RIO DE JANEIRO — Wind and rain on Copacabana beach did not stop more than half a million young people from experiencing the global nature of the Church at the opening Mass of World Youth Day on the evening of July 23.
“This is amazing. It's more fun than I've ever had,” said Michael Nightingale.
The 17-year-old from St. Louis is traveling with an archdiocesan group and said that he is attending World Youth Day for the first time.
So far, he said, the best part has been “just mixing with all the teens and being here with people from all over the world.”
Other pilgrims echoed his worlds, voicing excitement and enthusiasm as they began the activities of World Youth Day 2013. Running July 23-28 in Rio de Janeiro, World Youth Day unites young people from across the globe to meet each other, pray together and hear a message from the Holy Father.
At the start of the 2013 events, pilgrims visited with travelers from other nations, posing for pictures together and exchanging small pins, scarves and other tokens from their home countries.
Several participants said that they were particularly eager to experience the fellowship with other Catholics that is part of the event.
Perla Corrales, 16, agreed that she is most excited about “meeting new people” from around the world.
She added that she decided to join a local group from Texas to attend World Youth Day in order to “come to a new country and have the opportunity to see the Pope.”
“I think he’s amazing,” she said of Pope Francis. “He’s so simple, and I love that about him.”
Olivia Sharkey, 21, said she was motivated to attend the event by her friends, who had participated in several previous World Youth Days and had recounted “the impact of the experience and how influential it is in their life and their faith and viewing faith as a journey.”
This inspired Sharkey to travel from Philadelphia to Rio de Janeiro “to see the manifestation of the globalization of faith and Catholicism on a whole new spectrum, a whole new level.”
She expressed excitement at seeing “individuals who share the same ideals, the same values, and to see those just come alive in a whole new way.”
“The youth are indeed the Church, and Christ does commission the youth to go out to spread the Gospel and to see the Gospel in a whole new light,” she reflected.
Sharkey said at the start of World Youth Day that she was most looking forward to simply “being present in the moment and witnessing the various ways that the personal journeys of people come together.”
“When you get down to it, faith is not just yours, but it’s a gift from God, a gift from others that’s been given to you in order to share,” she said, adding that she is eager to see “how each person’s personal faith is different but how that one common union in Christ unites you and that allows you to express that same faith but in different ways.”
Reflecting on the months since the election of Pope Francis, Sharkey described the Holy Father as “absolutely fantastic.”
She said, “I think he’s being a fantastic role model of what love in action is.”