South Carolina’s pilgrims have returned from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, bringing home indelible memories and a very real sense of their role as Christ’s messengers.
Forty-seven young people and adults from the Diocese of Charleston made the journey to Rio. The Upstate was represented by large groups from St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville and St. Paul the Apostle and Jesus, Our Risen Savior churches in Spartanburg. Traveling with them were pilgrims from Rock Hill, Greenville and Columbia. Charleston sent a group of seven young adults, who were accompanied by seminarian Francisco Onate Vargas.
They had surprise encounters with Pope Francis’ car on a side street, chance meetings with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and other dignitaries, and impromptu song and dance sessions on the streets of Rio led by praise groups from the pontiff’s native Argentina.
There were huge crowds, blisters, and long walks to witness amazing scenes of reverence: the Stations of the Cross, the prayer vigil and the final Mass where 3 million prayed together on Copacabana Beach.
The week’s message is crystallized in a quote from Katie Sullivan, 30, who works with the Simpsonville youth. The trip was emotionally challenging for her because her grandfather became ill just before she left, and she learned of his death just before returning. She prayed for him alongside millions of the faithful, gained strength from the incredible witness that played out on the streets, in the fields and on the beaches.
“World Youth Day showed the popular media is portraying one thing about the Church, and the truth is another,” Sullivan said. “These were 3 million faithful Catholics who believe in the teachings of the Church … they wouldn’t have gone if they didn’t. When you have endured blisters and walking in torrential rains like we did at the beginning of the week, that shows how strong everyone’s faith was. We knew this was a pilgrimage, and we did it in joy.”
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