Father Andy (third from left), and Fr. Dante (second from right) hold the colors of their nations at World Youth Day.
From Rio, with Love
By Felix Carroll (Aug 6, 2013)
After an unforgettable World Youth Day, two Marian priests have returned to their native lands with hope for the future and a challenge for the present.
In his addresses and homilies during the six-day celebration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 23-28, Pope Francis called on the youth and religious to seek two things in particular: spiritual renewal and dialogue with the world beyond their own comfort zones.
"He called upon us to break out of mediocre Christian lives and to get out there and be missionaries," said Fr. Andy Davy, MIC, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Plano, Ill., one of the Marians' parishes.
"He's really trying to shake the Church in the service of life and joy and mission," said Fr. Dante Agüero, MIC, superior of the Marians' Argentinean Vicariate.
Fathers Andy and Dante led a pilgrimage to World Youth Day from Argentina. The pilgrimage of 38 people — many of them youth — joined with more than 3 million pilgrims from around the world for the historic event, which marked Pope Francis' return to his native South America for the first time since his papal election on March 13.
Before the Pope's arrival, headlines spoke of the logistical problems, such as crippled public transportation, and insufficient sanitation facilities and food service — not to mention the heavy rain.
"But one of the beautiful witnesses," Fr. Andy said, "was that, while there were a lot of difficulties and the city didn't seem prepared to receive such numbers of people, it was amazing to see the resilience of the people. I don't know of any other group this large that would have this much peace and this much joy and patience in the midst of such logistical problems. Then when Pope Francis arrived, all the inconveniences and discomforts seemed to disappear, and the crowds roared."
Immediately, the characteristics that have come to define Francis as a "Pope of the people" were in full relief. He shunned customary security procedures to get close to the pilgrims; visited Rio's most crime-ridden slums; accepted drinks from strangers on the street; and added at the last minute a meeting on July 25 with young Argentines to an already crammed schedule.
Fathers Andy and Dante were among the 30,000 attendees of that meeting in the Cathedral of San Sebastian. The Pope's off-the-cuff remarks quickly became a rallying cry for World Youth Day and captured the very essence of his papal approach.
The Holy Father told those assembled to get out into the streets and spread their faith and make a "mess," saying a Church that doesn't bring the Gospel to those who have never heard it simply becomes a civic or humanitarian organization.
"I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess," Pope Francis said. "We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses. I want to see the Church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures."
Therein lay the challenge. Both Frs. Andy and Dante acknowledge that they, too, often find themselves taxed by the many administrative and clerical duties of running parishes and schools. Community outreach efforts often become casualities of a busy parish life. The Holy Father's words have led to some soul searching, they said.
"We're asking the Lord for wisdom on how to return to that evangelistic experience of being responsible for the welfare of not just our parishioners, but to bring the Gospel out to the larger community, to not just wait for them to come to us," said Fr. Andy. "We will also encourage parishioners to pray for guidance on how we break out of our comfort zone.
"As the Pope has said, that one lost sheep rescued in the Gospels has since become 99 lost sheep," Fr. Andy said. "He's calling for very much a missionary spirit as we saw in the early Church, particularly in the life of St. Francis of Assissi. Using soccer imagery very powerfully for a world audience, the Pope stated that we are on the Lord's team, and we have to put on His jersey."
Father added, "In Plano, there are so many people who are Catholic but are away from the Church, and many aren't even sure why they're away. I think many of them are just waiting for someone to welcome them back."
Father Dante notes that Pope Francis, a fellow Argentine, eschewed the elegant trappings of his position even back when he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires. Having a man like that leading the universal Church is having a positive effect, even paving a smoother path back to the Church for those who have long felt disassociated from it. A Church that projects Christ's warmth and mercy "can win people back," Fr. Dante said.
Case in point:
"I met a businessman in his 30s on the airplane," said Fr. Andy. "His name is John Paul, named after Blessed John Paul II. He had fallen away from the Church years ago, but he said he's feeling called to come back because he's encountering the embrace of the Church through Pope Francis' own witness. In the Holy Father's manner of being, people are experiencing this embrace of God."
Moreover, in the Holy Father, the youth know they have an advocate. While in Rio, Pope Francis even extended good wishes to the thousands of youth in Brazil who, in recent weeks, have taken to the streets protesting against high taxation rates and decreased government services.
"He praised the youth for not just standing on the 'balcony' watching while life passes by," said Fr. Dante. "He knows they are taking to the streets because they want a part of the future. It's a sign of life."
Addressing bishops, priests, seminarians, and men and women religious on July 27 in the Cathedral of San Sebastian in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis said:
Let us help the young. Let us have an attentive ear to listen to their dreams — they need to be heard — to listen to their successes, to pay attention to their difficulties. You have to sit down and listen to the same libretto, but accompanied by diverse music, with different characteristics. Having the patience to listen! I ask this of you with all my heart! In the confessional, in spiritual direction, in accompanying. Let us find ways to spend time with them. Planting seeds is demanding and very tiring, very tiring! It is much more rewarding to enjoy the harvest! How cunning! Reaping is more enjoyable for us! But Jesus asks us to sow with care and responsibility. Let us spare no effort in the formation of our young people!
At the closing Mass at the famous Copacabana Beach attended by more than 3 million people, the Holy Father rallied the youth and religious alike. "Jesus Christ is counting on you!" he exclaimed. "The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you!"
Father Dante summed up his experiences at World Youth Day in three words.
"Pope and hope," he said.