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I stood up

By Jessie Bazan, magazine intern

In July, more than 3 million young Catholics traveled to Brazil for Magis, an Ignatian experience for pilgrims from Jesuit institutions, and World Youth Day, a worldwide gathering of Catholic youth. Communication senior Jessie Bazan was one of 12 pilgrims from Marquette who made the trip.  

I wanted to stand up but I couldn’t. Physically, I had no choice —  my 6-foot frame was crammed into seat 24C. But when the plane took off for Brazil, my mind was bogged down, as well. Could I handle the 80-mile walk that is the first part of this pilgrimage?

My concerns ran deeper, too. Truth is, I was apprehensive about spending three weeks immersed in Catholic festivities. It’s not easy being a Catholic young adult today. Many write off my generation as religiously apathetic, too engrossed with the latest iPhone app to care about the future of the Catholic Church. As I watched students at Sunday Masses on campus become more and more disengaged during my three years at Marquette, and heard my thousandth peer boast about being “spiritual, but not religious,” part of me began to wonder: Could the doubters be right? Is the future of my church that bleak?

There was no turning back now. I had to psyche myself up, so I grabbed the one book I brought along, Thirst by poet Mary Oliver. Skimming the first page, one line jumped out that would remain at the front of my thoughts for the entire pilgrimage. In her poem, “Messenger,” Oliver wrote, “Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”

Astonished. It was a long time since I had allowed myself to luxuriate in that rejuvenating mixture of surprise, awe and presence. Feeling burdened by political issues facing the Catholic Church today, I fell into a rut. What a grace it was, then, to find myself swimming in a sea of astonishment just 19 days after I arrived in Brazil. I’m happy to report the Catholic Church astonished me in many ways during this pilgrimage.

Who knew Mass could be such fun? We attended 11 liturgies, some celebrated by church dignitaries like Superior General of the Society of Jesus Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., in massive auditoriums and others celebrated by a Uruguayan Jesuit in tin-roofed huts.

Each congregation radiated such positive energy. It was rejuvenating. “Alleluias” sang with gusto. “Glory to God” proclaimed in a manner fit for glorifying God. I never before experienced such inviting, active liturgies. We weren’t just praying with our mouths, either. Clapping and dancing are staples of Brazilian Masses. Hands, feet and hips team up for a full-body prayer experience. As my congregation of peers dipped and swayed to zesty South American hymns, I smiled unabashedly, filled with hope. Young Catholics can be engaged in liturgy. That witness was astonishing.

Seeing the universality of the church in a very literal way astonished me, too. The dictionary tells me Catholic means “universal,” but before this experience, that was just a concept, a nice thought. Then we got to Copacabana Beach, and I was surrounded by 3 million brothers and sisters waving flags from all nations and speaking in all different languages. So often in this world, differences are divisive. But in this case, the diversity made our Catholic family more beautiful. We were together in glorious chaos, praising the same God. The experience was astonishing.

Christ’s active presence left me truly amazed. He was manifest in the town of Capim Grosso, whose people embraced and served complete strangers with generous, unconditional love. He was manifest in the Jesuits I met along the way, whose pastoral care and wise insights made for many thought-provoking conversations. He was manifest in my fellow pilgrims, whose blisters and bunions left tangible evidence of their commitment to share the Good News with all corners of the world. And I believe Christ was manifest in me. I used to worry about being judged and sounding pompous for saying that God works through me, but this experience gave me the confidence to accept my discipleship. God works through all of us in different ways. I’m no longer ashamed to take ownership of that. In fact, I have a responsibility to my calling because God has big plans for me, just as He does for each of His children.

As Oliver wrote: “… my work … is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.” Boarding the plane home, her poetry still in tow, I felt more ready than ever to enter into the joys and struggles of the incredible Catholic Church.

What a journey. I laughed. I cried. I walked. I danced. I played. I prayed. I stood up.  

World Youth Day was created by Pope John Paul II in 1984. This year, 3 million attended the final Mass in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Twelve members of the Marquette community attended festivities in Rio.


Comment by Anastasia at Oct 30 2013 12:16 pm
Thank you for sharing your great experience. It is so nice to hear from young people who care about their faith. This article reminded me of when I was young.
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