Pope Francis, Catholics Celebrate World Youth Day in Brazil

“I absolutely think there is renewed happiness within the Church that began with the election of Pope Francis”

Pope Francis I
Brazilian Catholics are celebrating the arrival of Pope Francis late Monday. The pontiff is going to celebrate the World Youth Day in Rio de Jainero, in a historical week-long visit. Brazil is expecting 2.5 million faithful Catholics for the occasion. Before leaving for Rio de Janeiro, the Pope, tweeted on the Vatican official account, “I am arriving in Brazil in a few hours and my heart is full of joy because soon I will be with you to celebrate the 28th WYD.”

World Youth Day is an annual gathering of young Catholics from around the world. It was initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1985; the event celebrates youth, as well as unity and presence of different cultures. The last World Youth Day was celebrated in Madrid, Spain in 2011 by former pope Benedict XVI.

For security reasons, Brazilian authorities have gathered 30,000 soldiers, police officers and security officials for the event. Francis´ visit comes when Brazilians are facing tough and uncertain economic times. Moreover, last June, in many cities of Brazil, people protested against the government for rising prices, corruption, and the billions wasted for the organization of the 2014 World Cup. Furthermore, the Brazilian government fears that the event might be marked by protests, mostly by feminists and gay rights activists.

According to the British newspaper the Guardian, the event will attract young pilgrims from places such as Philippines, Poland, United States, Venezuela, Mexico, and El Salvador.

Brazilian Catholics are celebrating Francis´s visit because the nation has 120 million faithful, making it the largest Catholic country in the world. However, Catholicism in Brazil is changing quickly; in 1980, 90 percent of Brazilians identified themselves as Catholic, whilst today, the number has dropped to only 65 per cent. That´s why Francis´ biggest message is expected during his visit to a small favela community, called Varginha, on Thursday, in the north of Rio de Janeiro, when he will speak about the threat of modern evangelical preachers, as well as the exodus of believers to another faith.

Copacabana beach is also ready to celebrate a massive mass, with one million people expected to attend. Francis is also planning on visiting a prison and a drug rehabilitation center. Priest Jesus Ortal, from the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, explains that the Pontiff is “an Argentinean who worked in the slums of Buenos Aires,” so he knows about the struggles of the poor.

Francis´ visit means a lot for Catholics; the Church has lost credibility among the faithful due to sexual and financial scandals in recent years. However, the Pope is becoming an icon of simplicity and humility. Francis, from the very beginning, has stated “Poor Church for the poor.”

When Francis took the plane he explained to reporters that the world is in danger of losing a generation of young people to unemployment and called for an inclusive culture. Francis, explained “the world crisis is not treating people well. We are running the risk of having a generation that does not work. From work comes a person´s dignity.”

When Francis arrives in Brazil, he is scheduled to ride through Rio´s busy city center. He will then meet with President Dilma Rousseff. Apparently, Rousseff and the Pope will discuss Brazil and the Vatican joining forces to fight poverty and social exclusion in Africa.

Catholics are celebrating Pope Francis first official visit to Latin America for World Youth Day. Sao Paulo Cardinal Odilo Scherer said, “I absolutely think there is renewed happiness within the Church that began with the election of Pope Francis.”

The theme of World Youth Day is, “go and make disciples of all nations.” Fernando Altemeyer, a theologian at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo said, “warmth and understanding is entirely related to Francis being the first pope from Latin America, where he´s had more exposure to the harsh realities of life on the continent than European popes of the past.”

By: Oskar Guzman.
Special correspondent Mexico and Canada.

SOURCE: Reuters; the guardian.uk