they were gathered to come to spend time with God and his great love for them. The response was a very warm, yet solemn applause. It was one of the loudest applauses of the whole night. Not one with cheering or whooping … just an expression of their gratitude for God’s greatness. Like many in this country, they were not afraid to make a joyful noise for God. A nice contrast with the rest of the noise that fills the air on a daily basis in Caracas, and a reminder of God’s ability to lift us up to new heights of happiness and peace.

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