MAGIS pilgrims all across Brazil experienced grace in a myriad of ways as their literal and figurative journeys drew to a close. Aparecida pilgrims completed the last leg of their trip. Belem’s musical performance opened last night and we finally have a thorough update from Brendan Busse, SJ. Read on:
Aparecida was a sight for sore pilgrim eyes (and sore legs, feet, arms and everything else) on day 5, the final day of the voyage for Emma Scuglik and the rest of the pilgrims trekking to the distant city on foot. After a typical Brazilian breakfast (bread and meat with a side of cheese) the pilgrims set out, re-energized with clear eyes, full hearts and destination within reach.
“The sun was the hottest so far, and it was a struggle of willpower and faith to continue on, but our early start helped,” wrote Emma. Just when the heat became nearly too much to bear, pilgrims turned a corner to be greeted with a panoramic vista of the valley and the basilica in the distance. Filled with joy, the sight made the toughest and most painful leg of the journey through the city worthwhile. Bells chimed at noon at the exact point of the pilgrims’ arrival at the basilica gates. The pilgrims opted to save exploring the basilica for tomorrow, choosing instead to recover and reflect over their monumental journey at the pilgrim house where nuns awaited the travelers’ arrival. Today the pilgrims will spend the entire day, refreshed and renewed physically and spiritually, sightseeing in Aparecida and more thoroughly investigating the basilica.
Said Emma, “I’ve never been so tired in my life. It feels like my body got run over by a truck, and then it hit reverse and ran me over again. Yet I am so happy — we all feel this happiness, they joy of finding God in each other, in our struggles, and now in our accomplishment.”
Preparations for the musical in Belem were a flurry of activity the night before the big show. Pilgrims stayed up late painting scenery and practicing dances while making time for breaks and general camaraderie. Nevertheless, the cast and crew were up early as usual and walked over to the performance site, a Jesuit parish. Brendan wrote:
“This walk was, in my imagination, a sort of micro-pilgrimage — walking to the place we’d been preparing for all week. As we walked and as we drew closer and closer to the destiny of opening night, we pondered all that we had done and what was yet to come.
“Along the way, it became clear from some of my conversations that the tone of the group was turning,” wrote Brendan, and as it did, he realized that in the desires the pilgrims were naming, they needed “to know that they can still find joy, but also wonder what happens when the high-energy joy of youth is no longer available to them, when their friends leave or grow up, when the dancing stops, when the silence starts.”
Upon arrival at the parish, the pilgrims held Mass outdoors in a Lourdes grotto in the church parking lot. The pilgrims shared their feelings and reflections on the week during the homily. A tambourine on the altar served as a hat for the pilgrims to offer up slips of paper with feelings and prayers written on them. “I found it apt that the ubiquitous percussion instruments found their way even into this quiet moment,” said Brendan. “There were tearful confessions (‘I’m sorry if I was tired and impatient with anyone’); there were professions of love and affirmation (‘You guys have done such a great job all week’); there were many desires named (‘It’s hard for me to share feelings. There are many expectations on me at home. I want to know the love of Christ’).
The Mass seemed to quell the pilgrims’ nervous energy about the production and allowed the crew to move into the rest of the day with the simplicity of purpose. The final hour before curtain was naturally frantic when the TV news cameras showed up along with the crowd of ticketholders (comprised mostly of parishioners and host families). But last minute lighting glitches were sorted out and the group gathered in a circle on stage to pray. Fr. John Gavin, SJ said a simple blessing and then…”Places!”
“Considering the circumstances of its production, I have to say that the show was really quite impressive,” reported Brendan. The musical included four songs: a Korean ballad, “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables, ” The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and a lyrical version of “Gabriel’s Oboe.” The music contained themes loosely connected to the emotional arc of the narrative, telling the story of the Jesuits’ arrival in Amazonia: first contact and massacre (two groups of Jesuits met this fate); evangelization and protection of the indigenous from the Portuguese; expulsion of the Jesuits and the destruction of the mission; and the return of the Jesuits and the devotion to Lourdes (the patroness of the parish). A dynamic set allowed for the construction and destruction of the mission church on stage. Performers were met with loud applause after every number.
After the show, there were many thank you speeches, and then two Brazilian folk dancers entertained the crowd before a large potluck dinner. After dinner, lights out…laser/disco-lights on…and…yup…a dance party with confetti, a “Gangnam Style” redux by the Koreans, lots of Coldplay and more “Gangnam Style.”
A little after 10pm the music stopped, the lights came on, pilgrims quickly dismantled the set, stacked chairs and were shuttled back to the MAGIS center in the small cars of generous parishioners and host families to sleep peacefully before traveling back to Rio de Janeiro, keen anticipation for World Youth Day from all corners of Brazil building up as the day draws near.