More than a million youngsters were estimated to have greeted Pope Francis at the event’s opening ceremony on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach late Thursday. Participants in World Youth Day seemed awed by the experience of seeing the father in the flesh; even if it meant braving stormy skies and unseasonably cold conditions in Rio. Crowds of well-wishers braved the rain to catch a glimpse of the pontiff after he arrived by helicopter.
History’s first Latin American pope then drove down the beach, stopping regularly to greet the crowd. The annual event, attended by worshipers from across the globe, began in 1985 and provides the pope an opportunity to meet the church’s young people.
Pope Francis showed his rebel side Thursday, urging young Catholics to shake up the church and make a “mess” in their dioceses by going out into the streets to spread the faith. It’s a message he put into practice by visiting one of Rio’s most violent slums and opening the church’s World Youth Day on a rain-soaked Copacabana Beach.
Pope Francis called faith “revolutionary” and added that his followers’ persistence and presence in the wet and windy weather was proof that “faith is stronger than rain and cold.” He also heard confessions from five of the hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholics who had convened on Copacabana Beach the night before for an event welcoming the pope to World Youth Day.
Once again, Francis drew praise from the young attendees, who call themselves pilgrims, and whose presence created traffic in Copacabana and adjacent neighborhoods.
“He’s class,” stated Chloe Love, 18, a pilgrim from Ireland.
“He’s humble and doesn’t go on and on,” added her friend Sarah Cadden, speaking of the pope and his plain-speaking style.
“He’s so simple,” said Nicole Winsnes, 17, a participant from Mexico, “He’s an excellent example for young people.”
“He portrays this image that’s different from (his predecessor) Pope Benedict XVI,” says Kealan Barrett, 21, a medical student from Northern Ireland. The image, he said, “Is warm, welcoming, and easier to understand, easier to follow.”
Walking confidently through a dangerous Brazilian neighborhood, Pope Francis looked right at home among the poorest of the poor in Rio on Thursday as he calls for Brazil to do more for social justice. Hailed as the “slum pope” for his work with the poor, Francis received a rapturous welcome in the Varginha shantytown, part of a slum area of northern Rio so violent it’s known as the Gaza Strip. The 76-year-old Argentine seemed entirely at home, wading into cheering crowds, kissing people young and old and telling them the Catholic Church is on their side.
While in the slum area Pope Francis underlined his mission to lead a “church for the poor.” He offered encouragement by telling the followers “You are not alone,” he assured the crowd, prompting a roar of approval. “The church is with you, the pope is with you.” Preaching against “selfishness and individualism” in an uplifting address, he railed against inequality and corruption and called for a “culture of solidarity.”
Francis met earlier Friday with a group of young convicts and prayed with them. “No more violence, only love, Candelaria never again,” Catholic News Service reported the pope praying, referring to a notorious massacre of street kids by police outside the Candelaria Church in Rio 20 years earlier.
Pope Francis issued an impassioned plea for the downtrodden and oppressed, while addressing throngs of young Catholics on the Copacabana Beach for a re-enactment of Christ going to his crucifixion. “On the cross,” Francis said to a crowd estimated at more than a million people, “Jesus unites himself to the silence of the victims of violence,” along with those suffering drug addictions, discrimination and religious persecution, and “every person who suffers from hunger in a world where tons of food are thrown out each day.”
The re-enactment is a tradition of World Youth Day, which convenes young Catholics every two years for an encounter with the pope. It has brought more than 300,000 self-styled “pilgrims” to Rio this year.
During Pope Francis’ visit he also stressed the importance of family and grandparents in particular in a speech in Brazil Friday. “How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith,” he said, according to an English-language version of his Angelus address released by Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi before the pontiff spoke.
“How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society. How important it is to have inter-generational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the family,” he added.
Francis, who was speaking to a crowd at the archbishop’s residence in Rio de Janeiro, said the dialogue between generations was “a treasure to be preserved and strengthened.”
It’s no stretch to say that a person has a serious advantage in life if they come from a loving, supportive home. Many people still succeed though they come from less-than-ideal family situations, but having the basic needs met, knowing that their parents love them and learning life lessons at home make all the challenges of day-to-day living that much easier to face.
People who have lived through a disaster hardly ever say, “All I could think about during the earthquake was my bank account.” They almost always say, “All I could think about was my family.” It shouldn’t require a disaster for people to know this truth. But too often, people let earning money, chasing pleasure, or even the needs of people outside of family divert their attention.
“Possessions, money and monetary power can give a momentary thrill, the illusion of being happy, but they end up possessing us and making us always want to have more,” Francis told the crowd.
Pope Francis, the Argentine pope, arrived in Brazil on July 22, 2013, for his first trip outside Italy. Followers in Rio de Janeiro came out in droves to see him preside over the Catholic Church’s World Day of Youth, a gathering sometimes dubbed a “Catholic Woodstock” that occurs in a different city every two years.
During his visit Francis told the thousands of youngsters, with an estimated 30,000 Argentines registered, to get out into the streets and spread their faith and make a “mess,” saying a church that doesn’t go out and preach simply becomes a civic or humanitarian group. The heart of a true leader; well done, Pope Francis; well done!
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)