Being called into the principal’s office is unnerving for any good student. So it is understandable that last April, when four students at Cantwell Sacred Heart High School were summoned to Principal David Chambers’ office, they were both leery and perplexed, thinking, “Why are my parents sitting in there?”To their great relief and everlasting joy, this meeting marked the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime experience that sent these four San Gabriel Valley youth (along with two school chaperones) to meet fellow students and millions of faithful to celebrate World Youth Day in Brazil. Seniors Julian Vazquez and Jenna Escobedo and juniors Kennedy Delgadillo and Edward Jimenez were chosen by Chambers to represent the school at World Youth Day, an invitation courtesy of a Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary sister school in Rio de Janerio. The principal there extended an offer to house a small group of Americans at the school, who would join five other RSHM schools in various catechetical activities surrounding the papal visit and World Youth Day.As if that wasn’t enough, the Cantwell students learned that the $20,000-plus trip was completely sponsored by an anonymous former student, who wanted students to experience and share World Youth Day with those around them. “I didn’t know how to take it; it seemed so unreal,” says Vazquez. “I couldn’t process it.” “I didn’t know it was really happening until we were standing in line at the airport,” concurs Jimenez who, like Delgadillo, took his first-ever plane trip. “We had four meetings prior to going, packing, everything. It didn’t hit me until I was physically at the airport.”“I was really nervous [about flying],” explained Delgadillo about the 15-hour flight. But once on the plane, the jitters subsided. “I didn’t get excited [about the trip] until I was in the plane and then especially when I saw the people welcoming us at the gate.”The Brazilian students who welcomed the American students into their world for 10 days would become lifelong friends, having shared a rich spiritual experience together.Bunking down at the school in classrooms (“They brought mattresses in and it was very comfortable” says Escobedo), the Cantwell students were immersed in Brazilian culture along with deepening their faith. They all recalled the beauty of seeing the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue and visiting the small chapel inside. Other sights, foods and nearby Copacabana Beach soon became familiar to the group.But the most impressive experience was the people, says Escobedo. “They gave off this wonderful sense of energy and warmth and it was so welcoming,” she says.“We learned how to walk arm-in-arm,” adds Jimenez describing the immense crowds of people who gathered at the beach four times for World Youth Day rallies, Eucharistic celebrations and more. Walking through the crowds, they heard screaming and shouts of joy when people recognized flags and other groups from their home countries. Amazingly, the students found a small group waving the California flag.“One of the most powerful moments of our trip was when Pope Francis arrived,” says Escobedo describing being in the crowds watching the monitors of the pontiff exiting the helicopter. When the pope passed by on the street, many burst into tears. “It was electric, everyone was so happy. You could feel the presence of Christ there with all of us.”“I think the students got a taste of what a real loving Christian community feels like and could be.” —Denis Mu√±oz, Cantwell Sacred Heart High School religion teacher and World Youth Day chaperoneChaperone and religion teacher Denis Mu√±oz was so impressed with the pope’s message and that he shared it directly to the gathered youth. “We witnessed how he really has a love for the ordinary people,” he says. “He told the youth that their vocation is to be one of service — and that message really rang loud and clear.”When not out sightseeing or at large gatherings, the students met with their fellow Brazilian students in small groups, discussing their faith, exploring concepts and learning from each other. The lessons discovered were profound. “I remember one message from one session that still sticks with me,” says Vazquez. “‘If you want something, go and do it. Don’t expect it to be handed to you. You have to do it.’”Jimenez explained that he started to see teachers in a new light. “They learn from us just as much as we learn from them,” he says. “I never really thought about it that way.”At the end of their stay, the students bid a teary goodbye to their new-found friends. The Brazilian students presented them with numerous friendship rings (carved out of coconuts) that symbolized the bond they made with each other. Now back at school, the students stay connected via technology and plan one day to return to Brazil. They say the experience has changed them. Vasquez explains that he feels more outgoing, talkative and energized. “My parents noticed it right away,” he says.Jimenez says he sees people differently and is more accepting of others. “I don’t immediately think, ‘Oh, I don’t like them,’ but I try to look them deep in the eye instead of dismissing them,” he says.“I think the students got a taste of what a real loving Christian community feels like and could be,” says Mu√±oz who says he sees a transformation in these students’ lives, faces and demeanor.Indeed, the experience was such a success for these four students that Cantwell hopes to extend the offer to the Brazil schools and invite students to their classrooms later down the line says Mu√±oz.To continue the tie between school and World Youth Day, teacher and chaperone Consuelo Moreno says that plans are in the works to raise money to send Cantwell students to World Youth Day in Poland in 2015. “This would be a great tradition to create at our school,” she said.Mu√±oz says that the students are in the process of writing thank you letters to the anonymous donor who made their trip possible. It’s been hard, he explains, for the youth to put into words not only their gratitude but to relate those experiences. “The parents are grateful also,” he says. “There were life-changing moments every day.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0920/cantwell/{/gallery}