Angela Joseph, 30, from Pune, India, is a proud Catholic.
Considering that 2% of residents in her home country practice Christianity, that says something.
Add to that the tragedy she has overcome during the past decade, and Joseph’s faith is nothing short of remarkable.
Joseph lost her father, fiancé and mother in a span of eight years. Her father, Ajay, was the first to pass away, in 2004, after a long battle with leukemia. In 2007, her fiancé died of a major heart attack, just two months before they were to marry.
But perhaps her mother’s battle with cancer was what inspired Joseph most in her faith.
In 2008, Shreya Joseph, just 58 at the time, was diagnosed with lung cancer, after doctors found a tumor on her left lung. When the lung became dysfunctional, doctors were forced to remove it completely, supposedly leaving Shreya cancer-free.
“It was God literally giving her back,” Joseph exclaimed, with a smile. “My family and the community shook the heavens, and she was back.”
But over the next three and a half years, a tumor regenerated in the area where Shreya’s lung had been, leaving her ill and in need of care.
Instead of dating, spending time with friends or working a full-time job, then 26-year-old Joseph spent the majority of her time looking after her mother, whose health declined to the point of requiring full-time supervision.
“There were times when I was tired and wanted to live my life,” she admitted. “But I know I was of service to her.”
On May 31, 2013, Shreya lost her battle with cancer, and Joseph was left both parentless and without a husband. In Pune, India, where women marry between ages 23-25, Joseph says she is often prejudged for being single at age 30.
Nevertheless, she says the tragedy has only helped her grow closer to God, providing clarity in her life and strengthening her testimony of faith.
“If the suffering was not there, events like World Youth Day would not be in my life,” she said. “After pain, you realize the true value of the joy.”
Proclaiming the Joy of the Gospel
As a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, an ecclesiastical movement in the Church focused on evangelization and catechetical formation, Joseph, together with a group of 27 Indian pilgrims, is proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ during WYD 2013.
During their time in Brazil, members of “The Way” have proclaimed the Catholic faith through music and dance, speaking only to people who approach them and ask about their mission. The group began the week in São Paulo and came to Rio de Janeiro on July 26.
Members of India’s Neocatechumenal Way group are being well cared for by other members of the movement from Rio, says Hycinth D’Costa, 38, Joseph’s roommate and fellow group member from Pune. Standing in a sweatshirt, jacket and long pants on Rio’s Copacabana beach, D’Costa said the majority of her clothing came as gifts from her host family.
“We weren’t prepared for the cold this week,” she laughed. “They were very generous to buy us all of this!”
A Sacrificial Journey
From Agaña, Guam, a group of 250 pilgrims led by Archbishop Anthony Apuron traveled 50 hours to make it to Rio. After layovers in Hawaii, Houston and Newark, N.J., the group finally arrived in São Paulo last Thursday.
Gabriel Camacho, 23, is a seminarian at Guam’s Redemptoris Mater Seminary, attending WYD for the fourth time. As part of the pilgrimage, Camacho and other group members raised money through bake sales and cooking in soup kitchens, among other fundraisers over the past six months.
“That’s half the fun,” said Camacho. “It helps you to prepare yourself, because this is a sacrificial journey to a holy event.”
As a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, Camacho hopes his group’s charisma, in addition to that of Pope Francis, helps increase vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
“We’re bringing hope,” he affirmed. “That’s why we're here.”
Audrey Rivera, 25, from San Vicente/San Roke Parish in Barrigada, Guam, is searching for her own vocation this week. A schoolteacher, Rivera emphasizes open-mindedness during WYD to understand God’s plan for her.
“It’s so important to be open to the experience,” she said. “It defines who we really are.”
Asked if WYD was strictly a sacrificial journey to finding her vocation, Rivera’s response echoed that of many pilgrims from the East.
“I’m here to celebrate what I’ve been given,” she said. “That’s why we came all this way.”