It has been nearly two weeks since I came back from World Youth Day, and I still feel the warmth (as opposed to feeling chills!) from the blessings received at such an amazing experience! As cliché as it sounds, it was life-changing. I probably would not be here recounting my experience of the event on my new blog for The Moving Prayer if I had not gotten the chance to attend and perform at World Youth Day. Nope, none of this would be happening to me right now. So what did happen to me at World Youth Day? Well, I went there with a dream and I came back home with a calling.
“My name is Jessica, and I’m from New York.”
Applause erupted from the hundreds of pilgrims and volunteers attending catechesis on Wednesday, July 24th at Colégio Nossa Senhora das Mercês. Though these pilgrims and volunteers came from all over the world, one thing was true- EVERYONE LOVES NEW YORK. Why? Because it is the city of dreams, and like most New Yorkers, I had plenty. But while I too was a starry-eyed performer, my dreams weren’t meant to be fulfilled in New York. My dreams brought me to Rio de Janeiro that morning (or in that case, Niterói, a suburb of Rio). My dream was to perform at World Youth Day.
The Youth Festival, one of the largest religious art festivals, included over 600 acts this year from performers all over the world. I had the special privilege of presenting my meditation reflection dance “Mother” before a global audience at Feira de São Cristóvão, an open-air stage within a traditional Northeastern Brazilian marketplace, in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, July 25th at 2PM. The 20-minute solo incorporated liturgical, modern, and ballet dance as well as the use of colorful veils and narration to enhance the piece. I was excited, nervous and ready to finally take the stage. I offered up my thanks to God for the opportunity, prayed through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother and asked the Holy Spirit to guide me through my performance.
I felt like I had danced my very best that day. I truly felt like the Holy Spirit was present. I dedicated the performance to my own mother. She is my greatest supporter and has always been ever since I first choreographed “Mother” at 14 years old and told her that I wanted to dance at World Youth Day. She would have been so proud and would have really loved the performance! But even though she wasn’t there, the positive feedback from the audience made up for it! The audience applauded loudly, calling it “Beautiful!”, “A dream!”, “Amazing!” Many volunteers, including the performing arts coordinator, who surprised me by coming to my performance, stayed after to take lots of pictures with me and even asked for my autograph!
Though the main reason why I had gone to Brazil was to fulfill a lifelong dream, I gained more from this experience than I had imagined. It is great to be able to make a dream come true, but what is even greater is sharing this dream with others. I not only shared this dream with the audience and the volunteers present at my performance, but with my family, friends, and supporters back at home. I was overwhelmed by the warmth, the generosity, the kindness, and incredible support from everyone I had met along this journey. I was a witness of God’s love and found my true calling in the process.
And what is my true calling?
At first I was reluctant at the idea of sacred and liturgical dancing. I liked it, I was good at it, but it was uncommon. Other churches included dance in their services or their feasts but not so much in the Catholic Church, at least not in the US. But our first Catechesis speaker made me realize something. Archbishop Charles G. Palmer-Buckle of Accra in Ghana (West Africa) had told the pilgrims that “Jesus doesn’t need you. He wants you. He loves you just the way you are.” That made me realize that Jesus wanted me here to dance, and not just in Rio, but for the world. And not just for myself, but for Him.
The minute I opened up my heart to dancing for the Lord, I saw dancing EVERYWHERE! Every morning at catechesis, the Brazilians from the parish of Santo Cristo dos Milagres would lead us in singing and dancing. Then at the catechesis Mass on Wednesday, there were South Africans who performed a beautiful traditional offertory chant and dance. At the Main Events, there was always dancing. We even did a flashmob for the Pope, and the cardinals and the bishops joined in, too! And of course, my most favorite dancing experience happened during the evening before the final Mass. As over 3.5 million people settled into Copacabana Beach, a small group of Brazilians near our campsite began beating their drums and shaking their tambourines. Soon I joined with other pilgrims from all over the world and began to samba para Cristo (“samba for Christ”, and if you don’t know, samba is one of the most popular dance styles of Brazil). We danced samba into the night, never forgetting that we came from all ends of the Earth to share in our faith at World Youth Day in Rio.
But it was the words of His Holiness Pope Francis that sealed the deal in making me answer my true calling.
“Go. Do not be afraid. And serve.”
Pope Francis, World Youth Day Closing Mass
Sunday, July 28, 2013 at Copacabana Beach
Every bit of doubt left me. I felt empowered by his words, and my confidence rose. I came to Brazil with a dream, but I come back to the US with a calling. I am meant to dance for the Lord, as a part of the new evangelization, and I hope to share this ministry with others through performance and instruction.