We leave Iguazu today for the Argentinean capital of Buenos Aires. It is kind of a stopover with added benefits. Because we are already in Argentina, we do not cross any borders so essentially we have a day of sightseeing and shopping in the capital before heading back home via Santiago.
I was called by the newsroom of 2UE at 2.30am local Iquazu time to tell me that 39 student pilgrims returning on a Qantas flight from their WYD adventure (they were part of a larger group) had fallen ill with diarrhoea while on the flight home). THe journalist wanted to know if they were our students. I am happy to report that they were not. None of our groups has headed home yet. We will be certainly hoping for a better fate than those poor souls! While we have had our fair share of illness along the way, we seem to be travelling very well at the moment. Let's hope it stays that way.
Because we have such a large group, we need to stagger our departure times today. Most groups have already left. I am not heading off with my travelling group until around 5.30pm to link up with a 9.00pm flight to BA. If everything is on time (sure...), we will be at our hotel just after midnight. We have a full day in Buenos Aires tomorrow, one more sleep, and then we fly out the following morning. We are almost done.
Last night, we all headed into downtown Iquazu to celeberate Mass with Cardinal Pell. It was concelebrated by 3 bishops (including Bishop Terry Brady and Bishop Peter Comensoli), and our 9 Bus Group Chaplains. We filled the small regional Cathedral and there were plenty of locals asking about us and the reason for us being there.
The Iquazu township is a lovely regional centre. Mass was at 6.00pm and we arrived at about 5.30pm, just as shift 2 of school was finishing for the day (well, I am assuming that is the case. A 5.30pm pick-up would make it for a very long day if it was an early morning start). Many of the mums and dads who were there to pick up their young children arrived on motor scooters and the kids merely jumped on the back, tossed on a helmet and together they sped off into the twilight. Like many South American towns and cities, Iquazu has a town square and that was filled with people just sitting around chatting, street skaters, children playing and people on their way home from work or whatever else occupied their day. I love the idea of the town square. It is by nature, a town's central landmark and it becomes a focal point for so many things in that community.
Mass was a fairly simple affair. It was great to have the opportunity to be able to celebrate it in the one venue with the whole pilgrim group, together with our pastors and of course the Cardinal. It was fitting way to conclude our few days in this beautiful part of the world.
We got back to the hotel for a late dinner. Some groups still had a session remaining to complete their retreat. Others sat around together and talked, or logged onto the local wifi to send messages home and many of those with an early start the next day, headed to their room to pack their bags.There was a sense around the place that things were coming to a close.
Speaking of the retreats, these were run in bus groups here in the grounds of the hotel. While the content for the sessions was planned beforehand, each group had the flexibility to adapt the program to suit the needs of their students. Most of the discussions and reflections focused on the students' lingering memories of their pilgrimage experience and how they felt have been changed by these events. After doing so much and being so busy for so long, they took the opportunity provided to them to talk about what they had seen and done, the impact it had had on their own faith and what they planned to do from here.
The responses from students that I heard to these very big questions were inspiring. There was an overwhelming sense that they were coming back from their WYD pilgrimage different young men and women from the ones who had set out. I know many were deeply affected by the poverty and deprivation they saw on the barren hillsides of Pamplone Lima. I heard many say they wanted to go back as there was still so much to do. I believe some of them will. A few students told me their time there had made them reassess what they wanted to do with their careers, while others said they were determined to find a way to make helping others whose needs were great an ongoing part of their life. Others spoke about the incredible experience of being in a crowd of around 4 million people to see Pope Francis in person and share their faith with other young Catholics from all over the world. Then there was Machu Pichu and Iguazu Falls and Chile and Cuzco, and travelling on planes, trains and omnibuses in some of the world's iconic cities. And, of course, who could forget Aussie Central!
Having these few days to stop, talk and think about where we have been and what we have done has made us all realise what an opportunity we have been given on this trip. In a few days time we will be back in our homes with a whole lot of other things to think about and different decisions to make. That will be the time when we will really see whether we are changed people after all, and whether we will be able to hold on to this feeling that we can do something more, and be someone more than who we are right now.
Just a few pics form the Mass with Cardinal Pell....