Julie Rodrigues, Guest Contributor
When I came back to the Catholic Church during my last year of high school, I was lucky enough to have a vibrant Catholic parish. During that year, I went to everything the parish offered: Bible studies, youth mass, conferences, Rosary, a True Love Waits group. When I moved to Portugal a year later, I was “on fire” enough to last a year before falling into a pit of despair and self-pity. Nothing about Portuguese Catholicism was good as far as I could see. “It’s like an entirely different religion”, I’d tell people. Liturgical music was whiny, homilies were boring, youth groups were silly and superficial, parishes barely offered anything, no one was educated about their faith and the average age of church-goers was 65. After my initial pit of self-pity, I got down to business. I thought, “okay God, I see what you’re doing. I’m here in Portugal to SAVE Portugal!” 10 million people in need of a messiah and I thought I fit the bill. I started my own youth group and proceeded with this mentality up until last year, when I tried working for an American youth organization. It was the pinnacle of my everything-in-the-Church-here-is-wrong attitude and I still thought I was Portugal’s savior, except this time I thought I was teaming up with others who could save Portugal with me.
I had set out to teach others, but in the end others taught me. I saw Portuguese people that had converted to Catholicism through this very Church and culture I criticized, and that had an incredible faith and life story. My eyes were opened to others that through the American Church and culture… and perfect programs I had worshipped… weren’t really as perfect as I had thought they were. I suddenly understood it wasn’t really about having the perfect program, but that it all depended on God. I learned that we can’t help or save others… God uses us as an instrument to work in ways we can’t imagine… and change happens in God’s time.
I realized that God is everywhere and that his Church is really universal. I learned that the Christian way is about soft-heartedness, sincerity with God and others, ability to listen and share… and Portuguese people are (in general) better at this than Americans. I understood why the loud, black-and-white, proclamation Christianity of the U.S. doesn’t need to be exported everywhere. I met American Catholics who defended Portugal to me when I attacked it (whoa, that caught me off guard!). I said, “Portuguese people aren’t proactive or creative, they just import religious groups from Spain.” They told me, “That means they’re receptive, and that’s a very important thing.”
I realized over the course of this past year that relationships are very important and that Europeans are still good at that… we still have coffee with people and not with our computers. I learned relationship skills with my boyfriend and with God from a Spanish fraternity that opened up a new world for me. I met amazing Portuguese Catholics, especially two girls my age who are the most educated about their faith, open and simple Catholics that I have ever met. I joined a Catholic renewal group, of Spanish origin, better than anything I could’ve imagined.
In short, all times are difficult and every country has its problems, but God raises up saints and movements in every time and place. There is life and Spirit in Portugal except, just like everywhere else, you have to have eyes of faith to see it. All times and places are in need of the Gospel… but I have learned that so am I. And God bless the American that told me last summer, “Aw, don’t worry, Our Lady of Fatima promised she’d take care of Portugal!”
Julie Rodrigues is a 25-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and hás been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon, is currently teaching English and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.