Published August 1, 2013
Mark Homer, 39, a special education teacher in Fulton County middle schools and Cathedral of Christ the King parishioner, traveled to World Youth Day, in part to be renewed by the enthusiasm of the millions of Catholics. From Rio, he shared some insights via email with reporter Andrew Nelson.
Why did you go to Rio and what did you expect? Have you been to World Youth Day before and how did it impact your faith?
I came to Rio for several reasons. First, I wanted to experience the atmosphere of World Youth Day. The enthusiasm that the young people of the world have for the faith is very inspiring to me. I needed to recharge my spiritual batteries and attending a WYD is a fantastic way to get renewed energy to be a light to the world. Second, I love to travel and meet people from around the world. It is a great experience to be around so many people from every corner of the planet that share my faith. Third, I have always wanted to visit Rio de Janeiro and attending WYD is a great excuse to go there! Last but not least, I wanted to see Pope Francis! I have been to a WYD before, Sydney, Australia, in 2008. I expected the huge crowds and the sequence of events, as they don’t change. What I haven’t expected are the unique experiences that God sends and that also make for great stories to tell after returning home. I have had several of those already and only God knows what will happen in the next few days!
Where are you staying?
I am staying with a Brazilian woman in her house—a homestay. There are six other guys also staying here: three from Edmonton in Canada, one from Germany and one who is a Byzantine monk from Wisconsin. I did not come with a group from Atlanta; I traveled alone.
What is your first reaction to being there?
My first reaction to being here was that I was a bit nervous. I knew what to expect as far as World Youth Day event schedules are concerned, but there were a lot of unknowns as well. … Traveling alone isn’t always easy, especially to a foreign country when you don’t know the language at all. I knew I would meet people, it is impossible not to meet people at a WYD, but I did question if I would meet anyone that I could travel with throughout the week. I was asked many times what group I was with and when I reply, “I am here alone,” people call me brave, when, in reality, I am just being open to God’s plan for me being here. He called me to trust in Him, that He would provide for my needs while I was here, and to be open to whatever experiences were waiting for me. I have to say that some amazing things have happened to this point, and I wonder why I was even nervous at all!
How would you describe it to people who aren’t there?
I would describe it as a big, immense Catholic party. Tonight alone there were 1.5 million people present for the Stations of the Cross. People are so filled with joy and enthusiasm for Jesus. It is truly inspiring. I was on the subway at 2 a.m. the other night and a large group of Brazilian pilgrims were singing and dancing on the train. You can see that on buses, outside on the streets, and just about everywhere else. Of course, the crowds are huge, and it is very difficult to get to places, but nobody seems to care. It has also been raining for most of the week, but, again, nobody seems to care. The weather hasn’t dampened anyone’s spirit. There are people from literally almost every country in the world, and anyone from anywhere can at any time walk up to you and ask you where you are from or ask to trade an item from their country for something from yours. Language barriers are not a problem either. Everybody here loves Jesus—that is the common thread that ties everyone together.