Rio de Janeiro, 27 July
Since early this morning Copacabana beach has been half covered by an unstoppable pilgrimage: this is the power of WYD, the youth bringing the flame of the Holy Spirit not only to the places where you would normally think it to dwell, like in Santiago de Compostela, but also into the heart of the modern city, like Denver or Sydney, or in this case in the temple of international tourism. They arrive by foot from all over the city, the most courageous throw themselves into the waves; groups look for a good position by the big screen; others prefer a more uncomfortable position, near the lanes where the Holy Father passes, in the hope of catching a glimpse of him or throwing their flag or precious possession towards him.
Two million people spread themselves out along four kilometers of sandy white beach: music, choreography and flashmobs, in which the Bishops also participated on stage - it is said to be the biggest flashmob ever done - all preparing to welcome Pope Francis.
The prayer vigil with the youth was a great moment of praise, adoration and testimony: the theme of the WYD “Go and make disciples in all peoples” was displayed by the scenography, with the participation of 10 young people, intent on “constructing” a church., from the witnesses and questions of the youth to the Pope. Afterwards, the young people will dismantle the Church that they built and will take the pieces away in different directions.
Yet the moment that everyone was waiting for was the speech of the Holy Father, followed with rapt attention and participation by all present. Pope Francis directed the most urgent existential questions at the youth, starting with how much each of them lets themselves be ‘interrogated’ by Jesus, by his invite to “make disciples”, and to announce the Gospel to the “near and the far”, and to how much they train themselves for this mission. Then, after having remembered that the Vigil should have been held at the “Campus fidei”, before the rain flooded it, Pope Francis took up once more the theme of the “field” in three parts. The first was “the field as a places in which you sow seeds”, and such an action is the Word of God that looks to enter into the hearts of each one of us. The second is the image of a field as a place of training; and the third as a construction site.
Introducing the concept of the field as a place in which one “sows seeds”, Pope Francis explained that the fruits are borne when the seeds “fall on good ground”. This field of faith “is the heart of each one of you, and is your life. And it is in your life that Jesus asks to enter with his Word, with his presence”. From here the pressing invite, which was repeated many times, was to “make space for Jesus”, because each one of us can be that “earthly good” of which He has need. He then invited everyone not to be part-time Christians, but “authentic” ones.
Speaking about the necessary “training” to be able to proclaim Jesus, he affirmed that the effort required is great, but the reward is “a future with Him that has no end, the eternal life”. At this point he asked the youth what the instruments of this “training” were: his reply was a daily meeting with God, with prayer. And then the sacraments, and then welcome, helping others, each person, without exclusion, without marginalising anyone. This was Pope Francis’ great plea, to a Church that through the youth, opens itself to “existential fronteers”, as he calls it, where one finds various types of human experiences, some beautiful, others drammatic.
Coming to the example of the “construction site”, Pope Francis wanted ultimately to encourage the youth to open themselves to a greater reality, that is more that just the experience of one’s own parish, or association: that of the Church. He reminded them that in the Church, with priests and religious, the youth are never “alone”, but are part of a family that is making the same journey. He thus asked if the youth truly wanted to be “builders” of the Church, encouraging them repeatedly not only to feel themselves as part of the Church but to be “living stones” of the Church.
He then told them that Jesus “asks us that His living Church can contain everyone, and so flooding the hearts of the youth in generosity, he invited them to respond: “Yes, I want to go, I want to build the Church of Christ.” .
“This is why I ask you to be protagonists - to overcome indifference and build the future. You work for a better world; enter into life and be as Jesus was. I ask you a question: where do we start from, and who do we ask to do this? This is what Mother Theresa asked. And she replied “from you and from me.” “And now each one of you ask yourselves in silence. Does it begin with me? where do I start? Each one of you speak from your heart, because Jesus can tell you where to begin”. After having left a moment of silence and meditation that permeated the crowd, Pope Francis concluded: “You young people, are the field of faith. You are the athletes of Christ. You are the builders of the most beautiful Church and of a better world.” An invite and a blessing that the youth received with a gigantic round of applause.
The day with Pope Francis began with the mass, celebrated in the Cathedral of Rio together with the bishops, priests and seminarians from all over the world, who came to Brazil for WYD. “Jesus didn't keep his disciples attached to his hip like a hen with her chicks, but he sent them out.” An invite to “go out”, a push towards “mission”, that is not “simply opening the door in welcome”, but to “go outside of the door, to search and to find”, said the Pope to his bishops from which he is expecting a good example for others.
“Dear bishops, priests, religious and seminarians that are preparing for their ministry, have courage to go against the current” with respect to a culture of human relations based on “two dogmas: efficiency and pragmatism”.
The Pope’s invite seemed to be a continuation of what he had stated 24 hours previously in Copacabana, when (after having censured egoism and the corruption of politicians) he said: “and how much do our contradictions make Jesus suffer?” The solution is Faith, because - as the Pope reminds us - “in the Cross of Christ there is suffering, the sin of man, including our own, and he welcomes all with open arms, loads our crosses onto his shoulders and says to us: ‘Courage, you are not alone in bearing them, I bear them with you and I have overcome death and I come to give you hope, and to give you life’.”
Once the mass finished, the Pope went to the municipal theatre of Rio where he met the Brazilian leaders (politicians, lawyers, industrial professors). “The future needs you to rehabilitate politics, that is one of the most elevated forms of charity” he said to them. His speech was elegant but at the same time direct, as is his style. With a warning to those who decide the fate of each country: “Pay attention: there is the danger of delusion, of bitterness, of indifference, when the aspirations are not achieved” said Pope Francis. “Those who have a leading role must have very concrete objectives and research the specific means of reaching them”.
“In our responsibility, which is always limited, it is important to understand the whole of reality”, he advised the leaders of the country. How? “Observing, considering, valuing, in order to make decisions in the present moment, but widening the gaze towards the future, reflecting upon the consequences of our decisions” with “social humility”, thus with an attitude that goes beyond “responsibility”, that “requests certain types of cultural paradigms, and consequently, politics.”
“That no-one” he concluded, “would be without basic requirements and that all are assured of their dignity, brotherhood and solidarity: this is the path to follow!”
Now the evening has arrived in Rio de Janeiro, groups of pilgrims are returning to the places where they are guests, many others are preparing to spend the night on the beach or in the public areas of Copacabana. Tomorrow, for the Concluding mass of WYD, there are 3 million more people expected to arrive.