A Sincere Thank you

By Samuel Clear (Mission Coordinator & Managing Director of Harvest Inroads)

There’s a moment in the Gospel of John, after the crucifixion, where the disciples have been left speechless and overwhelmed with disillusionment. Peter’s response was simple, “I’m going fishing,” and the disciples followed. The next morning, after a frivolous time-passing night tossing nets back and forth, the risen Christ appears on the shoreline and with a fire crackling away invites them to come and sit, to enjoy a BBQ on the beach with the creator of Heaven and Earth.

For all that we saw and experienced in these past few weeks, the sense of overwhelming enormity could easily swamp us. “How do we take what we encountered into our everyday lives?” As Jess noted in her final post though, the answer does seem to lie in joy-filled hope and unity. Before we departed the USA, when it all seemed like it was a bit overwhelming, Bishop Peter tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Sam, where do we go from here?” I’d heard that question many times over from the pilgrims, but not from this angle. He continued, “I don’t want to head back to Sydney and just leave the journey on pilgrimage. We need to sit down and discuss what we can do back in Australia.” Indeed, we do, and in some way each pilgrim has began that journey – resting for a while, taking stock of what has transformed us and moving forward with hope to unite ourselves with the suffering, the despondent and the vulnerable, to uphold the dignity of life.

We’re home, we’re rested and we’re still breaking out into random smiles, quietly recounting the privileged moments we were immersed in on this inaugural Guadalupe Expedition. From everyone here in the Harvest Inroads office, we’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the pilgrims, mission providers, guides and inspiring contributors of this foundation-setting journey. To Bishop Peter & Jess – thank you for serving with extraordinary competence and joy. While each individual pilgrim’s journey in life takes shape as a consequence of this pilgrimage, so too does the life of Inroads. A Brazil mission trip in July and two to the Holy Land next summer. As for a second Guadalupe Expedition in 2013? Well we’ll see what comes of these ‘chats’ with the Bishop…

Lock and Load.

God bless and peace be with you. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

 

Samuel Clear.

 

 

Marching for Life – through the eyes of Australians!

By Jessica Langrell (Pilgrim Leader)

4 Days is simply not ample time to “see” a city, no matter where in the world, but to claim to cover the great city of lights in 4 consecutive days? Crazy! Alas, we did more in those 4 days than many travellers would do in year’s travels. Aware of our limited time we managed to see a Broadway show, ice skate in between of the tallest of buildings, dine with local New Yorkers, spend a whole day in service to the prolife work of the Sisters of Life, eat with the producers of ‘The Human Experience,’ and spend a full day in the stunning surroundings of Connecticut in prayers and reflection on retreat! Did I mention the shopping? This too, was not neglected.

Aware of an early start and 5 hour bus ride to the capital of Washington DC at the crack of dawn, we as per usual were up till late! With alarm sounds ringing on and snooze buttons acknowledged, we packed our bags once more and headed to the bus. Rated as one of the most difficult mornings to rise, this struggle was quickly dispensed when we opened our rooms blind to see gentle flakes of snow falling on the dark city roads! Aware of just minutes before the bus departed, some took every second to run and jump around in the slippery wet snow and those still trying to awake themselves took pleasure in the drastic weather change from the other side of the bus windows!

Arriving just after lunch in the somewhat slightly warmer city if Washington DC, we headed straight to the Catholic Information Centre for our daily private Mass with Bishop Comensoli (still an unbelievable blessing) followed by a free afternoon strolling the capital streets enjoying a hot cup of Starbucks coffee and sweets. Gathering later that evening for our first official event in collaboration with the March for Life, we joined a couple thousand young people in the Hyatt Hotel for the Life Youth Rally. This event featured short addresses, testimonials and groups that were working separately and uniquely yet with a shared vision to end abortion and enhance the dignity of life in the main states and campuses of the USA. Like many typical youth events, it was loud, there was music, much socialising and networking, all setting the groundwork as we build up to the great event two days later.

An unexpected yet strangely fortunate disruption occurred during this Youth Rally. As we were listening to one of the speakers present, several people equally dispersed throughout the crowd began to stand and yell in protest of the event. A moment of uncertainty and awkwardness for the speaker and audience as we watched the protest unfold was soon so eloquently taken care of. The protesters were indeed angry, they were staunch and unwilling to converse but rather simply there to disrupt. Several young people approached them with smiles and openness to listen to their concerns but it was quickly made known they were not there to share or receive, but simply disrupt. Security was called and quickly it got more physical with some strongly refusing to move and yells getting louder. Personally uncomfortable in this strange and what felt like helpless situation, Lila Rose (Director  & Founder of Life Action - http://liveaction.org/) took centre stage. Immediately she gained our attention and asked each of us to join us in prayer. To pray for the end to abortion, for the women in their distress, and more importantly we prayed for those in protest. We saw unfold in front of us and witnessed our greatest weapon of the prolife movement; prayer. Lila led us in prayer as we heard yells of anger and distress from the protestors slowly be replaced with a feminine, peaceful and gentle voice back by thousands of young people. Soon after the protestors left and the rally resumed.

With our first hand experience of the prolife scene in the US, each of us was eager to seek and know more about how this battle is being lived out by the youth. We all dispersed to our American families who so generously welcomed us into their homes as we rested overnight, to join back early Sunday morning for the Cardinal O’Connor Conference in Georgetown University. The highlight of this conference was not only getting a public acknowledgement from the guest speaker Archbishop Charles Chaput, but it was his presentation  called “Disability; A Thread for Weaving Joy” (http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/01/4575), which I highly recommend for reading.

Leaving us on a note of inspiration and purpose, the following words gave direction as to why half a million Americans (and now internationals!) show up each and every year in the freezing cold to walk down a street;

“These children with disabilities are not a burden; they’re a priceless gift to all of us. They’re a doorway to the real meaning of our humanity. Whatever suffering we endure to welcome, protect, and ennoble these special children is worth it because they’re a pathway to real hope and real joy. Abortion kills a child; it wounds a precious part of a woman’s own dignity and identity; and it steals hope. That’s why it’s wrong. That’s why it needs to end. That’s why we march.”

Following this great conference we made our way to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Basilica for the National Prayer Vigil and Mass for Life run by the Washington Archdiocese. Words will never give justice to the mystery of the Mass and at this Mass we joined at least 30,000 other Catholics in what was simply indescribable.

The pews of this enormous Basilica were filled without an inch spare 7 hours before it began, the procession alone of seminarians, deacons, priests, bishops and Cardinals took what would justly fill the time of a Sunday Mass a whopping 45minutes to just reach the sanctuary. Who said the Church is diminishing?

This cohort of devout Catholics and men who have given their lives to God alone could change the world. The faith began with 12 committed disciples, so a packed Basilica filed with youth and religious can transform the world in no time. Watching hundreds upon hundreds of priests bowing before the altar as they approached the seminary with tens of thousands of onlookers singing with every breath they had filled me with great excitement to think of how this would compare to heaven.

This cohort of pro-lifers now joined together at the Supper of the Lamb to worship and give thanks to the God of Life would make any man tremble at this sight. Leaving the Basilica being sent forth in peace to proclaim the Gospel truly felt like God Himself was again commissioning us as He did on the Day of His Ascension, bestowing on us the most important mission of our time; to protect and enhance the dignity of life.

Departing once more again, which felt more like floating; we joined our local American families for what literally felt like seconds of rest to meet at 6am in the city for the day all of us had been preparing for – the March for Life. I honestly awoke this morning questioning just how good could this day really be? How could our days continue to be so good when we had seen with our own eyes the miraculous tilma, had the most remarkable time with the orphaned children in Mexico and spent such an incredible week in New York not to mention the past 24 hours we just experienced! Indeed God cannot ever be outdone in generosity – today was the icing on the pilgrimage of a lifetime.

We began typically with coffee and donuts as we gathered at the Verizon Centre (which is a huge entertainment arena usually occupied of concerts and sports games) for the Youth Rally & Mass for Life before embarking upon the streets to march. We were blessed with the best seats in the house, just 1 row from the centre stage; it was party time for life as we listened to some of the most talented Christian singers and artists including our good friend Jackie Francois (http://www.jackiefrancois.com/).

 Collecting ourselves after hours of joy filled fun and laughter, all 30,000 of us reached for our rosaries and prepared for the Mass. This moment alone was utterly affirming and incredibly inspiring to hear pin drop silence as a packed stadium of faith filled young people and religious contemplated on the life of Christ through the eyes of Mary in the Rosary.

Following this we were led immediately into the Holy Mass which saw again another cohort of seminarians and religious and our very own Bishop Comensoli make their way to the altar.

Before the Mass began, the principle celebrant read out the Holy Father Pope Benedict’s words of acknowledgment and support, and then acknowledged each Bishop present which was immediately followed by an earth shaking roar from the Bishops diocesan youth who had accompanied them to the March. For the first time and from the longest distance, we were honoured to be a part of this moment when they welcome Bishop Peter. Expecting just a humble scream from what was predominantly a small group of women and a few men from Australia in our pilgrimage group; we were suddenly accompanied by the whole arena with vocal support as they welcomed us as part of their movement for life!

Following the Mass, it was hardly bearable to march, with every experience of the last 10 days building up to this event, we were ready to run! Joining what has now been known, as close to 500,000 people marching together for the prolife movement in the USA alone, we joined a nation in their stance for the most vulnerable. This march was not a solemn walk; it was a celebration of life and love. Songs were singing, friends reuniting, amps blasting beats from the backs of friars, flags were waving, children running round everywhere, university banners flying – the whole march echoed unity and hope.

This led me to understand the real solution to building a civilisation of life and love, in Australia, in our schools, in our work and universities is rooted in the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe and indeed we have seen the fruits transforming the Americas is being prevented by despair and disunity but is more now than ever before being redeemed and transformed in hope and unity.

If you can think back again for a second about the atmosphere here in Sydney World Youth Day… the abundant joy, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, uncountable religious amongst the youth, colourful banners and flags and an overwhelming sense of unity and hope – you’d be able to understand the vibe of the March for Life.

But even more so humbling was the contagious joy, limitless confidence and pride each young person boasted in their faith and that is the most profound and genuine witness to life; people being honest and proud about what they believe in and  not being afraid to embody these beliefs in their daily life.

‎15 Aussies, 2 Leaders & 1 Bishop took to the streets today of Washington DC today to stand for life. How far we have come in the last 10 days. Never before so hopeful, never before so passionate, never before so at peace. Watch out Australian soil, we’re on our way home!

“Never give up the struggle that the March for Life embodies. No matter how long it takes, no matter how many times you march—it matters, eternally. Redeeming and converting a civilization has already been done once. It can be done again. But we need to understand that God is calling you and me to do it. He chose us. He calls us. He’s waiting, and now we need to answer him.” Archbishop Chaput

United in prayer & mission for Life,

Jessica Langrell

 

The Triumph of Meaningful Suffering! A Pilgrim’s journey from pain to fulfillment – Pilgrim Reflection

By Pilgrim Anitra Yu

As the youngest pilgrim on the Inroads’ Guadalupe Expedition and my first pilgrimage overseas and away from my family, my first reaction to my parents’ full support cannot simply be expressed in a few words! I had registered a good few 3 months ago and as I was counting down to our takeoff I had thought about the different places we were going, wondering who we would meet, the food we would have, our accommodation etc but as inexperienced as I am, not one split second did it cross my mind how extremely worn out, how tired and how sick I would be during this 14 day pilgrimage. A 17 year old who had just finished her HSC, that was definitely the last thing anyone could imagine. So leaving for an early flight on 13th January, I was totally pumped though half asleep! Not looking forward to spending so much time on a plane having not been on a plane since I was 4 and not remembering the experience at all. Sleepy but unable to sleep upright, I had no choice but to stay awake and keep myself entertained with movies whilst trying to understand what the other two ladies sitting next to me were saying (unfortunately they didn’t speak English so communication was a bit of a problem).

Nevertheless the other 16 pilgrims (Bishop Comensoli was yet to meet us in LA) and I arrived in Seoul with eyes barely opened and patiently awaited our flight to LA which was made easier with their International Airport wifi! Jetlagged as we were, we boarded out flight to LA (another long flight) and arrived safely where we were delighted to see Bishop Comensoli with a big smile on his face. After our visit to Our Lady of the Angels and celebrated mass in one of their chapels we were excited to arrive at our hotel and sleep properly!

Early wake up call by Jessica Langrell who shared a room with me was probably not the most delightful thing at 5am in the morning but I do commend her for doing it with the slightest nudge of her hand! Little did I know that not only was I very tired and could barely stay awake and that half the time I got my words mixed up, the shock of such long flights was starting to take its toll on me. We boarded a 3.5 flight to Mexico City and like mentioned earlier, the plane was going at extremely high speeds despite the strong turbulence and the landing was indeed ROUGH! It affected not only me but a lot of other pilgrims! As for me, I experienced severe motion sickness. The moment I got off the plane my first thought was: I think I have a phobia to planes now and that’s not a great start considering how many more hours I was going to spend on planes.

My secondthought was: I was dying to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe – it was the height of this first leg of the pilgrimage and being sick was NOT what I had planned. Fumbling around feeling light headed and was about to throw up at any moment, I fetched my travel wallet. Thanks to Lauren Langrell who was quick to notice my awkwardly strange movements she kindly offered her arm to me as she patiently walked me over to immigration. Seeing the lines at immigration (a lot shorter than the ones back in LA) was a bit of a relief but feeling somewhat faint as well, every second felt like hours. So early in the pilgrimage I felt a spiritual battle within myself. I knew that God had called me and the other 17 pilgrims to this once in a lifetime experience and to feel sick so early on brought many questions of doubt but I knew that God wanted me to learn something from that experience and one thing I learnt quickly was to not that the friendship and love of all 17 pilgrims for granted. Each of them had something to offer me whether it was just a friendly smile or a quick, “Are you feeling ok?” Thanks to our coordinator Sam- well’s height he could easily grab the attention of an immigration officer and in the next one minute I found myself sitting in their waiting room. 

Lauren and I were immediately greeted by 2 Mexicans who knew no English and all I really remember was Lauren’s repetitive responses, “Hola amigos” and “Gracias” – two complete strangers to us, Lauren’s cheerfulness definitely helped me get through it. First they led Lauren to get paper cups of water for me and I thought I would be outta there in no time! 10 minutes had passed and this time another 2 Mexicans walked into the room, though this time they were nurses and again spoke no English. They held up a needle at my face and seeing Lauren’s first reaction with her mouth open was definitely a never – to – forget moment. With the help of basic sign language I communicated to the nurses that I was happy to take their motion sickness needle. Having taken so many needles in my lifetime and reading the side effects columns on their pamphlets, the last thing to expect from this needle were side effects. As I felt the needle push through my right arm and Lauren holding onto me, I could see in my peripheral vision that secretly she was close to flinching. I learnt later that Lauren has a phobia to needles so I am forever grateful for the 30 minutes she was with me waiting till I could get myself back onto my feet. Going back on not taking things for granted, I realised that by the time I had left the room and met up with the rest of the group that I had delayed our plans. I did not hear a single complain and Sam who noticed I was still recovering wheeled me while I was sitting on luggage! Having left the airport, all looked fine again until….

24hrs later..

BAM! I was sitting in the dining area in the hotel for dinner with 4 pilgrims when I felt this heat wave come over me. My right arm started swelling and becoming tense and at once I knew that it was going to take a few days to recover. Dinner was only half eaten and I walked back to my room at 9pm while everyone else was enjoying dessert and were later having a big ice-breaker to get to know each other and to share what they had experienced over the past few days! It really, really sucked feeling like a massive heat pack but a big shout out to Eva Tarchichi for her supply of neurofen! The lack of sleep and the rain that swept us during out visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Tepeyac Hill really pulled me back physically but without this experience I would not have advanced spiritually.

For the first time in my life I felt I was being pulled to my limits but that was what God had in plan for me as well as every other pilgrim. Stepping out of our comfort zone wasn’t easy and giving our time and love to those who were in need was a challenge. During our final day in Mexico, we had the great privilege to spend time with the Missionaries of Charity at their orphanage offering smiles to young children, young adults and the elderly, many of whom had disabilities or were just found on the streets, some in garbage bins. At that moment, I realised I had nothing to complain about – that my sickness was going to pass in a few days but that these people at the orphanage were going to suffer every day of their life – one of the greatest sufferings being parentless. This was where each of us got the opportunity to see Christ present in every person – to realise that everyone is a child of God, to love without holding back and to understand the dignity of human life which is often taken for granted.

Looking back, being sick was the best blessing for me during the Guadalupe Expedition. To all the pilgrims (hola chicas and chicos), if it wasn’t for your help and support while I was sick, I wouldn’t have made it through! 

In Christ,

Anitra Yu

“Today I learnt what it means to LOVE, as Christ loves” – Pilgrim Reflection

By Pilgrim Maddie Vella

Christ commanded; “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” As children of God we are called to love our brothers and sisters. I have journeyed through my entire life hearing and accepting that commandment but failing to understand it… until today. Today I learnt what it means to LOVE, as Christ loves.

After waking up in our stylish hotel in the heart of Mexico City, most of us were complaining about how tired we were as we piled our plates for breakfast. I had no idea that I was about to experience an encounter that would transform my heart.

Boarding the bus bound for Santa Fe in Southern Mexico City I absorbed the culture around me: people everywhere, crazy drivers breaking road rules, children eagerly waving to our bus and the unavoidable poverty, evident on every corner.

We eventually arrived at the Sisters of Charity Missionary Orphanage. Blessed Mother Theresa’s grace and presence was extremely noticeable to me when I entered the orphanage. We were told by Sister Lorissa that there were three sections we would be working in – children, youth and elderly. We followed Sister through this house of peace, up the stairs to meet the orphaned children. Many of these children had disabilities and needed extra care, but the joy in which they received us was simply over-whelming. Sister asked who wanted to stay and work with the children. I would have loved to have spent the day with them, however something stirred within leading me to believe that Christ had other plans for me that day. He had a challenge in store for me and a lesson in humility to teach me. So, I didn’t volunteer.

After farewelling the children and some fellow pilgrims we continued to follow sister through the house, back down the steps, past the comforting image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and into a room that immediately echoed the painful wailing of one of the 19 disabled youth there. Suddenly I knew this was were I needed to spend my day in mission. I know how to love children, that is easy, but I didn’t know what it meant to love the sick, the dying, and the vulnerable. I was about to rediscover the grace and mercy of Our Lord, as He began to teach me humility and love.

When I entered the room there was an extremely confronting image before me, and my first instinct was to withdraw, to run back up and play with the children.  But then I realized, that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus never turned His back on someone in need, for we are all equal and loved in the eyes of God. I trusted and I surrendered my hesitation to God’s will as I found myself extending a hand to this young girl with the most captivating smile.

Sister Lorissa wasted no time preparing for lunch. We lined up and received a plate of food with a name. Little did I know that the name on that plate belonged to a young girl who was about to change my life. I walked over and began to feed her. It took a while to get used to it but we worked together and communicated through our eyes and by smiling. I was so captivated by Edith who was bound to her wheel chair and couldn’t speak or use her hands. I wanted to know more about this girl, so I asked Sister Lorissa.

The first question I asked was how old she was. She was 25. This was the first shock as I thought she was about 13. Sister told me that if Edith wasn’t here she probably wouldn’t be alive. She was abandoned by her mother at birth and had lived in the orphanage ever since.  I then asked sister what disability she had. Sister told me that Edith’s disability was caused by the medication her mother took when she was pregnant with Edith. Her mother was taking medication to abort her but it had failed and meant that Edith was confined to a life of disability. I was deeply moved by her story and the gravity of the importance of the Pro-life movement began to sink in.

As I was feeding Edith I was wondering how these sisters could dedicate their life to doing this day in day out for their entire life. The more I thought about it the more I began to realize that if I had to, I probably could, as in, if I had to care for my brothers I would do it without hesitation. It was then that it hit me – this young woman was my sister. I was called to care for her, to express my concern for her, to dedicate my time for her and to love her.

Initially I thought I was the one doing all the giving. I was the one who had done the noble thing by travelling across the world to give up a day to serve the orphaned. I never once stopped to consider that I might receive something in return. As the day progressed I realized – I had given very little in comparison to what I had received. God’s reasons for calling me to that room allowed me to learn a great lesson in humility and love. I cannot express in words the gratitude I feel towards Edith.  One may question how a young girl in a small orphanage in a big city can change someone’s life? How can she demonstrate sacrificial love? Trust me, she can, and she did. The joy and the peace she radiated was overwhelming and through her zest for life and comforting smile one’s heart cannot help but be transformed and begin to learn how to love as Christ did as He hung on the cross for our Salvation.

Christ died so that we may have life and live it to the full. At the orphanage I was confronted with this reality – no matter what your circumstances are, no matter what challenges you face, no matter what crisis is going on in your life – Christ is there. He dwells inside each and everyone of us, patiently waiting for us to acknowledge that so that he can bring out the best in us; so that we can learn to love as He did. Once we say ‘yes’ to God’s will the graces are abounding. We are graced with the privilege of having God’s love poured into our receptive hearts so that we may empty that love into the world and share it with others.

So let us pray that we may always strive to be instruments of Christ’s love and reflect this love in the decisions we make and the people we meet. Let us imitate Christ here on Earth and through this may we always seek Christ in others. Let us recognise that God has given us everything we need to live according to His word. Loving is hard sometimes, I won’t deny that – we only have to look at Christ’s suffering to understand that. He had to carry His cross, the cross that he would later hang from and continue to show abounding love and forgiveness as His final actions here on Earth. Why?  – Because He LOVED. By surrendering to God’s will, Christ was able to Love. In what should have been perceived as the moment of Christ’s despair proved to be the pinnacle of His glory as the resurrection was His reward for loving. Let us do God’s will and learn to love like Christ so that we may seek heavenly glory as our reward.

May we also be comforted by the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II –

“Do not be afraid to be the Saints of the new millennium!”

Your sister in Christ,

Madeleine Vella

Day 5 – Neewww Yoorrrkk & Sisters of Life (+ Peanut Butter Cream Pie)

By Samuel Clear (Mission Coordinator)

A 4:30am wake up call is never a delight, but when you didn’t even order it, well, heads will role… I mean, what an amazing opportunity to offer a sacrifice! Oh my goodness – it took so long to even register that the phone was in real life and not randomly ringing in the obscure recesses of a distant dream. The bottom line though was that we did need to be out the door at 5:30am to make our flight to New York, USA, so after another half an hour’s sleep we wearily wandered downstairs to our waiting bus. Nothing seemed to evidence how tired we were more than Lauren falling asleep at the airport, while standing up. No joke. Kiara had misplaced her immigration form, which we hoped wouldn’t be a big deal, but it was. So with the group checking in, our tour guide, Armando (please role the ‘r’ as long as your breathe will allow), whisked her off to the nearest police station while Jess led the legal pilgrims through security. Arrrrrrrrrmando was a Godsend, sorting out the potentially disastrous situation in record time, having a very relieved Kiara standing at the gate with nearly an hour to spare.

For most of the relatively empty flight from Mexico City to New York our pilgrims slept. It had been both a physically and spiritually stretching few days, but one row each ensured a comfy bed to lay flat on. For the few of us able to stay awake the rising through horrendous city smog trapped in the expansive Mexico City Valley revealed three snow-capped island-like volcanoes towering above the sea of pollution, with one puffing away, sending a tumbling plume of ash and soot high into the atmosphere that spread out to create its own second, lighter band above the smog.  The cabin remained silent for most of the journey, apart from the occasional out-bursts of laughter from Maz in the very back row. Maz didn’t sleep, and the airline hosts enjoyed her company.

Pilgrims Paul and Tien each successfully transferred large prints of the Tilma through United airlines freight, but we were holding our breathe with Maz. She hadn’t noticed that the Homeland Security line had moved on and so was mid conversation when an angry voice interjected, “Are you quite finished talking miss!” Now, for most people, the simple thought of ticking off Homeland Security is enough to pull them into gear, but Maz, without battering an eyelid, turned without a fuss to face the officer and replied, “Well, actually, no, we aren’t, but we can wrap it up if we like.” Her passport was snatched from her hand, stamped and thrust back at her with a scowl. Maz just smiled and said, “Welcome to America,” and walked on. Ten kudos points.

We were off for our second sleep of the day, commonly known as a bus ride. An hour north of New York is Stamford, home to the Sisters of Life’ Villa de Guadalupe, a new retreat house set on acres of lawn and spindly winter trees. Crisp air, patches of snow and an abundance of hot, home-cooked food greeted us, ushering in what we pilgrims had desired – an opportunity to rest and recover. Yes, we apparently still needed more sleep.

The Villa de Guadalupe (www.sistersoflife.com/villadeguadlupe) (CHECK) is normally reserved for holding retreats for pregnant woman, those who’ve suffered through an abortion or those struggling with life-issues, so we are truly privileged to be welcomed into this refuge and to learn first-hand from the sisters how they bring love and light into such troubled lives. Simply sharing in the celebration of the Eucharist with them was peace-filled beyond description.

Peace-filled, yes, somber, hardly! The Sister’s of Life bounce around this place like kids let out of the car at the McDonalds playground after a long drive. When it’s time to gather, a sister skips through the hallway’s ringing a bell, ushering to come with a smile and joy. We’re told they pray and fast regularly, so we’re assuming that the peanut butter cream pie and Hershey Chocolate cake after dinner were especially for our arrival. Maybe not though.

As pilgrims we seek to learn wherever we go; to learn to be humble, to know God, to know who God’s created us to be, and last night we were blessed to learn from three sisters the charisms of their work. They spoke with passion, with intellect and with joyful wit. The average age of the Sisters is 28 years. Wow, what a counter-cultural establishment this place is. It was with some reservation that I followed on from the sister’s presentation with a sharing about my own experiences in mission. I wasn’t reserved for having to follow on from the sisters, but that I may end up being the second pilgrim to fall asleep on their feet that day! Falling asleep during your own talk is never a good sign.

We settled in for the best night’s sleep of our journey. The early mornings, the distances travelled, the three tabernacles in our huge villa and a private room each ensured we rested soundly and woke with humble smiles to enter into a full day retreat with the Sisters, learning more of their mission and the inspiration that drives them. We also played cricket. That was about all we could offer them and apart from the Sisters continually sliding into the wickets to make their ground, “Ok, that’s good, but you only have to run past them,” we had a brilliant time. It’s good to be on pilgrimage.

 

Cheers and God bless,

Samuel Clear

(Inroads Manager)

Day 4 – The Missionaries of Charity; Christ’s Feet & Hands

By Samuel Clear (Mission Coordinator)

She’s about 22 years old, confined to a wheel chair and drooling through a broken smile. She can’t speak a word of Spanish, let alone English, yet manages to communicate her needs with us through restricted contorted hand gestures and either joy for yes or aggravation for no. She wasn’t born that way though. Not until her father beat her, inducing severe brain damage, did she become the young woman we met today.

To fully process the heart-breaking day, where us pilgrims stepped off the paved road to work alongside the Missionaries of Charity in southern Mexico City, perhaps requires less than we may have at first thought. Sitting here in the early evening now, in front of the tabernacle and tilma at Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica, the resounding lesson of “Love without counting the cost,” cuts deep.

We were there for one day, but those missionaries, and more so those residents, will remain there day in day out until God calls them elsewhere. From the infants staring up at us wide-eyed, through to the physically and mentally disabled elderly requiring total assistance, the common factor was a desire to be loved, shown affection and recognition. The overwhelming reaction from the pilgrims though hasn’t been one of sadness, but of profound joy in being privileged to be the hands of Christ. The, at first, confronting landscape, when saturated in love, became a thing of beauty.

Arriving initially at the Missionaries of Charity house was a task! Two unnamed pilgrims were no-shows, sleeping in well past our 8am departure, and with no gentle waking nor breakfast, they were out the hotel door quicker than you can say, “Hang on, aren’t there 18 of us?” A pilgrim’s path is full of obstacles and detours and when in Mexico City, you can add to that more cars than every state in Australia combined! Donabel and the Spanish-speaking driver chatted the entire way. She had no idea what he was saying, which was apt, because he had no idea what she was saying. They both appeared content with that arrangement.

We thought we were headed for an orphanage to play soccer with awesome little kids and perhaps visit the bed-ridden elderly, but the 20km, hour and half drive landed us at the doorstep of significant personal change. The inconspicuous double-storey complex with a confined grassed courtyard housed around 20 disabled elderly, 15 disabled teens and 30 children, some with disabilities, some simply without a family. There was no fuss given for our arrival or to educating us about how the home worked. We were simply offered a five minute tour and asked, “Split up and help where you can.” So we did. Immediately a few pilgrims were reduced to tears. Where do you start? We slowly found our places and began playing with the children, feeding the elderly, pushing wheelchair-bound teens around, cleaning tables and simply offering smiles as freely as possible. One-year-old Diego wasn’t exactly difficult to offer a smile to though. He clung to the Bishop in particular, but was quietly sought out by a number of other pilgrims.  At age one, he had all the charm in the world.

A heart-felt and genuine, “Thank you for helping us,” from a local volunteer broke me. How do they do what they do day after day and give so much alongside the Missionaries of Charity without receiving accolade, pay or even thanks from those they care for, was soul-searching. Sr Lariesa put it in perspective, reiterating Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s words, “We must give without counting the cost. God will not ask how much have we done, but how much love have we put into it.”

By late afternoon, as our time came to a close, two groups of High School students moved in to take our places. One teacher admitted that their students were struck with fear and sadness when they first arrived, but now, with each monthly visit, they looked forward with joy to being the very real presence of love in each person’s life. Moved by the experience of today, Lauren Langrell perhaps felt that the mission house was a beautiful place to stay and live as she jokingly stepped across the threshold into the private quarters of the sisters as they said goodbye.  What she didn’t bargain on was a few of the sisters quickly throwing the gate closed behind her and locking her in. “Bye Lauren!” The sisters raucously celebrated their easy catch.

We returned to the Basilica and it’s serene surroundings for two hours of quiet contemplation. It was very quite. We are privileged, and we all posses a dignity beyond description. Driving back through the darkened streets of Mexico City to our hotel, Bishop Peter piped up, “Today alone has justified this pilgrimage.” Simple nods of the head concurred.

Lord Jesus, may they forget us and remember only you.

God bless and peace be with you.

Samuel Clear

(InRoads Manager)

Day 3 – From the Avenue of the Dead to the Patroness of Life!

By Jessica Langrell (Pilgrim Leader)

Los Angeles – what a start, New York, New Yoorrrk – how incredible and fun this will be, Washington DC – how inspiring to walk amidst others united for the cause of life…but Guadalupe? This is no doubt the summit of our trip thus far and the one-day each of us eagerly anticipated more than any other site, event or cultural experience. Speaking to the group individually, for the majority of us – it was what drew us to this pilgrimage, and for others it has become their new found devotion.

 

Our Lady of Guadalupe in the miraculous Tilma is unique from other apparitions. As Blessed John Paul II said (having visited the shrine twice in his pontificate), “Our Lady is present throughout the world in all the shrines built for her, but she LIVES in Mexico!” Indeed this apparition is most miraculous because we are given from God himself, the only and most beautiful depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an awesome gift to mankind. This gift is the only image (apart from a man made statue in Rome) that depicts the Holy Virgin pregnant with the Child Christ, for this and countless other magnificent reasons, she is the Patroness of the Americas, and the Mother of a Civilization of Life and Love.

If this blog were perpetual in nature, only then would it in some small light attempt to convey the profound meaning and boundless insights into the miraculous Tilma and its purpose, but unfortunately words cannot fully comprehend what we saw and received in Guadalupe, or what God has done through this apparition. What this will do is provide a brief account of our special encounter…and the rest…I’d advise a little vacation Mexicano-style to Guadalupe in your next break. Though if this too is not possible, no problem signore, there is one book after much personal research into the apparitions that I have found has most successfully and adequately covered the story of the Tilma and I recommend it genuinely – “Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Civilization of Love” (Carl Anderson).

Back to our trip – before we arrived in Guadalupe, we needed to understand where the culture was at around the time of the apparitions and why, so fittingly, did the Lord God chose to bless us with this image at this time, in this place, to these people.

 

Our morning drew us northeast into the ancient world of Teotihuacan and its monumental archeological discoveries. Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas and most likely in the world. This pre-Aztec city contains the Pyramids of the Sun, a breathtaking 215 foot pyramid, the awesome Pyramid of the Moon, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the grand Avenue of the Dead. So renowned was this city for its spirituality to pagan gods, which had a strong emphasis on the honor of human sacrifices, women, children and relatives or friends of those in high social regard.  The human sacrifices would take place on the top of these huge pyramids in which human hearts were removed from the chest of the person before being offered to the pagan gods. Once the Spanish conquerors began to arrive, more specifically under the leadership of Cortez, so too came the countercultural Catholic faith. The Franciscan friars who followed soon after Cortez in 1524 were the main directors of the faith, although not surprisingly they had moderate response and conversions, the truths and beauty of the faith and the life it had to offer was so starkly different yet so unwaveringly attractive to the Mexicans.

Among the early conversions was Juan Diego, a peasant, simple and humble man who along with his wife Maria saw the light within the witness of the friars.  At 55 years of age, Juan and his wife were baptized Catholics, although Maria died within a year due to illness, Juan continued to strengthen his faith and devotion to Mass and regular catechesis. About 3 years after Juan’s conversion, the Blessed Mother under the title of ‘The Most Perfect Holy Virgin Mary,” appeared to the layman Juan at 4 different times, the final in which she bestowed upon him the image we have travelled to see.

Back to our travels to discover this story of the 480-year-old Tilma and its continued unfolding even unto today, we bypassed a small cultural center on the way to the pyramids to learn about the arts and crafts of the locals.

“Open your eyes amigos from Australia!”

it was in this brief but so wonderfully interesting and engaging encounter with the culture of the Mexicans that we learnt so much about their people. From how they produced paper, to tilmas, tools, jewelry and even the infamous local tequila! All in all, much was learnt and much enjoyed. Speaking of ‘learnt,’ one of our pilgrims Lauren learnt what its like to be proposed to! Our guide, who had taught us so much and gave us now what refer to as each other as ‘Chicos’ (boys) & ‘Chicas’ (girls) had popped the big question to one of our youngest pilgrims;

In the typical straightforward Mexican manner, he asked quite positively “Chica, will you be my wife?!” To which Lauren, mind you without hesitation and probably without any idea of the implications of what she was about to say pulled off an eloquent ascent and replied “Ariba!!” Still, we had much to learn.

After this interesting encounter, we headed off for the pyramids and Avenue of the Dead. Being led through the main arena from our guide, we were generously given just over an hour to explore these unreal pyramids which were honestly surreal to look at with a beautiful array of mountainous backdrops.

Alas, up we ascended, the first pyramid over 80 steps and onto the mammoth 300 steps of the Pyramid of the Sun. And when I say steps, I don’t in any way mean typical Aussie building steps, these were all-fours climbing steps that were not only great in number but gut wrenchingly steep.

I myself being a not-so-height-friendly one indeed struggled through each and every step, particularly on the descents. Although looking at the pyramids from the base, was simply not a worthy experience of this ancient site. And the panoramic view of Mexico City from the tops, was worth every gasp and drop of sweat.

If the climbing was not difficult enough in itself, add the sheer number of hundreds of people ascending and descending together, the thought constantly crossed my mind…”If one goes, we all go!” Parents, fret not, all survived!

Boarding the bus with awfully weak legs, superb memories and Kodak moments, we made our way to the Basilica. Being dropped off just outside the Shrine, we soon were immersed in typical Mexican street craziness. People everywhere, cars flying by regardless of pedestrians, almost a red light camera run at each stopping, taxi men yelling for possible takers, religious souvenirs offered persistently no matter how many staunch rejections made; a cultural experience first hand. This being our first encounter with the Basilica was particularly special, we had planned this to be on the Sunday, the busiest day by far of the week for visitors at the Shrine. Shoulder to shoulder yards from even entering the Shrine, it was crazy, but gosh was it fun! Holding relentlessly onto our purses and bags, we made our way amongst hundreds of others, as crowds of people have been doing to this Holy site since the apparitions less than 500 years ago!

We allocated 4 hours to this visit, but it felt like 5 minutes. With over 8 Churches in the last 500 years constructed in this Shrine on Tepeyac Hill, numerous well kept gardens and an uncountable number of statues and devotions, we slowly immersed ourselves as one of the many thousands of pilgrims soaking up the atmosphere. Heading first to the site where the first apparition and church was built, we were met by a local Legionary Priest Fr Brian who generously gave his time to be with us and share some insight into the story of Guadalupe and what it had brought to the culture. After this visit, the heavens broke loose & out came an abundant downpour of heavy ran and cold winds, apparently so foreign to the Mexican weather in January. Forcing pilgrims to seek shelter in the many churches, we visited the Church of the Well. This church was constructed over a place where fresh water began to flow the same time the final apparitions were made. After a brief visit, we then headed (or should I say bolted) over to the main Basilica to celebrant the Holy Mass under the sight of the miraculous Tilma. To our great fortune our Bishop Peter concelebrated at the Mass.

One of the many great reflections from this day, which individual pilgrims will post on this blog within the next few days, was the devout faithfulness still preserving within the Mexican people as if the apparitions had occurred on this day. Indeed they were the greatest examples to us of prayer and devotion. Expecting a more ‘touristy’ feel to the Shrine, how far, and fortunately this was from that. It was not a tourist destination; rather it was a common place of worship so reverently and devoutly part of the Mexican people. What a joy and inspiration it was to see the local families and people of all ages come in humble petition in search of the intercession of the Blessed Mother of Guadalupe so distinctively part of the people they were. A lesson for all.

After Mass, we had a brief opportunity to come close up to the Tilma. They have behind the Sanctuary a passage way for pilgrims to gain a closer look at the garment, in which also included a revolving floor. Though the vast enormity of numbers demanded such an inclusion. Though once passing by was simple not enough for most of us, having going past the Tilma several times, reluctantly time got the best of us and we again were on our pilgrim way.

As I said, it was closer to 5 minutes than it was 4 hours, and we found ourselves once again rushing to meet each other at the bus for departure.  This evening following supper we had our first group discussion. Here the hearts and desires each one of the pilgrims, their reasons for coming, and hopes for their lives upon return to home were so openly and personally shared. It is one thing to experience pilgrimages as one in search of the Triune God, but another invaluable blessing to do so alongside others with the same goal. It was beautiful to hear how each of us had gotten to this place, how each had been called on this pilgrimage, but what was really intriguing and utterly exciting for all, was what God was doing, was planning on doing through the rest of the trip and has planned for each of us in our lives ahead. So let us be on our way!

United in prayer & mission for life,

Jess Langrell

On behalf of the Guadalupe Expedition Group.

Day 2 – From the City of the Angels to the City of the Dead now brought to Life!

By Jessica Langrell (Pilgrim Leader)

Here we come Me-hi-co! Let’s face it, I’ll be honest, languages are not my forte, but there are definitely points for trying.

This morning we are Mexico-bound as we struggle to drag our weary bodies out of bed for the 5:30am group meeting in the hotel lobby for our flight. I’m not quite sure what’s more difficult; trying to sleep awkwardly and intermittedly for 20+ hours on a flight or finally putting your aching body to rest and only allowing it only a couple hours eye-shut! A stark reminder of the ways of the pilgrim; discomfort is reluctantly welcomed yet most always included! We are not made for comfort but greatness! (Try saying that to 18 young sleep deprived pilgrims at 5:30am…I’d strongly advise against it).

Today we spiritually deepened our pilgrimage as we began our daily prayer routine, although keeping in mind almost nothing goes to plan; we strive each day to achieve the ideal. Beginning with a morning prayer and blessing led by Bishop Comensoli, we then all as a group recite the renowned ‘Prayer for Life,’ by Bl John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae.  Throughout the day we listen to and read when possible about the backgrounds and reflections of those wiser to comment on our religious places of visit. At some point discerning which moment sees it best, we pray the Rosary together for the intentions both private and those of our family and friends which each of us pilgrims carry close to our hearts on this pilgrimage. We have so fortunately access to Daily Communion in the Holy Mass and accompanying that; Bishop Comensoli is leading us each day through homilies and ongoing reflections on the charism of life and how we can live this out in our Christian vocation of daily life. God has not been outdone in generosity, the blessing of having a ‘Bishop On Call’ allows each one of us to approach the Bishop at any time of the day, at any place during the day for the oh so wonderful and merciful Sacrament of Confession and Spiritual Direction when needed. This alone would suffice a wonderful 13-day pilgrimage! On top of all of this – we have the magnificent Holy places which we set out feet on each day to engage, pray, reflect and admire upon.

After what seemed a ridiculously speedy flight and more awkward-sitting-up-dozing, we landed safe and sound in the wonderful Mexican land. We landed safely, but I didn’t say healthily. Boarding a somewhat much smaller airplane craft as we are now flying domestic trips – air pockets were much more appreciated. With the odd turbulence, nothing extraordinary but enough to upset your stomach, some of us struggled more than others, which did add to time spent getting our feet walking steady again. Alas, as good pilgrims do we pushed on and with a bit of water and food, all smiles were returned.

Soon after clearing security, we were warmly greeted by our new tour guide by the name Armando. Note the pronunciation “Arrrrr-man-dohhh,” the more the effort, the more the appreciation (and amusement) from the locals! This was an interesting contrast from our last US tour guide by the name of ‘Arnold,’ indeed we had crossed from one State!

Directly off to our hotel, which mind you has been so pleasantly and practically chosen (cheers to Inroads!). Just walking distance from the main City square & Cathedral, 3 blocks the city markets, 2 blocks from Zara (appreciation from the Chicas), 1 street from the frozen yogurt shop (that’s for Lauren J) and across the road from the bank! It honestly has made our ever so brief 3-day stay in Mexico all the more exciting & efficient, so most can be achieved in little time.

We all hurriedly dropped off our luggage, checked in & met promptly back in the lobby to get back on the streets before nightfall to see the intriguing city. Heading straight to the Catedral de Metropolitana (1563) so fittingly for Mass, we were welcomed into the city as we had in LA by the Lady of the Angels, now from the Perfect and Holy Virgin Mary of Guadalupe in her Catedral.

Having a quick chance to prayerfully explore the Catedral, we made our way to the Chapel of the Holy Angels for our own private Mass with the Cardinals MC, Fr Francisco.

This was another sacred blessing and honorable privilege to celebrate Mass in the Catedral of the City we reside in, with our own pilgrimage Bishop, alongside the local priest, in the Chapel of the most Holy Angels who light and guard, rule and guide us everyday, and in the City of Life!

At times this pilgrimage seems more like our fondest dreams than reality taking place before us, and sometimes the struggle is more to remain in the moment and appreciate everything as it takes place. Yet this too is impossible, sometimes these blessings and the hand of the Lord working in our lives doesn’t make sense or are even known to us till some time after them taking place. For this reason, especially on-pilgrimage we must remain open, prayerful and trusting so that He can do His marvelous ways in and through us, and pray we understand in His time.

Now, we truly feel at home.

Finishing the Mass and for the first time in the pilgrimage, all were granted ‘free time.’ Enough said & all were off. To the markets, to the shops, to the restaurants and holy sites, to chat, to rest, all having the freedom to settle into the City as wished. Regrouping for another great meal, it was wonderful to laugh and reminisce about the countless experiences in the last couple days and look forward to with joy and utter excitement about the unknown wonders lay ahead.

Adios Amigos!!

 

United in prayer & mission for life,

 Jess Langrell

On behalf of the Guadalupe Expedition Group.

 

Day 1 – From Sydney through Korea, finally onto LA to begin the Pilgrimage!

By Jessica Langrell (Pilgrim Leader)

Rising in the early midst of the day to make our group call at the Sydney International Terminal at 6:00am sharp was a little harder than expected. Whether it be because of the fact that just 40minutes sleep is not ample opportunity to be able rise with a smile or possibly it was the thought of leaving other family members behind that added extra weight to getting oneself out of bed. Travelling, the moving from one place to another, or more appropriately to us, pilgrimaging can be a deeply moving and life changing experience and in some ways burdensome. Either way, if looked upon through eyes of faith – it is a stark reminder of our Christian vocation and what St Mary MacKillop reminds us of; “we are but travellers here.”

 

Our group consists of many frequent and not so frequent travellers, some quite regularly hop on a plane for leisure, some almost monthly for work, and others have rarely stepped outside the familiarity of Australian shores – yet all of us united with the passion and drive to spend 13 days in pursuit of how we can more devoutly live out the charism for life in our own lives. We are teachers, we are manufacturers, directors, students and we are especially blessed with Shepherd of the Church, each of us with a unique and special avenue to promote and enhance the dignity of life.

With a couple of hours to spare, luggage all checked in and casual introductions accomplished, we all headed for our last “Aussie bite” before boarding the 23hr flight journey. In true Aussie style, the more fancy pilgrims headed for a last ‘maccas run,’ which of course is vital when you are well aware you may not experience the same great beef paddies in the US, the home of McDonalds, an opportunity some could not pass!

We took with our 10 hour flight to Korea, most of us whom had much sleep to catch-up on were out of it within minutes of boarding, some not even recalling the takeoff they were in such deep sleep! A smooth ride, couple of movies, several meals and snacks, a rosary or two and we had landed.

With only about 1-2hrs stop over in Korea, most appreciated the ability to walk around with more than an aisle to move the legs, free wireless (good one Korea!) and no queues for the bathroom. Boarding again in no time for our second trip, this time a couple hours more with just under 12 hours flight time, admittedly was incredibly more uncomfortable, there’s only so much serious sleeping one can do whilst sitting upright. Alas, we made it, although over an hour delayed and almost 2hours to get through the rigid immigration and security we left the airport by about 4:30pm.

With unexpected and extended delays in the airport – our scheduled 3:30pm Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was getting more and more unlikely. Additional to our airport delay, a little miscommunication between the bus companies andour first destination set us back another 30minutes. The main concern was that some pilgrims had friends planned to meet us at the Cathedral & American songwriter, speaker and artist Jackie Francois had so generously also agreed to lead us with the hymns and music for the Mass at the Cathedral!

 Hitting the freeway, the traffic was apparently typical LA fashion with bumper to bumper cars, we got the call at 5:25pm that the Cathedral was strictly closing at 5:30pm and we were at least another 20minutes till destination.  A few group Hail Mary’s to the Lady of the Angels, and did she show us her intercession! We finally arrived at the Cathedral at 5:45pm to find Jackie Francois and two Americans literally stopping the doors from closing with their feet and ever so nicely trying with all their efforts to persuade the Sisters and staff to keep the doors open for the Aussies coming.  Praise God for the Americans! Due to their efforts, hanging round at the Cathedral for us for over 2 & a half hours and their door stopping feet – we had access to the magnificent Cathedral of the Angels – and ALL to ourselves! Not another visitor in sight

Then our next mission was to plead for access to the side chapel to say Mass, although alike all Cathedrals and Churches permission from the Monsignor was necessary. So the security guard got on his radio and then we realized our best asset yet….the Bishop! Within minutes of the Bishop introducing himself to the staff and religious…we not only scored enough time for a Mass but also a little extra time for the Bishop to share with us a little about the renowned & stunning tapestries that depict over 135 of the Churches Saints in adoration before the Altar where Masses are said.

Each Saint depicted form real life models to convey a stark sense of realness to the faces and so that admirers can look at them and be familiar with the faces and drawn to thoughts that alike them, they too are called to Sanctity, and yes it is possible.

We hurriedly went down to the side chapel, set up for Mass & Jackie Francois led us in prayer as we prepared for Mass whilst singing “Be Thou Our Vision.” Celebrating a beautiful Mass as always, with our pilgrim leader Bishop Comensoli, we officially began our pilgrimage with the Sacrifice on Calvary, and in turn receiving the ever so needed Eucharistic strength and guidance to set us off.

Finishing the Mass with a beautiful ‘Ave Maria’ hymn, again so devoutly led by Jackie Francois, we gave thanks to Our Lady of the Angels, in whom we had much to be grateful for today.

Leaving the local Americans with a few Aussie treats (Tim Tams!), we headed off for our hotel near the airport. With just hours to our early call again at 6:00am to depart for the airport we spent the night in the hotel diner with great (and I mean great in size!) food, long showers, and what most looked forward to – sleeping laying down!

What fun would travelling be without the odd hiccup? What benefit would a pilgrimage be without the need for Our Lady’s intercession and reminder that we are completely in the Hands of the Lord? Another lesson in trust and petition to the Lord in all our needs, joys and desires. God indeed has been so good to us, and its only Day 1!

United in prayer & mission for life,

 Jess Langrell

On behalf of the Guadalupe Expedition Group.