It’s pouring, my shoes are soaked, my backpack drenched. I look up and strain to keep my eyes open as I’m pelted with rain drops. I couldn't care less. Above me is one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen. Someone grabs me from behind in a bear hug and exclaims, "How awesome is this?" All I can manage is a stifled "yeah" before another barrage of rain drops consumes my attention. I look up again at the cascading waterfall and stare in awe at the torrents of water falling from above and smashing into the rocks. It feels like I’m in some fairytale land, but I’m not. Even though I’m surrounded by pilgrims and tourists, I feel like it’s just me and God.
Our pilgrimage began with a farewell Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newcastle. Family and friends bid an emotional goodbye to 28 pilgrims bound for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After many conversations, a quick nap and much needed food, pilgrims arrived in Buenos Aires. Our ever smiling guide, Claudio, displayed his passion and enthusiasm for his country as he gave us a quick impression of Argentina on our way to the retreat house in the suburb of Pilar.
Immediately, the reality of where we were hit hard. Shanty towns, streets littered with garbage, barbed wire around homes and the odd street bonfire were enough to wake up our pilgrim group - all of whom were keen for a shower and a good night's sleep.
Refreshed and having taken in a tour of the city, we set about three days of mission work, organised by Brs Alvaro and Santiago from the Christian Life movement. Our first two days were spent at El Arroyito Community Centre where inside the compound we sanded and painted classroom tables and chairs and installed waste bins in the streets. As we mingled with locals, it became apparent that the small help we provided had touched hearts and changed lives, for both the locals and our pilgrim group.
The third day was spent at Asana, a home for some of Buenos Aires less fortunate. As we painted a couple of classrooms and installed a grotto with a statue of Mary, the smiles of the people in the centre rewarded us.
Meanwhile, the camaraderie in our own group had reached new highs. From singalongs at every opportunity, nicknames, thought provoking prayer sessions and a variety of tour games, we had formed a real community. We had gathered just five days earlier, many as strangers, and through teamwork and a collective spirit we formed friendships that will be long lasting.
While the mission work was tough and confronting, there was an air of disappointment that we weren´t staying to do more. Relaxation awaited us, however, as we flew to Iguazu – the home of one of the world´s great natural wonders.
We spent the first day exploring the town, buying souvenirs and sampling the local cuisine and ice-cream. However the Falls provided the real magic. Countless cascades took our breath away and we couldn't help feeling that little bit closer to God.
And, that´s a good place to be as we arrive in Rio.