By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY – Participating in World Youth Day 2013 gave Rebecca Rethwisch a greater sense of purpose, the native of St. Wenceslaus Parish said Oct. 24.
During a Journeys in Faith Speaker’s Forum at the Newman Catholic Student Center, she shared stories, photos and videos from her 10 days in Rio de Janeiro for the late July celebration.
The University of Minnesota student felt inspired to travel to WYD in Brazil – whose official language is Portuguese – after her plans to study abroad in Portugal this past summer fell through. Rethwisch is studying Spanish, Portuguese and global studies at the university.
Her group of about 40 pilgrims from the United States joined 3.7 million other young people from around the world for the event, held every two to three years. “Everyone became instant friends,” she said.
Each morning, Catholics gathered at one of 300 sites for catechesis in their language. Bishops and cardinals from various nations offered teaching on this year’s WYD theme: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). At one of 24 English-speaking sites, Rethwisch’s group joined pilgrims from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, South Africa and Ireland. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, spoke.
For her, a highlight of his talk was a list of the biggest threats to hope: “1) Ourselves. You are your toughest critic. 2) Others. Only in God is our soul at rest. 3) The world. It’s enough to get you down. 4) Time. We’re a microwave generation, but the crock-pot meal tastes so much better.”
Other memorable moments during WYD included:
• Praying the rosary on Copocabana Beach in 10 different languages
• Getting a “thumbs up” from Pope Francis as he passed cheering, crying crowds
• Camping in sleeping bags on the sand next to millions of other Catholics
• Participating in Mass beneath the famous Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio
• The music. “When I sing, I feel closer to God,” Rethwisch said.
• Visiting the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in São Paulo, one of the most visited Marian shrines in the world.
• Receiving a statue of Our Lady of Aparecida from a young boy and accepting other small gifts and prayers from friendly Brazilians.
“I think the point of a pilgrimage, many times, is the people you meet along the way,” Rethwisch said.
On a bus, a Brazilian told her the part of Rio de Janeiro in which WYD pilgrims stayed doesn’t represent the full city, where up to a third of people live in favelas, or slums. Rethwisch showed her audience a photo of Rio’s favelas, similar to those Pope Francis visited during World Youth Day. Seeing signs of such poverty humbled pilgrims, who felt grateful for their material blessings, she said.
Brazilians’ Catholicism is more cultural than religious, she said later. Some were surprised to hear she attends Mass at least once a week.
“We need a personal relationship with Christ… we can’t just go through the motions,” she said. Prayer, the sacraments and service foster that relationship.
Rethwisch said she hopes to attend WYD 2016 in Krakow, Poland. She recommended that Catholics learn the basics of the host country’s language and culture before traveling there. Prepare yourself spiritually, too. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops suggests praying, learning about the pope, fasting, helping people in need and evangelizing by discussing your planned pilgrimage with others.
“The beautiful thing about the faith is feeling a part of this universal church where you can go anywhere in the world and experience the faith with other people,” Rethwisch wrote on her WYD blog, http://rebeccagracerethwisch.wordpress.com. “We’re broken as humans, but all a part of one family.”