A pilgrimage is never about our own plans.
A few days ago WYD Witnesses blogger Justin Bell noted that WYD Rio is about going with the flow. And that’s been totally true both on a personal level, but also event-wide during this week of World Youth Day.
Due to the rainy weather earlier in the week, the World Youth Day vigil is being held at Copacabana beach rather than Campus Fidei (Field of Faith), a large airfield outside of the city. The people of the Guarabita area of Rio de Janeiro, where the event was to be held, were devastated so were the organizers who spent two years planning and creating a beautiful setting to host the Holy Father. Father John Paul Zeller met one of the main organizers of the Guarabita venue shortly after she found out the field was so wet that the event would need to be moved. She was in tears and all he could do was pray with her. We should pray for those who spend time and money preparing for the event at the Campus Fidei (Field of Faith).
Releasing our grip on our own plans is always difficult. We can’t always see what God intends.
But for tonight’s vigil the backdrop is nothing less than God’s creation—the beauty of Rio de Janeiro’s coastline along side us, with Sugarloaf Mountain towering above us. Three million people are camped out on the beach for an evening of testimonies, music, and prayer with Pope Francis.
He has also said shake things up, make a mess, by which he means that we should avoid complacency, we should be protagonists of change.
Tonight in a powerful way he brought these messages home with direct and engaging words. His address was oriented around the imagery of the parable of the sower and seed (Mt 13:18-23), since the setting was originally supposed to be Campus Fidei (Field of Faith). The pope kept the imagery but adjusted his speech.
“The real area of faith the true Campus Fidei is not a geographical location,” said Francis. “It is ourselves! Yes, each of us, each one of you! Missionary discipleship means recognizing we are God’s field of faith.”
“God does everything but let him do!” said the pope.
Referencing Brazil’s passion for soccer and the 2014 World Cup that will be held here, he encouraged the young people to “get in shape,” like “athletes for Christ.”
“Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup!” said Pope Francis.
Throughout his address the pope asked the young people to ponder questions in their hearts: Do I have courage or am I a coward? Do I try to play both sides? Do I listen to Jesus or do I fear silence? Do I ask Jesus what he wants with my life?
As the camera panned across the crowd while the Holy Father spoke, some young people cried, others had heads bowed in prayer. The depth with which they were receiving his words was evident on their faces.
Pope Francis has captivated the youth. Countless young people have told me that the pope is down-to-earth, a man of the people and this is attractive to them.
Words like these prove that point. “Stir things up… but do not diminish faith in Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis told Argentinean youth on Thursday.
Pedro Ruiz-Fumes, 21, from Argentina told me yesterday, “He is trying to make people go in the streets to tell the world ‘We are here. We are with Christ.’”
“He was speaking to me,” said the teenager, as he described the pope’s direct style.
Before the vigil, I met Stephen Brady from Ireland. He was on his way with other Irish pilgrims to Copacabana beach, ready to camp out for the night.
“Being here I feel as if there is no other event in the world like this,” he told me. “Everyone is so joyful hearing the message of Jesus Christ and wanting to share that with everyone else.”
Joy radiated from this outgoing young man, but his pilgrimage to Rio hasn’t been easy. While traveling in Buenos Aires, Argentina before coming to Brazil, Stephen’s bags were stolen from his hostel. Yet he has learned a profound lesson on his journey.
From Pope Francis, Stephen has heard the call “to make ourselves a poor Church” and after having his bags stolen, he’s poor now, he said.
Stephen sees losing the bags and the electronics that were in them as an answer to a prayer.
“I felt I was always on my computer too much, on Facebook too much,” he said. “So I asked Christ to help me rid myself of this addiction.” Stephen witnesses that God answers prayer in strange ways sometimes.
Today, on the way to the Vigil I also met Jess Deocampo, 19, from Los Angeles, she’s been to two other World Youth Days.
“The vigil is something special,” she told me. “You really delve into yourself, who you want to be for Christ… You renew that commitment that you made — I want to be this person for God — and you really feel that. It is really one of the most empowering experiences.”
At the vigil, Pope Francis took the cue. He recognized the readiness of the youth, and he called them: “Dear friends, never forget that you are the field of faith! You are Christ’s athletes! You are called to build a more beautiful Church and a better world.”
Said Francis, echoing Mother Teresa, it all begins with you and me!