National Catholic Register


Bishop Conley’s World Youth Day Diary

Lincoln’s Shepherd Covers WYD Rio for the Register

BY Bishop James Conley

Special to the Register

Aug. 11-24, 2013 Issue | Posted 8/8/13 at 8:44 AM


RIO DE JANEIRO — Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb., accompanied young pilgrims to World Youth Day Rio, blogging about his experiences for the Register throughout the week at Here are his bloggings:


Youthful Enthusiasm

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.


Prayerful Trip

A misty cloud cover descended over the city of Rio on Tuesday, Day 2 of our pilgrimage for World Youth Day.

After meeting up with our Lincoln priests and young pilgrims for a ride across town on the crowded metro, we made our way to the parish Church of Our Lady of Glory, a beautiful classical-style church known as one of the "Imperial Chapels."

We prayed Morning Prayer together in the piazza outside the church, as we waited all morning for our scheduled time for Mass. The church had excellent acoustics and was just perfect in size for our group of about 70. Our young pilgrims have learned all the Latin parts of the Mass and have beautiful voices.

On the Church’s liturgical calendar for July 23 is the feast of the mother, wife, mystic, founder of a religious order and co-patroness of Europe, St. Bridget of Sweden.

After a hearty lunch at one of the local restaurants, buffet-style, using our WYD lunch passes, we made our way to Corcovado, the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking the Bay of Guanabara. By the time we reached the top of the mountain, by way of a San Francisco-style cable car, loaded with young pilgrims from all over the world, the mountaintop was engulfed in a thick fog.

With the outstretched arms of Christ embracing the world, reaching up into the clouds, one of our young pilgrims remarked, "Do you think this is something like what the apostles saw at the Ascension?"

As we were waiting at the upper station for the cable car to take us down the mountain, we joined a group of pilgrims from Michigan who were praying the Rosary. Since WYDs are always fraught with long lines and long waits, praying the Rosary is the best way to pass the time.

As the crowds backed up, there were nearly 200 people praying the Rosary. I could tell that many were not English speakers. Nonetheless, they knew the Rosary and joined in hushed tones in their native language.

At the end of the Rosary, one of our priests began chanting the traditional Latin hymn (Taizé-style) Adoramus te Domine (We Adore, Lord). It is a simple, repetitive chant that everyone picked up quickly. We sang for nearly 10 minutes before the cable car arrived. Praying in the Church’s mother tongue, calling upon the Holy Spirit, it was a glorious moment.

By the time we made it back into the center part of the city, the welcoming Mass celebrated by Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta of Rio was well under way. The Copacabana was filled with people as I watched from the back on the Jumbotron.

As we knelt in the sand with other pilgrims at the consecration, it was remarkable to me how the crowd was silenced at the words of institution. Although the Mass was in Portuguese, everyone understood the sacredness of this moment in the Mass. The triple ringing of the sanctuary bells at the elevation of the Host and chalice could be heard reverberating down the beach through the sound system, reminding us that it is the Lord who is the principal protagonist in the drama of World Youth Day.

Allow me to close with the words of Archbishop Tempesta from his homily: "This week Rio has become the center of the Church, its heart both youthful and vibrant. You have come from all over the world to share together in the faith and the joy of being disciples and missionaries in all nations. Everywhere, youthful enthusiasm shows in the faces of young Christians, who wish to unite the testimony of an authentic and Christian life with the social dimension of the Gospel. … We are called to be agents for a new world. I am sure that you will do this in your cities and countries. The world needs young people like you."


Food for Body and Soul

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 Cardinal George 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!


WYD Surprises

The sun rose over Copacabana beach Sunday morning, and 3 million young people assembled along the water’s edge. They were preparing for the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2013 with Pope Francis.

Most of those 3 million pilgrims had spent the night on the beach. The previous night they’d shared in Eucharistic adoration and Benediction with Pope Francis. The vigil lasted well into the night.

Pope Francis continued his relentless schedule by traveling along Atlantic Avenue in the popemobile, kissing babies and greeting the multitude. He even hopped out of the popemobile a few times to visit with some young people. The security detail must be getting used to his unpredictability by now. He is certainly his own man.

The citizens of Rio have been excellent hosts: warm, friendly and deeply Catholic. As one would expect, the majority of pilgrims were Brazilian, and they came from all over this vast land. They are the largest Catholic nation in the world.

One of the remarkable things I will always remember about this World Youth Day is how so many Brazilians came up to us bishops for a blessing. As we made our way back and forth to the main venues, Brazilians would stop us and ask for a blessing and photo! They loved the fact that their shepherds were in the streets, walking with the people. When Brazilians looked at bishops, they didn’t see just hierarchs or the leaders of an institution — they saw us as shepherds of the Good Shepherd.

Pope Francis challenged all of us to "go out and make disciples of all nations." He kept repeating three things: Go, don’t be afraid and serve.

Over the weekend, he repeated the admonition that the Church cannot be self-referential. She must go out of herself and serve those who are on the periphery. Since his election, the Holy Father has said that if the Church does not bring the love of God to the poor, she is no better than an NGO (non-governmental organization).

I think history will show that World Youth Day in Brazil was one of the most successful of all World Youth Days. There were many skeptics and naysayers who doubted whether or not a Latin-American country could pull off an event of this magnitude. There were also fears of violence and unrest that perhaps kept some people away. But Brazil rose to the occasion.

Miraculously, even with a last-minute change in the venue for the vigil and the closing Mass, everything went off beautifully.

The Lord is always full of surprises. And so is Pope Francis.

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska,

filed these reports from Rio de Janeiro.