Greetings from Rio de Janeiro! As perhaps others who have made it down here have told you electronically. But regardless if you know someone here or not, I am happy to be one of the WYD witnesses for the Register.
My name is Justin Bell and I became a correspondent with the Register in 2007 with a story I filed from Northern Ireland about a significant step in the Peace Process there. Reporting has been a continuing education for me, interviewing engaging people and researching complex situations. I hope to give you some sketches of the WYD Rio experience with these blogs.
I have been to one earlier World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 when I traveled with a group from Denver: young adults and members from the Community of the Beatitudes. This was a wonderful and memorable experience: days in the diocese with homestays, getting baptized with a torrential rainstorm that soaked our gear before moving to our new digs on a school floor, and the last WYD of Blessed John Paul II, the man who started them.
This time around, I am traveling with a Deaf Catholic community made up of about 21 people who are deaf, who interpret for the deaf or who want to learn more about deaf culture. My role is to take photos and video of their/our experience and also interview members of the group. I will be putting together a 40-minute documentary after the trip. We are in a larger group of about 160 traveling with the Archdiocese of Boston, though our party has members from other spots in the US and Canada.
Part of the mission of the video is to raise awareness of the experience of Deaf Catholics and to show different ways of communication in our Church. More on this later this week...
So I flew on Saturday morning from Boston to New York, where we had a long layover as other members in our group arrived from different cities, then the overnight nine and half hour flight to Rio. Right from the airport we were fortunate to be taken to Mount Corcovado to see one of the modern wonders of the world: The Christ the Redeemer Statue.
I found out today that workers who built this towering statue with our Savior’s outstretched arms, signed the names of family members and loved ones on the backs of 3 million pieces of soapstone that make up the outer exterior of the statue.
Really though, it is hard to fathom that I was there today and even in Brazil at all. Call me a romantic, but in this day of fast travel and even faster internet certainly our world is smaller. But also, I would say, is our sense of the present location. Added to that is a tendency to want to preserve engaging moments with pictures and video blasted to our social networks. Feedback from our social networks again takes us away from the here and now.
I know you might be thinking: But aren’t you writing a blog that will be blasted to the internet and on Facebook? Yes, but I do have a chance to distill the day’s experience into one post in the evening. It serves as a journal in way and I still balancing out our 21st century media landscape!
It is amazing to gauge how the technology has changed from WYD in 2002, where there was, of course, photo and video, but the lag time from capture to viewer was that much longer.
This week, I hope to meet a group or individual who had a really epic time in getting here, with multiple connections and a variety of travel methods, something where the distance to Brazil might be better appreciated.
Here’s one memorable WYD Rio experience to leave you with: This evening, the best option for Mass happened to be in a public plaza near our downtown budget hotel. Boxes were used as an altar, musicians led worship, and an interpreter signed for our Deaf community who signed the Mass responses in return. The Mass drew attention from some curious passers by, festive drums nearby called us to respond louder in part of the Mass—maybe this was a signal for us to be more bold as witnesses to Christ in the everyday.
Rio is going to be changed with World Youth Day and the return of Pope Francis back to South America. Hopefully so will we, who are blessed to be here, as I was reminded by the priest tonight during that plaza Mass: May we have the wherewithal to take time to soak it in and let those experiences ferment with deeper meaning through prayer. And, of course, share these stories with those who couldn’t make it.
Justin Bell is a Register correspondent who typically writes from Boston.
Today he writes from Rio.