Wednesday 31 July 2013

Moved to Love: World Youth Day and the Heart of a “Pilgrim”

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.


Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. As a son of Loyola, I am very grateful for Ignatian spirituality. As I have learnt to find God in all things, I have become more adept to recognize and understand the movements of my heart. Through the prayerful experience of the examination of consciousness, I discover on a daily basis how my heart is affected, engaged and transformed.

The World Youth Day (WYD) in Rio de Janeiro from last week gave me a lot of materials for reflection. As I followed it online and on television, I found myself profoundly affected – I had a deep sense of consolation. I grew in faith, hope and love. I experienced joy, compassion, freedom and understanding. I grew in appreciation and gratitude for the Church, the poor and for the gift of discipleship. In my prayer, both St. Ignatius and Jesus continually invite me to treasure and share my consolations. Therefore, I want to take a moment to highlight some of the graces I received while following WYD, and uniting myself in prayers with the pilgrims and millions of people around the world who were following this event.

Pope Francis 

Seeing him embracing people, kissing babies and visiting the favela of Varginha moved me to tears. My heart was deeply affected as I witnessed his interest in people, his desire to meet Christ in others. I grew excited and consoled about Papa Francisco's witness. I accepted his example as an invitation. He is showing us the way. We are called to live simpler, visit the sick, pray with passion.

I was specially moved when he addressed the people in Varginha and told them how he wanted to “knock on every door, to say 'good morning', to ask for a glass of cold water, to take a cafezinho, to speak as one would to family friends, to listen to each person pouring out his or her heart.” He wanted to meet everyone, but he could not. We can. For him, it is impossible to knock on every door. Not for us. I felt a strong desire to continue where he left off. I want to knock on doors: “Hello, I am a friend of Papa Francisco, can I come in?”

The Pope said it a few times during his time in Brazil, “I want the Church to go into the streets.” He told all the people he met, specially those in drug rehab, “You are not alone, the Church is with you.” My heart was ignited by his example. Jesus knocked at my door and said, “I want you to be more like Francisco”.

Theme Song 

I have had a love/hate relationship with WYD theme songs in the past, but this song – Esperança do Amanhecer (Hope of Dawn) – moved me to pray. Its lyrics engaged my heart: Christ invites us/ Be my friends...He sends forth/ Be missionaries. It beautifully captured the theme of WYD in Rio, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). We are called to go beyond the confines of what is humanly possible. This theme song helped me to understand how to do it. It's not just that by loving we go beyond our limits to new frontiers, but as the lyrics say, there are no limits to our love. This awareness allowed me accept Pope Francis' invitation to “go without fear to serve”.

Gratitude for the Church 

As WYD unfolded, I had several moments of heartfelt gratitude for the Church.
  1. When Pope Francis asked us all to help the youth find their place: “We need to create material & spiritual conditions for their full development.”
  2. When an old lady who was commenting on Brazilian National TV stated that she thought the Church was irrelevant, but her experience of witnessing WYD showed her that she was mistaken.
  3. When Cardinal Dolan stated in his catechism session, “Hope means that God makes and keeps his promises”... and “God uses his Church to promote and keep his promises”.
  4. When the Pope addressed the Argentinian youth, “Don't forget to make noise, to disturb,” he asked them to work for the common good, to help the poor, to spread Gospel. “Go make a mess.” 

I was deeply consoled by Papa Francisco's devotion to Mary; specially seeing him pray before the statue of Our Lady of Aparecida. Mary teaches us much about discipleship. We need to follow her advice: "Do as he tells you" (John 2:5). As he later tweeted at @Pontifex, “The Virgin Mary is our Mother and with her help we can remain faithful to Christ.”


Speaking about the harm and pain caused by abortion, Sean Cardinal O'Malley spoke about the beauty of adoption. “We need as a Catholic community to promote adoption. When I was growing up, everyone had a friend who was adopted.” I was moved by his statement. I also felt invited to learn and to do more to promote adoption. Cardinal O'Malley called upon us to take steps to change society’s negative perception of adoption so that it is seen as a better option than abortion for women facing a crisis pregnancy. I want to be part of this process.

I certainly felt that my experience of this WYD was close to my experience of participating in WYD from before. I was not simply an observer. I became a pilgrim. My heart was moved, engaged and transformed. My experience of the WYD in Rio from afar was a powerful encounter with the Divine Teacher. It is our encounter with the Crucified and Risen Lord that makes discipleship possible. As our hearts are engaged by Christ, we find ourselves equipped to go and make disciples for our Lord.


  1. Re: adoption:

    Have you heard Danielle Rose's song, "Joseph's Prayer of Adoption" from her album Culture of Life? (Unfortunately not available on YouTube...) It completely changed my perspective on adoption and made me see it as something so...saintly, and imitative of Our Father. =)

  2. Santiago, I was also moved by many of the things you mentioned. In particular, I was present at the catechetical session of Timothy Cardinal Dolan--if it is the same one you heard; I know it was on the radio--and it was such a blessing for our boys. And I am also deeply moved by your recollections and fine writing. May the God who is love continue to move our hearts so that we may live lives of praise, reverence, and service for love of Him and our neighbor. God bless you.