Before the Trip, A Half-Hour of Private Prayer to the Virgin Mary…
Speaking to reporters aboard the papal flight to Rio de Janeiro July 22, the Pope declined to answer their questions, but instead made very brief remarks about his trip and then greeted each of the 71 media members.
The young “are the future because they are strong,” the Pope said, but the aged are essential too, “because they have the wisdom of life.”
“Sometimes we are unjust to the aged; we set them aside as if they have nothing to give,” he said. “But they have the wisdom of life, history of our homelands and families that we need.”
“I read last week how many of the young are without work, and I think we run the risk of creating a generation that has never worked,” he said.
The long-term lack of a job is detrimental, he said, because “work is dignity to the person (and) the ability to earn one’s bread.”
What the world needs and what Pope Francis had said he hoped to demonstrate in Brazil is “a culture of inclusion and encounter” to make sure everyone’s place and potential contribution to society is welcomed.
He visited retired Pope Benedict XVI July 19, asking him to accompany the journey with his prayers.
Then July 20 he made an unannounced visit to Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major, spending more than half an hour in private prayer and entrusting the young people to Mary.
WORLD YOUTH DAY OPENING MASS ON COPACABANA BEACH
The mosaic of hundreds of national flags waving in the cold wind on Copacabana Beach was symbolic, as pilgrims from all backgrounds, driven by a single faith, participated in the opening Mass for World Youth Day.
Rio Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta officially opened World Youth Day with the evening Mass.
“This week Rio becomes the center of the Church, alive and young,” he said. “These youths’ enthusiasm show the face of the young Catholics. … I celebrate for all those who believe that a new world is possible.”
Police said more than 400,000 pilgrims braved the rain to gather on the beach. Some reacted with joy and tears when young people made their way up on the main stage carrying the Pilgrim’s Cross.
At the beginning of his speech, Archbishop Tempesta remembered retired Pope Benedict XVI, responsible for choosing the city to host World Youth Day 2013. He later highlighted the importance of this first foreign trip by Pope Francis.
“This World Youth Day was destined to be … the first apostolic trip of the first Latin American Pope in history,” said the archbishop.
In the crowd, thousands of Argentines cheered.
POPE ENTRUSTS WORLD YOUTH DAY TO MARY’S CARE
Visiting the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, the Pope entrusted World Youth Day to Mary’s maternal protection, but also challenged parents, priests and other adult Catholics to give the young people things that the world, with all its wealth, cannot: faith and values.
As soon as the Pope arrived, he greeted the superior of the Redemptorist community that staffs the shrine. Then he got into the popemobile to greet the crowd and kiss babies.
Before Mass, Pope Francis prayed before the image of Our Lady of Aparecida, a dark wooden sculpture that was caught in the nets of three local fishermen in 1717.
In his homily at Mass inside the basilica, Pope Francis said that before beginning his heavy schedule of WYD activities, he wanted to “knock on the door of the house of Mary.”
Pope Francis said he would entrust to Mary the success of World Youth Day, and he prayed that “she may help all of us, pastors of God’s people, parents and educators, to pass on to our young people the values that can help them build a nation and a world which are more just, united and fraternal.”
Even at its stormiest, the Sea of Galilee doesn’t have waves like those pounding Copacabana Beach, but Pope Francis asked young Catholics to imagine they were with Jesus on the seashore and he was asking them to follow him and share his love with others.
The celebration also included a “shout out” to retired Pope Benedict XVI, who chose Rio as the site of WYD 2013 and selected its theme: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
The diversity represented at the event was not simply a matter of the national flags the pilgrims were carrying. Pope Francis said he knew the youths also had a variety of reasons for being part of World Youth Day and a variety of levels of previous involvement with the Church.
“But today you are all here — or better yet, we are all here together as one in order to share the faith and the joy of an encounter with Christ, of being his disciples,” the Pope said in his introductory remarks.
In his homily, the Pope echoed those words, telling the young people that it is always good to be gathered around Jesus and to keep Jesus at the center of their lives.
POPE HONORS GRANDPARENTS
The 76-year-old Pope Francis went to World Youth Day with grandparents, or at least society’s elders, on his mind, and he honored them in a special way July 26, the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne and “Grandparents’ Day” in many countries.
Reciting the Angelus July 26 with tens of thousands of people gathered in the square outside the archbishop of Rio’s residence, the Pope highlighted the importance of grandparents “for family life (and) for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society.”
Even on the airplane heading to Rio de Janeiro and WYD, Pope Francis had the older segment of society on his mind. He spoke to journalists about the danger of societies tossing aside the young just like they often do with the aged. And, again July 25, during a meeting with Argentine pilgrims in Rio, he spoke against a world so concerned with making money that it ignores the needs and wisdom of the elderly as well as the potential and energy of the young.
Talking about Jesus’ grandparents in his Angelus address, Pope Francis said Sts. Joachim and Anne surrounded Mary with “their love and faith. In their home, she learned to listen to the Lord and to follow his will.”
The Pope said he hoped the crowd gathered for the midday prayer would “feel like one big family” as they turned to Mary to recite the Angelus and ask her to “protect our families and make them places of faith and love in which the presence of Jesus her Son is felt.”
Pope Francis led the Angelus after a morning dedicated to several private events. He began the day celebrating Mass with a group of Jesuits, then went to Rio’s Quinta da Boa Vista Park, which had been dotted with portable confessionals for WYD. The Pope administered the sacrament to three young men and two young women in Spanish, Portuguese or Italian.
When he arrived at the archbishop’s residence, he held a private meeting with eight young prison inmates from four different youth detention facilities in Rio de Janeiro state.
THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS
With his cross and resurrection, Christ promises to walk with and ease the burden of every suffering person, whether that suffering comes from violence, addiction, a broken family, hunger, persecution or the death of a loved one, Pope Francis said.
The traditional Friday mood change of WYD took place July 26 as the Pope and more than 1 million young people returned to Copacabana Beach to meditate on the Stations of the Cross.
In his reflection, Pope Francis told the young people that in every encounter with Christ’s cross, they can draw strength from him and they can leave the heaviest part of their burden with him.
Pope Francis did not get specific about the forms of counter-witness, but his words brought to mind the well-known Via Crucis meditations written in 2005 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, only weeks before he became Pope Benedict XVI, in which he denounced “filth” in the Church, which was widely interpreted as a reference to clerical sex abuse.
Through the cross, the Pope said, Jesus also unites himself with “those young people who have lost faith in the Church, or even in God, because of the counter-witness of Christians and ministers of the Gospel.”
The 14 traditional Stations of the Cross in Rio were presented by actors and readers on 13 stages along the Copacabana waterfront and on the main stage where the Pope sat.
The meditations read during the service also focused on drawing strength from Christ’s cross and healing one’s wounds in the wounds of Christ. Each written from the perspective of a different person in the Church — including a missionary, an engaged couple, a pro-life activist, students, those who use social networks — the meditations asked Jesus for the strength to follow and imitate his service to others.
MEETING WITH BISHOPS
Pope Francis celebrated Mass July 27 in Rio’s St. Sebastian Cathedral, repeating one of the key ideas of his papacy: “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel.”
“It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome,” he said, “but we must go out through the door to seek and meet the people.”
The ability to share the Good News relies on first recognizing how truly good it is, the Pope said.
Ministers of the Gospel “must have a memory,” treasuring the knowledge that they were called by God and spending time with him in prayer and adoration. It also means spending time with Jesus present in others, especially the poor, he said.
“Let us help our young people to discover the courage and joy of faith, the joy of being loved personally by God, who gave his son Jesus for our salvation,” Pope Francis said. “When the young understand they are personally loved by God, they can keep going,” he said.
WORLD YOUTH DAY VIGIL
Addressing as many as 3 million young — and not-so-young — people on Rio’s Copacabana Beach on Saturday evening, July 27, Pope Francis said he had prepared a reflection that would have used the original venue, a space baptized “Campus Fidei” or “Field of Faith,” as the starting point.
“Isn’t the Lord asking us to say that the real field of faith, the real Campus Fidei, isn’t a geographic place but is us?” the Pope asked the crowd, which had begun to gather on the beach 12 hours before Pope Francis arrived.
Prayer and the sacraments, he told the young people, are essential for growth in faith.
The evening’s formal program began with short speeches from young people: a former drug user from Rio, a priest, a man in a wheelchair who had been shot in a robbery, and a female youth minister. They recounted how they came to the faith, then each added a wooden plank to a “church” that was being constructed on the stage.
Pope Francis recalled the story of St. Francis of Assisi, who heard the Lord tell him to rebuild his house.
Telling the young people that the Church needs each and every one of them to build the Church and share the Gospel with the world, the Pope turned to the image of the field — a place where seeds are sown, a place where athletes train and perform, a place where buildings can be constructed.
“Please,” he told them, “let Christ and his word enter your life, blossom and grow.”
Pope Francis also used his speech at the evening vigil to make his first public comments about the demonstrations that have been taking part all across Brazil in the past month. He said it is right for young people to want to be “protagonists of change” on behalf of a more just world, but they need to “offer a Christian response” to political and social concerns.
“BE GENEROUS WITH CHRIST” —FRANCIS TO THE YOUNG AS HE LEFT THEM
Pope Francis commissioned some 3 million young people to join forces and form what could be called “Missionaries Without Borders.”
“Where does Jesus send us?” the Pope asked pilgrims July 28, during the closing Mass of WYD. “There are no borders, no limits: He sends us to everyone. Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you,” he told his beachfront congregation, which included hundreds of thousands who had spent the night on the sand, fitfully sleeping or unable to sleep.
Sharing the love and mercy of God and the salvation offered by Christ through the Church “is born not from a desire for domination or power, but from the force of love,” the Pope told the young pilgrims.
Pope Francis gave the younger generation a final instruction, “As you return to your homes, do not be afraid to be generous with Christ, to bear witness to his Gospel.” It can change the world, he said. “Bringing the Gospel is bringing God’s power to pluck up and break down evil and violence, to destroy and overthrow the barriers of selfishness, intolerance and hatred.”