It has been a rainy few days since my last blog entry, but the sun has come out on Friday in Rio, and it looks like more sun is in the forecast for the weekend. Thank you for your prayers!
The drizzling rain on Thursday, however, didn’t put a damper on the welcoming celebration for Pope Francis. His arrival at Copacabana beach late Thursday afternoon was telecast on the jumbotrons as over 1 million young people gathered on the beach to welcome the Successor of St. Peter.
He landed by helicopter onto the old Copacabana fortress in the bay and traveled via the popemobile along the road by the beach.
While music and dance filled the stage, everyone’s eyes were fixed on the big screens as Pope Francis made his way to the front. He must have kissed at least 15 babies along the way, exchanged his zuchetto (white beanie) with one that was handed to him from the crowd, and even took a sip from a "big-gulp" cup from one of the young pilgrims. I guess he must have been thirsty!
Needless to say, Pope Francis didn’t disappoint. Reflecting on the Gospel of the Transfiguration, our Holy Father invited the young people to "put on Christ” so that they can become “joyful witnesses of his love, courageous witnesses of his Gospel, carrying to this world a ray of his light.”
For our catechetical sessions on Thursday and Friday, held in the stunningly beautiful Church of La Candelaria in the center of Rio, we were graced with the presence of two cardinals of the Church. On Thursday, we had His Eminence George Cardinal Pell, archbishop of Sydney and host of the 2008 World Youth Day; and on Friday, Cardinal Wilfred Napier, archbishop of Durban, South Africa.
It was a particular joy for me to be with Cardinal Pell, a dear friend of mine for over 15 years, and to concelebrate the Mass with him.
In his catechesis, Cardinal Pell encouraged the young people to engage our culture and society with joy and confidence and not to be afraid of the rising secularism in our world today. Christ is the answer to every human question.
As I mentioned in my first blog entry, this is my sixth World Youth Day, and I have noticed over the years a growing sense of reverence among young people at these world gatherings.
Organizing huge Masses attended by youth from vastly different countries, cultures and customs can be a challenge. This week we have been with young pilgrims from Australia, Malaysia, Ireland, Kuwait, New Zealand and the Philippines.
At all three of our catechetical Masses this week, I was struck by the reverence, respect and genuine piety displayed by the young people.
Many of the young pilgrims received holy Communion on the tongue, and some even dropped to their knees to receive the Lord. I also noticed this same phenomenon at a Holy Hour I led for Youth 2000 on Wednesday. I hope I am correct in saying that there seems to be a hunger for deeper reverence and a sense of the transcendence among our young people at the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
This is, indeed, a good sign, given the very secular and profane world in which we live.
Finally, the food here has been great. Our group was lucky to discover several all-you-can eat buffets that accept the World Youth Day food passes. We don’t always know what it is we are eating, but it’s delicious, hot, and there’s always lots of it!
Bishop James Conley is bishop of Lincoln, Neb. He writes from Rio de Janeiro.