We are all missionaries!
15,000 young people visit ACN's exhibition at WYD Rio 2013
“Come on in … it takes less than 15 minutes...” This inviting phrase displayed on a two-meter-high screen was seen by the approx. 15,000 young people who came to the exhibition in Rio de Janeiro organised by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during World Youth Day. The exhibition was set up to receive ten visitors every three minutes, but already on the first day this number was increased to 15 visitors. On the final day, so many people wanted to see the exhibition – which was part of the official cultural programme of WYD Rio 2013 – that it was even necessary to take groups of up to 25 persons. The national and international team of ACN staff was supplemented by 40 voluntary WYD helpers to welcome the young people who came to the exhibition venue at Largo da Carioca.
“What impressed me most was that neither the rain nor the cold nor the adversities could diminish the success of the exhibition or the young people’s interest,” said Father Evaristo Debiasi, ACN’s ecclesiastical assistant in Brazil. “The youth is really looking for something very profound, and they see that it is Christ alone who can give – in the very depths of their heart – the answer to what they most desire in life: love and happiness. I could hardly have imagined that, with its short videos, ACN’s exhibition could be so capable of touching the hearts of thousands of people.”
The majority of visitors were Brazilians aged between 19 and 25 years who had travelled with groups from the various cities of the country. But the attendance of people working nearby was also noticeable, because the ACN exhibition was held at a very central location and many people were able to take the opportunity to visit it during their lunch break. Among the foreign visitors, people from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Mexico were represented particularly strongly. The latter were especially moved by the film of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The exhibition comprised six darkened tents in which short videos were shown displaying the missionary work of the Church. These made a particular impact on the hearts of the young people. At the end of their tour through the tents, they found the Most Blessed Sacrament set out in a very brightly lit chapel with a translucent roof within the last tent. On encountering the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, they knelt or sat on the floor to meditate – for much longer than the 15 minutes foreseen by the exhibition’s organisers – thus demonstrating that the new generation, which calls itself “the youth of the Pope”, thirsts after God and is also prepared to make sacrifices for what is worthwhile.
Bruno Pires is a 23-year-old Brazilian. He grew up in a Catholic family, but later became alienated from his faith. He found his way back to the Church when, as he put it in his own dramatic formulation, he felt himself to be “a piece of junk that was no longer worthy of life.” He earned the fare for the journey by selling cakes and pizzas: “I was not aware of ACN before, but you are showing what the Church is and what it has done, and this exhibition definitely arouses the desire in young people to join in; perhaps not in a faraway missionary station, but certainly in their own everyday life.” The young man declared: “The exhibition was very dark. One could see the work of the Church, but one could also see sad and dramatic situations. At the end of the show, one entered a totally brightly-lit room in which the Eucharist was displayed, and there one saw Jesus Christ, the light that can change all of that.”
After passing through the chapel, the young people entered the International Pavilion. This held the booths, not only of various national offices of ACN from all round the world, but also of various religious orders and missionary movements that came into dialogue with the young people and opened new horizons for them.
“The exhibition was a great help to me in considering what I can do to help the Church and to help people,” said Malgorzata Szwed, a young woman from Poland who worked as a voluntary helper in the exhibition. “This work of raising people’s awareness of the various possibilities for giving aid throughout the world is very important.”
The exhibition was also visited by the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who took the opportunity to address a word of thanks to ACN’s benefactors: “I am very pleased to express my greetings to the benefactors of ACN. I was born in the former Czechoslovakia. Our country received much aid from Father Werenfried, as did many other countries of Eastern Europe during the Communist period. This work has now been expanded to cover the whole world, and the support given by the many donations in all countries, also here in Brazil, is a great help for the many needs of the Church. I would like to express my most sincere thanks to ACN’s benefactors: ‘Muito obrigado!’”
Now, 15,000 young people carry the name of “Aid to the Church in Need” in their hearts. In order not to lose sight of the charity’s mission, the exhibition showed not only what the Church is doing now but also what still remains to be done. “We believe it is very important for the young people to see that faith is not just a festival. It is necessary for us to do something to make the world around us a better place. And this depends on every one of us,” concluded José Corrêa, the Director of ACN in Brazil.
The exhibition was open from 22 until 26 July. It took place at a central location in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. To the astonishment of the visitors, the Popemobile drove past carrying the Holy Father, who greeted and blessed the young people.