(From Austen Ivereigh in Rio de Janeiro)
By definition, pilgrimages – and World Youth Day is, above all, a pilgrimage, not a “jamboree” (the BBC’s word) –involve inconvenience and hardship. To the existential displacement of being in a far-off place needs to be added, in the case of WYD, the challenge of very large numbers of people trying to move around in the same limited area.
Yesterday the 400,000 plus pilgrims attending the opening Mass of WYD on Copacabana beach led by Dom Orani Tempesta, the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, had to deal with transport breakdowns and the weather turning cold and wet.
“Rio fails the transport test” is this morning’s O Globo headline, referring to a two-hour electricity breakdown in the city’s metro yesterday, leaving thousands of pilgrims stranded and trapped underground and jumping into buses and taxis.
The “test”, of course, refers to WYD as a dry-run for next year’s World Cup in Rio. Although this city is well used to large crowds — Carnival and New Year – the sheer number of pilgrims is putting a strain on the infrastructure.
On the whole, however, the pilgrims have been absorbed well. About half are staying in parishes and Catholic institutions, while the other half are being being put up in the houses of cariocas, as Rio residents are known.
And none of it stopped Copacabana beach turning into a sea of faith for the evening, as pilgrims who had spent hours watching dozens of national and international artists waved their national flags, sung, swayed, danced, and clung to each other as they moved through the crowds looking for a place from which to take part in the Mass.
The experience of being one with others from all over the world, united by faith, is the principal draw for WYD pilgrims. Last night’s Mass was a visible expression of that “global communion”, turning Copacabana into a huge open seaside cathedral — and conquering the 3km esplanade with joy.
Pilgrims whooped and broke into applause during Archbishop Orani’s homily, who invited the young people present to be missionaries.
This week, Rio becomes the center of the Church, alive and young. All roads lead here. You have come from different parts of the world together for our shared faith and joy of discipleship. This happiness strengthens us and invites us to reach out to other young people, to make us missionaries to every nation. The best gift to give to others is the presence of Christ that fills us and drives us to love and give of ourselves, always in fraternal dialogue.
You are called to form a new generation that lives the faith and passes it on to the next generation. We are invited to an experience of faith and that we might leave here refreshed! Participation in community with the opportunity to be enthusiastic, coexisting as brothers and sisters, testifying that another world is possible! The first pilgrim who is already among us, the Holy Father, Pope Francisco, stood with us in this journey and indicate ways these days. Dear young people, do not be afraid to open your hearts to Christ!
Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Vatican council responsible for the organization of WYD, invited young people to let themselves be embraced by Christ the Redeemer, “the true protagonist of this event.”
“Christ calls us to get out of ourselves and break down the walls of our selfishness, to go courageously to “the existential and geographical boundaries” of the world, bringing Christ and his Gospel”, he told them.
Today’s events are dominated by Pope Francis’s visit to the Shrine of Aparecida.