04 August 2013

A piece of my heart will always belong to Brazil

Well since my return home from Brazil this past Tuesday it appears the travel and exhaustion have caught up with me.  This morning the husband and I spent the morning in urgent care after I awoke to find my eye crusty and goopy (thankfully it wasn't pink eye!).  After some anti-biotics, special eye drops, and constant use of my netty pot I am hunkering down the rest of today till the good ol' medicine starts kicking in.  Jim thought he was funny last night, but more bordering on annoying  as he helped hold my hair back as I did my ever-oh-so-attractive-nasal-rinse and as I am doing my nasty thing he gets this big grin and pipes up: "Gee sweetie, remember that "in sickness and health" thing from our wedding...do you really think God meant to include this in the job description!? "  My response wasn't something exactly charitable and not something I probably should repeat here, but later afterwards we both were able to chuckle about it.  Ohhhh marriage:)

So since I am relaxing in bed today, I decided to crank out this post that has been long on my heart even while I was still in Brazil.
I have been really privileged to do a lot of international traveling in my young adult years that has left me with some amazing memories and really shaped me as a person both emotionally and spiritually.  This most recent pilgrimage to Brazil to attend World Youth Day has left a much deeper impression on my heart than any other WYD or perhaps than any other trip has.  I wanted to make sure I reflect upon it now before I forget and it just becomes a pleasant memory in my heart when I glance at video's or pictures of the years.

Friday, July 19th our group left Detroit and flew direct to Sao Paulo, Brazil and arrived early in the am on Saturday.  Let's just say the sleeping pill + plus constant turbulence didn't allow for the most restful sleep, but I survived it and was just looking forward to the next time I could go to bed:) A bus picked us up at the airport to take us to a town called Jacarei, a suburb of Sao Paulo and about a 45 minute or so bus ride.  As we pulled into town, our bus kinda knocked over a motor cycle and set the alarm off on it; us Americans know how to announce our presence! ;)  As we pulled up next to Immaculate Conception church there were about 40 or so people waving, cheering, and waving the Brazilian flag.  As we got off the bus, honestly the only way I can compare it to is going through a reception line at a wedding as the bride and groom: people just passed us down the line, hugging and kissing us..some even handing us gifts fresh off the bus!  You could just see it in their faces how excited they were to have us here.  And then suddenly they just started grabbing our luggage; I certainly didn't mind the help especially as I packed a bag that was 48 pounds:)  After dropping off all our gear at a storage room in the church we walked a few blocks and walked up the stairs into a building where they prepared breakfast for all of us American pilgrims.

Now when I say breakfast, you may think milk, cereal, and a little fresh fruit, right?  Well what these good souls prepared look like breakfast, lunch, and dinner together! We're talking multiple fresh fruits like mango, papaya, and guava, fresh bread and meats with cheeses, several types of meat casseroles/pastries, cookies, cakes, and then a multiple abundance of fresh fruit juices distinct to Brazil.  WOW. My cup and tummy runneth over.  Of course everything was homemade and you could tell some of these people had gotten up early to make us this dee-lic meal.

The parish priest, Fr. Pedro (an awesome man of God with a killer voice who deserves an album deal with Sony!) welcomed us all in his native tongue, Portuguese and they all clapped for us...closest I ever felt to being a celebrity!  Then Fr. Pedro led his congregation in praying the Our Father in their language, and afterwards invited us to all do so in English. very. cool.  And then the feasting began!
Even before arriving in Brazil, I threw weight Watchers out the window for the time I was there and boy am I glad did!  I tried a little bit of everything and there was nothing I didn't like; for a sometimes picky eater like myself this was a big deal.  I thought I was full until the nuns came around offering second helpings of meat pie, cake, and fruit juice....how do you say no to a cute, smiling nun!? To it all of, there was a gentleman who was playing traditional Brazilian music that only made my desire to get up and learn the samba even greater in me:)

As we were eating the people of the church just came up and talked to us, and we were given a little bag with some welcome gifts.  While staying in Jacarei, each of us would be put up by different host families of the parish; so while the eating, talking, and live music was going on the host families were trying to figure out and find their new American sons and daughters.  After we stuffed our faces with Brazilian yumminess, Fr. Pedro let us know we would go spend the day in the park and doing some activities there.  Afterwards we would come back to the church where our families would come collect us, and then we would spend the evening with them at home until all meeting at church that evening for a fiesta.

After we breakfast we loaded a bus and were off to the park!  As we left, my Dad called my Mom to let her know we safely arrived.  After he got off the phone, I said to him, "What ya say to Mom?" With a chuckle he replied, "I told her we enjoyed a Brazilian feast, that we are now on a bus somewhere in Brazil and having a One Direction sing-a-long." :)  I sat with an awesome young man studying to become a priest.  Andre and I even added each other on Instagram and Twitter and between by not so great Portuguese were able to have a great talk.
The afternoon was spent catching the tail end of Mass for some African pilgrims, walking around, playing on the playground equipment, and enjoying a rousing game of "Telephone" complete with both English and Portuguese words:)

After a fun afternoon at the park, we were pack at the church waiting for my host family to come get me.  Right away I felt at home in Eduardo and Adriana'a lovely home with their daughter Maria Luisa and son Dado...and the most adorable little lap dog Lola, complete with little yellow bows in her hair.  My first mission? Getting a hot shower!  I stank of travel and knew it and couldn't wait to be clean...it really is amazing what a good shower does for your morale.  After my shower, my host mama Adriana gave me a beautiful necklace with the image of Our Lady of Aparecedia; a Brazilian image of the Blessed Mother and the second largest Marian shrine in the world only after Guadalupe in Mexico.

After shower time, Adriana had set out some food which I was not opposed to as I was feeling hungry again.  Honestly it felt like a mini version of breakfast from this morning.  We spent some time getting to know each other.  They shared about their home, lives and I told them about my life back home in Michigan.  There were a few times words didn't make sense in the translation, but thankfully my host papa Eduardo had Google Translate nearby to help with any language issues!  Right away, Eduardo, Adriana, and Maria Luisa made me feel so welcome and a part of their home and even though I wasn't a whiz kid at Portuguese or they didn't know certain English sayings...we bonded our our similarities, our Catholic faith:)

That evening we went on the town in the piazza outside of the church for a beautiful Brazilian summer fiesta; we're talking more delicious food, singing, dancing, and lots of laughing!  I even learned how to samba:)  I came home (cause it already felt like home:) on cloud nine and humming new Brazilian tunes in my head as got ready for bed.

The next morning I slept in a bit and went and breakfast on the back patio with Adriana.  True to form, she had another yummy spread out for breakfast which included something sweet n' special I love called Nutella.  Eduardo joined us also, and the three of us just talked and talked, it was really so wonderful.  Eduardo told me about the political situation in South America, specifically Brazil, and how democracy is still a very new thing here.  Many Brazilians have only known very corrupt government leaders and dictators.  We talked about how Eduardo and his wife met and the lings of work.  They asked me about my husband and life back in Michigan.  We talked about the Catholic Church.  Interestingly enough, Brazil is a country where people are VERY respectful of the Church, nuns, priest's.  Even with a growing number of Evangelical churches, Catholicism is still very rooted in this country and people are fairly consistent in their practice.  Especially when we were in Rio, it was not uncommon to see regularly in restaurants people make the sign of the cross before eating and the taxi driver's are like advertisements for a local Catholic bookstore with rosaries hanging on the mirror and holy images of Jesus and Mary on the dashboard.  Eduardo also shared with me that for the most part the media in Brazil is fairly tolerant and speaks well of the Catholic Church; honestly, when I heard that I was pleasantly surprised because here in the United States that is not the case.

After a nice leisurely morning of food and relaxing, we were off to meet up with the rest of the host families and our American pilgrims for a morning prayer service.  At the prayer service, a deacon led us in some song and a bit of history behind the story of Our Lady of Aparecedia and then we prayed the Angelus together (a traditional Marian prayer).  Afterwards we headed back home, because all the other pilgrims and host families were coming over to the condo complex my family lived in for Brazilian BBQ...these people love a good party! :)
Sunday afternoon was filled with Fr. Pedro singing, more dee-lic food fruit juices, tons more dancing, and even a friendly soccer game between Brazil and USA.  Already our American pilgrims were SO touched and humbled by all the kindness these people, my Dad organized all the USA pilgrims to sing a song to our Brazilian hosts...the only one we thought everybody would know?  Take me out to the ball game:)  So we sang our little American hearts out with this slightly cheesy song, but afterwards when the people of Jacarei gave us a standing ovation, you could tell that they loved it.  I'm sure somewhere there is a video of us signing horribly off key to this well known American tune... ;)

Sunday evening we got to get our Jesus on by going to Mass, woot woot!!  All the American pilgrims got walk in with the processional and sit up front together with our host families.  To top that off, my Dad who is an ordained deacon was able to proclaim the Gospel in English to a Portuguese speaking congregation during Mass.  It was so surreal, and I know for him one of the most spiritually touching moments for him thorough out the whole pilgrimage.

I cried like a baby through the whole Mass. like. a lot. After Fr. Pedro's homily, another priest who came with us from the States who also happened to speak the language spoke words our gratefulness on behalf of all our pilgrims.  The communion hymn was "We are one body in Christ."  If at the beginning of Mass I was crying, by this point I was sobbing.  The words of the refrain took on such a new meaning for me, "We are one body, one body in Christ and we do not stand alone..." Here I was in this little parish in Brazil, not knowing a lick of Portuguese but being able to come together and worship together...and it was our worship of God as Catholic Christians that made us a family, one body in Christ.  I have been to beautiful basilica's all over Europe but nothing perhaps may ever be able to compare with the sacredness of going to Mass in this humble Brazilian church.  After communion, Fr. Pedro sang a song to honor all the American pilgrims...by this point I was handing out tissues to other people around me.  After that our dear friend Pedro from the town stod up and spoke in English (as he was cried...I'm toast when I see others cry!) how much he and all our families loved us and deeply cherished our few days together.  Then, he handed out special gift bags with things from the parish to remember our stay here.  After that, the whole church gave us a standing ovation (turn on the water works!) to honor us.  After Mass ended and the final hymn was sung, we had another 20 minutes or so of more hugs, tears, and LOTS of group pictures.

A second family...(L to R) Adriana, Maria (another American pilgrim), Eduardo, Maria Luisa, Dado, and me:)

Brazil and United States...two countries forever bonded in love and friendship <3
 Afterwards we headed out to the piazza for a final evening of dancing, yummy food, and merry making! I danced my heart out and laughed and had such a great time!  Fr. Pedro was around visiting with some of his parishioners and at one point in the evening he was chatting with my Dad, and Dad motioned me to come over.  Fr. Pedro asked me if I was having a good time and enjoyed my visit in Jacarei.  I eagerly nodded and said to him, "Fr. Pedro part of me doesn't even want to leave and head onto Rio.  Can I just stay here and watch the Pope on TV with all of you?"  He smiled and laughed a hearty laugh, and then said all of us would always be welcome in their homes, in this parish forever.
How is it that people you have only known for a few brief days can leave such a lasting impact on you?
Monday morning was up early to meet at church and catch a bus that would take us for a quick visit to the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Aparecedia and then later that evening to Rio.
Eduardo and Maria Luisa drove me to church since Adriana had to leave early for work that morning.

When we arrived at church there were tables set up and people from the parish were giving us water bottles, snacks, t-shirts, and other things as memento's from our visit here.  You could tell people were putting off their goodbye hugs as if waiting could hold off those moments just a little longer.
I hugged Maria Luisa and Eduardo goodbye and thanked them so much telling them how I loved every minute.  Eduardo called me his American daughter.  We all exchanged Facebook, Skype, and e-mail to stay in touch.
As I get on the bus all the host families were waving, cheering, and singing us farewell songs (yup you guessed it, water works went live at this point for me!).  As the bus pulled away, there were lots of tears and waving flags out the window.  I yelled out to my Brazilian papa, "See you on Skype, Papa!"
Even as we left, I still sniffled back tears for a bit longer under the coverage of my sunglasses.

I never have experienced such a welcoming spirit, love, and hospitality from people I barely knew in only just a few days ago.  These people welcomed us in and made us feel one of their own, a part of their family.  In the Bible, Jesus said "I was a stranger and you welcomed me..."; we experienced nothing less than that of the people of Jacarei from Immaculate Conception parish.
Since returning home, my Dad and I have already said we would go back and visit again...hmmm maybe Brazil road trip 2014?? ;)

And so that is why folks, a piece of my heart now will always belong to Brazil...to the awesome family and friends I have made in Jacarei:)


  1. Thank you so much for sharing. It is so nice to live vicariously.

  2. Love looking at the Brazil photos. BTW, you may already know, but I nominated you for a blog award. Stop by my place to check it out seester :)

  3. Thanks for sharing your story here. What a spirit-filled pilgrimage for you. (And now I'm hungry for some good breakfast like you had!)

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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