Nick Webster, 20, from Liverpool is part of a group of nine young CAFOD supporters who have travelled to Brazil for World Youth Day. They spent the first ten days of their trip in São Paulo visiting CAFOD partners.
“The São Paulo leg of our trip to Brazil has been a whirlwind. Whilst it feels like we’ve only just arrived it also feels like we have known our new friends forever. The welcome we receive from everyone we meet is amazing and despite the language barrier we feel like part of the family wherever we go. Below are just some of the moments that have stood out for me.
In São Paulo, there are thousands of empty buildings that have enough space to house the entire homeless population of the city. An occupation is when people without housing move into these abandoned buildings and build a new community from scratch. We were lucky enough to visit some of the ‘occupations’ supported by CAFOD partners. Moving into an abandoned building is a hard process – evictions take place regularly with families often losing all their possessions. However, for many, this process is better than living on the streets or in a favela.
The people we met had made a home out of their ‘occupation’. Many different people from different areas had come together to form a community that resembled a family. With kids running around, women doing arts and crafts and even a film room, they had created a place of warmth and love. These were people who were fighting daily for their right to live in something better than a favela and the fact that they took the time to provide us with such a warm welcome humbled me greatly.
We also visited the community of Mauá which has featured heavily in CAFOD’s Connect2Brazil programme. We spent an afternoon with a group of young people who had become youth leaders in the community. They were mostly younger than me and they had taken on a huge amount of responsibility in their roles as youth leaders. All had left school to work as they couldn’t afford to stay in education. They talked about the difficulties they faced and their advice was “Fight for your dreams”. While I was speaking to the young people a helicopter flew overhead and made me think about how unequal Brazil’s distribution of wealth is. As the rich fly from their huge houses to work, beneath people live and work in the favelas.
We were lucky enough to attend mass with some of the other WYD pilgrims from France and Brazil. It was the first Brazilian/Portuguese/English mass I have ever been to – a wonderful experience and a small taste of what WYDRio has in store for us! Through songs and icebreakers, the language barrier didn’t seem like such a big problem. However the British contribution to the music was fairly dire with a painfully high rendition of Shine Jesus Shine – something we need to work on!
Seeing the work of CAFOD partners first hand has been a privilege. I’ve always felt that campaigning or fundraising for CAFOD is the right thing thing to do– something that has been confirmed during this trip.
We met our last day in São Paulo with mixed emotions. On the one hand it was incredibly exciting to be heading to Rio for World Youth Day, but we also had heavy hearts at the thought of leaving some of the most inspiring people we have ever met. We have been humbled by the generosity of those who welcomed us into their homes, fed us some of the most amazing meals and gave us some of the most thoughtful gifts. Everywhere we went we were taken in as part of the family.
At the end of our time in São Paulo, we went on a retreat to the Angels’ place, a house of the Spiritan Fathers which will eventually become a place for children of the favelas to take a break from their lives in the city. Situated in the middle of a beautiful forest, it is well away from the hustle and bustle of one of the biggest cities in the world and is the perfect place to reflect on what we had seen so far.
Spending time as a group to process everything we had experienced during the course of our time in São Paulo was greatly needed. Over the two retreat days we were able to relax and discuss as a group our feelings about the previous few days.
We also had input from two of the Spiritan Fathers, Pat Clarke and Padraig Leonard. Together they have over eighty years of missionary experience and have lived through Brazil’s ups and downs alongside the poor. They are incredibly modest about their work but everywhere we go we find people who are incredibly grateful for the work they have done over the years.
Personally I was full of frustration and impatience for things to change straightaway. However, Pat talked about the patience he needed in his work – that we can plant the seeds but it may take decades for the trees to grow. We may be just a drop in the ocean but each off those drops ripple out and affect those around us. For me this was a very powerful message.
We came back from the retreat refreshed and reinvigorated. It just happened that the Arsenal da Esperança, where we stayed throughout our time in São Paulo, was holding a festival for its residents and other WYD pilgrims that had joined us (while we were on retreat, pilgrims arrived from America, Italy, Ireland and many countries in South America). It was an evening of dancing, music and laughter. The parties at the Arsenal are well known in the local area as a wonderful night, so much so that families across the community attend. The message we will bring back to the UK with us? You can do nothing on your own; the core of Christianity is community.”
All photos were taken by Joelle Hernandez.