Well, I made it safely to Rio yesterday morning, via Dallas — 11 hours in the air! While this is my sixth World Youth Day pilgrimage, it is my first visit deep into the heart of Catholic Latin America.
The flight was filled with young Catholic pilgrims from all over the United States. There was an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation on the flight.
In the afternoon, I joined up with our young pilgrims from Lincoln, Neb., and seven of our diocesan priests who are accompanying our group. They have spent the last seven days participating in “Days in the Diocese,” staying with host families in and around the city of Petropolis, about an hour outside of Rio. We took a long walk along the Copacabana beach, the venue for the welcoming Mass on Tuesday evening. The temperatures were in the high 70s, even though it’s winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, and there was a balmy breeze coming off the ocean as we strolled along the beach. They told me stories of the wonderful welcome and hospitality they received from their host families. For most of our young pilgrims, this is their first trip outside the United States.
What a wonderful experience of the Church universal for our young pilgrims. For me, this is the greatest experience of World Youth Day: to be with fellow Catholics from all across the globe to celebrate the gift of faith.
Last night, I participated in a lovely reception for the U.S. bishops hosted by U.S. Consul General John Creamer and his wife at their home. We had a surprise visit by U.S. Ambassador Thomas Shannon, who gave us a warm welcome.
On the bus ride over, we were able to watch on TV our Holy Father’s triumphal arrival in Rio and his drive through the streets of the city. The arrival was covered on national television, and there were enormous crowds in the streets to welcome Pope Francis to Brazil. He even kissed a few Brazilian babies from his popemobile!
The theme for this year’s World Youth Day is “Go, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). It’s a fitting theme in light of this year’s special Year of Faith and the New Evangelization.
Young people, in many ways, are the best ambassadors for Christ and his Church. They bring a youthful enthusiasm for Christ, and they confirm for all of us the love and zeal we should all have for our Catholic faith. We should never lose the youthfulness of our friendship with Christ.
By the way, Rio is a stunningly beautiful city, with the iconic giant statue of Christ the Redeemer, known here as Corcovado, watching over this city by the sea. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with you as World Youth Day 2013 begins in earnest today.