The welcoming ceremony and the opening mass on Monday for WYD Rio2013 were a great opportunity to see and experience a Church that is alive and young. In addition, reports by UKpilgrims in this blog also tell us that the church in Brazil has many young people attending mass every Sunday who practice and are active in our faith and religion. This is also true for my home country Chile, where it is normal to be part of the Catholic Church, be it attending mass on sundays, prayer groups during the week and by doing an apostolate or a regular act of service.
So why does this happen? There are a few factors to consider, firstly the fact that in the UK we live in a heavily secular environment which is becoming increasingly intolerant to people who practice their faith. For this reason attending WYD becomes essential for the British Catholic who effectively needs to get out of the country to breath and live their faith without the threat of our secular society. Outside UK, the cultural or social barriers don’t apply and so young Catholics can unashamedly express their Catholicism without judgement because they are surrounded by thousands of other Catholics who are doing exactly the same.
Secondly there is formation. As Pope Benedict said in the message for WYD Rio2013 “you need to know your faith with that same precision with which an IT specialist knows the inner workings of a computer. You need to understand it like a good musician knows the piece he is playing. Yes, you need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents so that you can engage the challenges and temptations of this time with strength and determination” Basically, we need to be solidly formed in our faith, with solid teaching of doctrine, theology but also a practical experience of serving others with humility and love. If we don’t do this we run the possibility of not being able to withstand the pressures of society, finally drifting into becoming lukewarm Catholics or even adopting the values of secularism. We need to learn about these virtues which are abundant in the lives of our our Saints and many other people who currently practice the Catholic faith in their lives. Gone are the days where people are catholic by osmosis, family traditions or cultural environment. Today we need to have our Catholicsm engrained in our hearts and for this we need the formation, just like the catechesis given by Bishops in World Youth Day in our respective dioceses and parishes.
Finally, the liturgy plays a big part in encouraging younger members to join and stay in the church, not because it is simply modern but because it is relevant for today. This is also why Brazil, Chile and other parts of Latin America have younger generations in the Church. Music goes hand in hand both in the mass, prayer groups and with our apostolates. It is an expression of the present generation and their love to Jesus Christ and it acts as the glue that sticks everything together, an all encompassing, holistic way of approaching our Catholic faith.
There is no Evangelical or Traditional definition, these terms put Latin American Catholicism in the wrong box, creating confusion as people tend to think that a modern style of music means relaxation of liturgy or teachings of the church. My experience of the Latin American church is the contrary, as the modern style of music is very spiritual and helps to situate myself directly in a relationship with God today. To believe that I am a person of the 21st century and thus take my place in history with the language of today.
Finally, the simplicity of the Catholic Church of Latin America keeps us rooted in what is essential, our relationship with God and others. Remember God doesn’t care about how much gold it took to make the chair of the Pope or if he is wearing red Prada shoes – we are all the same in the eyes of God. Furthermore, here in Latin America where poverty is evidently present, the general view of the Church in Europe is that it can be perceived as opulent and out of touch thus creating a rejection to the hierarchy of the church and to everything that is seen as ‘traditional’ in the English sense.
It is difficult to explain in a few words the experience of the Latin American Church but always best to experience it, which is why attending WYD Rio2013 is important for our British pilgrims. This is a key event for the universal church today but even more so after the election of Pope Francis. Latin Americans like me are expectant to see what the former archbishop of Buenos Aires can do for the church in Europe and the UK and how he will take the spirit of Latin America and make it part of the New Evangelisation in Europe.