Jessica Abejar went to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro to fulfill a dream but returned to New York with surprisingly more.
“I found my true calling in dancing for the Lord,” said the 24-year-old who serves as youth coordinator of the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz in lower Manhattan where she also oversees the Family, Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
Miss Abejar choreographed and performed a meditation reflection dance titled “Mother” July 25 at the open-air marketplace Feira de São Cristóvão in the São Cristóvão neighborhood in northeastern Rio de Janeiro.
The 20-minute solo incorporated liturgical, modern and ballet dance as well as narration and colorful veils that enhanced the performance.
“This was a moment I had been waiting for— for nearly 10 years,” Miss Abejar said after her return to New York following Pope Francis’ World Youth Day July 22-28 in Brazil.
“I was excited, nervous and ready to finally take the stage,” she said of the opportunity to perform for her peers from around the globe at the gathering’s youth festival.
“I offered up my thanks to God for the opportunity, prayed through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother and asked the Holy Spirit to guide me through my performance.”
Miss Abejar, the eldest of three daughters of Joel and Gilda Abejar, dedicated the dance to her mother.
“She was very supporting and encouraging in all my endeavors, this being one of them. While my biggest cheerleader was not there by my side, the audience— especially the Brazilian volunteers and my new sister from my homestay— made up for it.”
Even Miss Abejar’s exhilaration had an encore. “Post-performance, we took pictures, exchanged gifts and several of them asked for my autograph!
“Many of them said my performance was beautiful. It was a wonderful feeling to know that I had touched their hearts.
“I always know it’s a good performance when I don’t think about anything else, when I don’t think about myself, where I’m just completely offering it to God.”
At first, Miss Abejar concedes, she was not fully committed to the concept of liturgical dancing “since it was not common in the Church here” in the United States.
“But my thoughts on such a calling started to change on the first day of catechesis,” one of the many offerings of World Youth Day.
“Archbishop Charles G. Palmer-Buckle of Accra in Ghana (West Africa) had told the pilgrims that ‘Jesus doesn’t need you. He wants you. He loves you just the way you are,’” Miss Abejar recalled.
“In addition to the words of the archbishop, I saw evangelization through dance everywhere! Every morning before catechesis, our host parish would ‘warm us up’ with some lively song and dance. The South African pilgrims presented a gorgeous, traditional offertory presentation. And I spent most of the evening leading up to the final Mass dancing ‘samba para Cristo,’ (Brazilian dancing for Christ) with cariocas (natives of Rio), other Brazilians and people from all over the world!
Miss Abejar is a 2011 alumna of Mount St. Vincent College in the Bronx, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business with a minor in peforrming arts. The Long Island native called dance a “surrendering of everything.”
“It’s feeling your entire spirit—all that energy, from the tip of your toes to the top of your head, being completely present and offering something bigger than yourself to God,” she said.