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At the opening Mass on Copacabana Beach: Sister Norma Pocasangre, MM (center, palm up) ministers in China and brought a team of 27 with her to World Youth Day July 23–28 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Maryknoll Sisters
Chinese students, sister attend World Youth Day in Rio

By Sue Palmer

Nearly 11,000 miles lay between Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro, and the Chinese students who’d made the trek to attend World Youth Day 2013 with Maryknoll Sister Norma Pocasangre felt it – not only in jet lag, but in the numerous different cultures they encountered at the gathering, which ultimately attracted more than three million people from around the world.

Sister Norma was glad they felt it. It was one of the main reasons she encouraged the 20 young people, five organizers and two spiritual directors besides herself to make the long journey halfway around the world to represent their parishes and the Diocese of Hong Kong at the worldwide gathering. “Brazilian, Latin American and many other cultures are so different from the Chinese culture,” she explained, and given them the opportunity to “experience and celebrate liturgies and other activities in different ways than they do in Hong Kong” as well as “become more aware of the big church family to which they belong.”

It turned out Sister Norma was right. “One of our girls at first shared with me that, though she was excited about all the programs and parties that were planned for the week, she felt that something was kind of wrong because there was not silence”—a common feature of Chinese Catholicism. After a few days, that all changed. “She allowed herself to be part of the high energy that was so characteristic of WYD Rio, and said ‘It’s really a unique experience for me to be able to celebrate with youth from all over; the happiness, the faith and the love that God is spreading among us all’.”

That spread of love happened not just in the camaraderie of the students, nor in the stirring messages of Pope Francis, who encouraged all gathered to follow the Lord’s command in Matthew 28: 19 to “go and make disciples of all nations,” but in the acts of loving service the students had an opportunity to do while they were in Rio. The Hong Kong students, who arrived a few days before WYD Rio 2013 to participate in a retreat held at the Daughters of St. Paul Retreat House in Sao Paulo, had an opportunity to sing for the sisters while they were there. They also ministered to local children in a Rio park, teaching them how to create animals out of balloons and make masks out of paper plates. Talk about “making God’s love visible”! Those children certainly saw His love, and so did the sisters.

Now back in Hong Kong, the students, most of whom are in their 20s and raised some of the funds for their journey by speaking at their local parishes, and Sister Norma are having an opportunity to process all that has gone on. It is an experience that they will not soon forget, they all agree.

Links and Related Articles

WYD: ‘A New World Will Come!’ by Sister Mary Ellen Kempken, MM

World Youth Day Rio 2013 (official web site in English)

The Key Themes of World Youth Day 2013 (Catholic World Report)

EWTN Coverage of World Youth Day 2013

Sue Palmer is director of communications for the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic.