RIO DE JANEIRO — Pope Francis has modified his World Youth Day schedule to plan a meeting this Thursday with several thousand young people from his home country of Argentina.
“The Pope expressed a desire to meet them, and the young people expressed a desire to meet the Pope,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.
He announced the meeting at a July 23 press briefing, at which he discussed the Pope’s activities from the day.
Tuesday was a free day on the Holy Father’s schedule, after he arrived in Brazil on Monday. Father Lombardi explained that the Pope used the day to celebrate a private Mass at his residence and then meet with cardinals and other advisers.
Due to the inclement weather, the Holy Father did not visit Corcovado Mountain to see the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer, as he had originally planned.
However, he did watch the opening Mass of World Youth Day on television. Statistics from the police authorities indicate that 500-600,000 young people took part in the Mass, held on the evening of July 23 on Copacabana beach.
The respect and dignity demonstrated by the young people, despite the poor weather, impressed many people, Father Lombardi said.
“Even though the Pope was not present physically, he was present spiritually,” he noted.
Father Lombardo also talked about a high-level meeting held between Vatican officials and federal government authorities on Tuesday to discuss the logistics of the coming days.
The meeting demonstrated a “spirit of great cooperation,” he explained, and “it was very evident that the Brazilian authorities wish to cooperate to the maximum to accommodate the desires of the Pope.”
He stressed that the gathering was not unusual, but was simply a routine meeting of a group that has been coming together regularly for several years in order to plan the details of the papal visit.
The new addition of the meeting with the Argentine youth “required some modifications and changes in the overall program.” Furthermore, predictions of poor weather on Wednesday led planners to change the Pope’s transportation to the nearby city of Aparecida.
When Pope Francis returns after his visit to the shrine of Aparecida to Rio later in the day, he will be taken to visit a local hospital. While the original plans called for both an open-air jeep and a covered car, there will now be only a covered car for this trip. The open-air vehicle will be used at other points throughout World Youth Day.
Father Lombardi warned against assuming that these changes imply security concerns, after the traffic difficulties when Pope Francis arrived on Monday.
Said Father Lombardi, “We’re simply trying to facilitate the movement of the Pope from one place to another.”