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SSVP youth changed by WYD pilgrimage

In a sneak preview of the reports from Scottish pilgrims back from World Youth Day Rio, Brazil, in this Friday's SCO, here is an account from three pilgrims who travelled with the Society of St Vincent De Paul Scotland

July 6-15: The cities of Sao Goncalo, Trinidade and Itaborai

Our work with the SSVP Brazil

By Paul Breslin Strain, Barrhead

Our work with the SSVP Brazil took us to some of the poorest parts in Rio. We visited a number of parish conferences, were shown around SSVP projects and centres, participated in local Vincentian work and visited people in their homes. What surprised me was the welcome we received, everyone was so joyful and thankful that we had come to see them and spend time praying with them.

In working with the SSVP members we learned to look at the individual and the family unit rather than the situation. The members built relationships in the local community and made themselves and the society a clear presence in even the most dangerous of neighbourhoods. They emitted love and joy, they were more than serving the poor in their community, they were helping their friends and neighbours.

The poverty we saw in each of our visits was harrowing. One image that sticks in my mind was a small toddler playing and chewing on a doll that was broken and filthy. This image summed up the reality for millions of Brazilians. The sprawling over-populated favelas crammed with poorly built shacks, were full of similar stories, with people lacking even the most basic of facilities and barely having enough money to feed themselves. It saddened me to see how little the families had, considering the excess many of us have in our lives.

What struck me the most while meeting the families was their love for one another and their love and complete faith in God. Their faith and hope was inspirational, however it was difficult for us to understand how they can have so little but be thankful for so much.

The most poignant memory I have was on our visit to the ‘old people’s home.’ The conditions were a far cry from here in Scotland with many residents sharing large dormitory style rooms, having only a bed to call their own. After being shown around the home, meeting and praying with many of the residents, we asked if we could entertain the residents with a song and dance. After our rendition of Flower of Scotland, some Irish dancing and sloshing to La Bamba we said our final goodbyes. The lady who manages the home pulled us aside. She spoke of a severely disabled man in a wheelchair who was positioned at the back of the hall. She said that ‘the man has been here for six years and for six years he has shown no emotion. Today he smiled for the first time and tried to clap his hands along with the music.’ Our very own miracle in Brazil brought a tear to all of our eyes. We sang and danced for 20 minutes, however with such little effort we brought joy into that man’s life. The motto of the story for us was that even the smallest actions, can make a big difference, if they are carried out with faith and love.


July 18-21 Vincentian Family Gathering, Belo Horizonte

By Kirsty Robbins, Dunblane

Our time in Belo Horizonte was an experience. Being part of the first Vincentian Youth Gathering gave us all a sense of pride in the work and projects we are involved in back home and being surrounded by another 2000 people who share the same aim was inspiring. On arrival to Las ciuade dos meninhos (City of Children), we looked around slightly panicked and a little confused, our group was split into boys and girls and we were shown to our accommodation for the next few days. The communal showers, lack of doors and the bars on the windows gave us an uneasy feeling and we sat pondering how difficult it would be to recreate The Great Escape. In the morning we had our first session with Michael Thio (SSVP international president general, above), his talk to us on mission and the work he has done throughout the years made us all realise that the work we do regardless of whether its spending 5 minutes praying with someone or building a school, all makes a difference to the people we meet. After his discussion we gave our surrounding another look, feeling slightly guilty about our previous thoughts and complaining about it, at least we had hot water. We began to become more involved and really enjoy what we were doing while in Belo Horizonte, we had some inspiring and great sessions with different people from all over and made some great friendships. Most of us also became pretty apt in samba after a few nights. Our last night ended in true Brazilian style, after a stage show with different performers the party spilled out onto the streets, we danced, we sang, we talked until the early hours of the morning. We then split into language groups and headed back to Rio for WYD. All in all Belo Horizonte was not what we expected, at first in all honesty we wanted to leave but after beginning to understand and remember why we were out there we all began to relax and fully enjoy the experience. It will be a time I’ll never forget and hope I remember the lessons we learned.


*After a 16 hour bus journey that should have lasted 6, we arrived back in Botafogo to be assigned our accommodation. There was a slight difference in the accommodation- the boys were sleeping on a school classroom floor but the girls were furnished with hot showers and hairdryers as they were staying with local, unbelievably welcoming families.


July 21-28 World Youth Day, Rio de Janeiro

By Daniel Byrne, Barrhead

The week of World Youth Day was finally upon us and without a doubt it was the leg of the trip that each of us was most looking forward to. For the previous three weeks everything that we had done was in anticipation of this great event and as we arrived back to a pilgrim packed Rio our excitement only grew. As Pope Francis arrived in the city we each had very different first encounters of him. Some caught a glimpse of him in his car, some crashed a service for the people of Argentina but for every single one of us that very first sight of Pope Francis left us with a great joy, excitement and appreciation of what we were about to partake in. Attending the main events; namely daily Mass and Catechesis, my understanding of the importance that faith has in my life today was increased significantly. I learned that in a country that is becoming ever more secular it is ok to have faith, it is ok to say no to the general flow of society, it is ok to stand up for my faith. And that I think will be my biggest challenge, to carry out the task Pope Francis has assigned us. To go and make disciples of all nations. None of us really knew what to expect from this week as for many it was our first World Youth Day experience. I certainly found it difficult not to be overwhelmed by the whole experience. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in silence on the Copacabana with three million other young people was completely surreal, so overwhelming in fact, that it’s still very hard to describe. But it taught me that I am not alone in my faith and from that I have taken great comfort. The week was incredible and the people I spent it were just as great. It was a truly unforgettable and moving experience.

Don’t worry, we did also take some time out to relax and enjoy the stunning country that is Brazil.

— View the SSVP Brazil photos at Be warned, you could be there for a while! They hope to see new recruits at the National Meeting.


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