WYD is all about going with the flow. I don’t mean going with what the popular culture says we should do, swaying to the winds of what’s cool. Going with the flow here in Rio de Janeiro means being flexible, being fluid to the plans of one’s group and adjusting to the currents of an event that seeks to bring 2 million-plus people together at Mass with the first South- American Pope coming back home.
In the U.S., we travel at a fast clip, jamming activity into our days with little ritual rewards embedded in between: our special coffee, a DVD from Red Box, etc. I think part of the reason is the efficiency of servicing our routines. In Boston, you can’t give directions using Dunkin' Donuts as landmarks, as there are so many of them, and they are so good at getting you your coffee right quick!
WYD Rio has reminded me that when my wants get delayed, they swell up into little balloons of selfishness: like waiting for a cheeseburger after a catechesis session on Wednesday. At the moment, it seemed to me this Brazilian method of food distribution was one of the most ineffective that I had seen. But it allowed me to witness my impatience and later to remember there are many, many others who go without food for days rather than a couple of hours. And by the way, the cheeseburger was delicious.
Going with the flow literally happened to many on Tuesday, as a half million gathered on Copacabana beach for the opening Mass of World Youth Day with Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro. There were times when the metro system shut down with the influx of people. I was separated at the time from my group, who felt the crush of the crowd while departing from the Mass, though they kept together. One of them told me that when someone around them fell, people were considerate for their safety.
Going with the flow here is being open to conversations that just spring up. While my group was jammed toward the front end of the beach area, I was in a much-less-crowded area, though with plenty of people around. I was grateful to meet and chat with a group from Ireland, including a recently married couple spending part of their honeymoon on the WYD trip. These Irish Catholics both teach school in Moscow, and it was intriguing to hear how that life was like.
Also in this area, I struck up a conversation with a young woman who I think lives in or close to an indigenous area of Brazil. I say "think" because we conversed in Spanish, which is not our primary language, hers being Portuguese. This woman directed me to the Eucharist when I thought she was asking me if I wanted something to eat. I was right, but not in the way I thought initially!
Going with the flow here gives one a new approach to time. There are points when we have to be on the move and then points where we hurry up and wait. One can be upset when there is someone holding up your group, but then all I have to do is remember when I did the same.
In an enthusiastic and well-received WYD catechesis session yesterday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York listed time as one of the enemies to the virtue of hope. He tied this to our impatience with God working in our lives. One of his many great lines was that we want a microwave, but God is a crockpot.
Going with the flow here is being open to moments to give or, really, just pass along help. Late last evening, there were a group of Argentinians camped on a covered sidewalk in front of our hotel. They were getting close to the cathedral where Pope Francis was going to have a special meeting with Argentinian youth starting at noon today. There was some leftover pizza in our lobby and a big bottle of Guarana (a popular juice/soda here).
Neither myself nor my priest friend had purchased these items, but they were no longer wanted. God made it very easy for us just to pass this food/drink on to them. As it was easy to pass on some extra packaged breakfast food to some homeless- looking men this morning. Both parties were very grateful to receive it, and it was a simple opportunity to share resources.
The Argentinians were also very grateful to receive blankets from Lucia, the Brazilian woman who helps run a food-and-souvenir cart in front of our hotel. It was probably much more of an effort for her to get the blankets, but she didn’t seem to view it as an imposition to help these chilly youth, as it was a rainy and damp evening in the South-American winter.
As we look toward the vigil walk and huge Mass on Sunday with Papa Francisco, undoubtedly God will provide more “Going with the Flow” episodes. Hopefully, I preserve these memories and apply them back at home — remembering that, if I keep my eyes on God’s will for the day, the flow will be just right.