From the Beach to the Streets, WYD Pilgrims Show Missionary Side


Young missionaries from the Archdiocese of New York were busy evangelizing even before they left World Youth Day’s host city of Rio de Janeiro.

Cynthia Martinez, associate director of youth ministry in the archdiocese, said the presence of many homeless persons on the streets of the Brazilian city “inspired” the New York youths
to donate t-shirts and sneakers, along with their pilgrim kits.

“You could see the homeless there with pilgrim kits and food,” Ms. Martinez said. “Seeing that need, the pilgrims were also acting like missionaries right there.

“I hope they will step up at their parishes and continue doing those acts of service for those in New York and anywhere else as well.”

Their actions made the theme of the 2013 World Youth Day, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” come to life.

As Pope Francis said during a Prayer Vigil July 27, “Your young hearts want to build a better world.”

The Holy Father added, “Through you the future is fulfilled in the world. I ask you also to be protagonists of this transformation. Continue to overcome apathy, offering a Christian response to the social and political anxieties, which are arising in various parts of the world.”

Reflecting on the life of Jesus, the pope said, “Jesus did not remain an observer, but he immersed himself. Don’t be observers, but immerse yourself in the reality of life, as Jesus did.”

Father Joseph Espaillat, director of youth ministry in the archdiocese, said that the prayer vigil on the beach of Copacabana was one of the most memorable moments of World Youth Day.

He said the vigil “showed the Holy Father’s personal relationship with Christ and how easily we can share that with others.”

“This was more like a directed retreat. It was powerful,” Father Espaillat said. “It wasn’t like here, I’m going to talk to you; it was, I’m going to lead you to Christ. That was really powerful.”

The experience was made even more awe-inspiring because of the quietness of the beach, with only the sounds of the waves lapping the shore, Father Espaillat said.

The Office of Youth Ministry already has plans in the works for youths from the archdiocese to continue the work done at World Youth Day, including traveling with a group to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, Nov. 21-23, and hosting a New York Catholic Youth Day, May 10, 2014.

In an interview from Brazil, Gabriella Reyes, 24, from Holy Child parish on Staten Island, called her World Youth Day experience “powerful.”

“Being able to realize the vastness of this week has inspired me to believe that as young adults we do have a powerful voice in our Church and that I have millions of peers who are willing to profess and boldly witness their faith," she said.

Her journey began two years ago when she entered an essay contest sponsored by the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary who have a convent on Staten Island. As the contest winner, she received a scholarship from the sisters to attend World Youth Day.

During a telephone interview after her return home, Ms. Reyes said one of the things the pope said really remained with her, and she hopes to live out the lesson she learned from him in her daily life.

“The pope said we need saints who wear jeans, and eat pizza and drink beer and listen to iPods, regular people,” she recalled. “You don’t have to be the most faithful, or the most studied. You just have to live your life in the way God intended it to be lived—as a good person, living life to the fullest.”

“That’s the best way to be an example,” she said.

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