That World Youth Day (WYD) was a gathering of faith, hope and unity, I knew before I went to Rio2013; but it all made more sense after seeing so many devoted people from different parts of the world coming together in a way that I had never seen before. My WYD Rio2013 experience began 10 months ago, when I decided to prioritize it over a holiday back in my home country of Angola. It was a major decision, since after living for so long abroad as I have done and being a home person like myself you kind of feel like you’re missing on something. One week in Rio, and my decision has been well vindicated. Rio2013 wasn’t what I expected, it was even better, and this is why:
On the first day, having arrived the night before, we had our first morning prayer; that was to be the pattern for the remaining days of our stay in Rio. After the prayer, we separated our group into tasks for the day, for me and a few others the task was to go to Sambadrome to collect our Pilgrim Kits. That seemed an easy enough task considering another subgroup was given the task of walking to the sites of our Mass and Reconciliation services to make sure we knew the way when we needed to get there. My subgroup got into two taxis, who dropped us off at different parts of Sambadrome, which meant spending half an hour getting the group back together. That was a sign of the things to come; Sambadrome was packed with pilgrims from around the world, who went there to pick up their Pilgrim Kits. After over 4 hours of queuing up we got our Kits; by then we had
already made friends with many pilgrims including some from Brazil, USA and Germany. As our Kits were being carried to the entrance gate, from where we would put them on taxis to be taken to our hotel, a big surprise: Pope Francis is in town and is driving past us! The crowd flocked around his van, before somehow the police escorted him away. For my subgroup the next mission was to arrive on time for our Westminster Opening Mass presided over by Bishop John Sherrington, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, at Nossa Senhora de Copacabana Church, which we did. Another surprise of the day was to find that the Mass had become the Opening Mass of English Speaking Pilgrims, as the word had spread quickly and well over 250 pilgrims were present.
The second day was the day of the Opening Mass of WYD Rio2013 at Copacabana beach.
During the Mass, two things in particular caught my attention: first the choir, with a performance from heaven, and second Dom Orani Tempesta’s (Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro) homily, which was one of the best welcoming speeches I have ever heard, a quote from that homily is “I am sure this beautiful city (Rio) became even more beautiful with your presence”.
On the third day, we had our first Catechesis session at Nossa Senhora da Paz Parish in Ipanema. The church was packed when we got there with pilgrims from countries including UK, Ireland and USA.
Initially, it all seemed a bit chaotic. But things began to fall into place when Bishop John Sherrington began to deliver his Catechesis, which was centred on how we could be a nomad (with no purpose in life) or a pilgrim (with a purpose in life) depending on the decisions we take in life. After the Catechesis, Mass followed, after which we had another mission: to get to Niterói, a nearby city, for the Youth Festival, where London based urban electro band Ooberfuse were playing. It was close to 12.30pm and we had to get there before 2.15pm, the time allocated for Ooberfuse to perform (we were told that the trip usually takes around 1.5 hours from Rio to the Festival location in Niterói). Me, Phil and Anne Ross accepted the challenge and put ourselves on the metro+ferry, and after asking for directions to almost everyone we could, we got there just before 2.15pm.
The rain had intensified by then and we found a public of half a dozen people cheering a Brazilian band on stage. By the time the second Brazilian band was on stage only a couple of other people were left, and we began wondering whether Ooberfuse would be playing at all. That made us go backstage where we received reassurance, and moments later the band was on stage and a crowd of more than 30 people had arrived with more on their way. Ooberfuse were vibrant throughout and got the crowd going. They also made the trip under the rain well worth it. Hits performed included the official English version of the WYD Rio2013 anthem.
In the evening we had our Reconciliation service at the Santa Cruz Church, which was comforting to me, since I had gone a long time without having one.
On the fourth day, we had the Welcome Ceremony of Pope Francis. Earlier in the Catechesis, Bishop John Ebebe Ayah from Nigeria talked about how the youth need to take the Church forward right now, not tomorrow. I had tickets to cover the Welcome Ceremony for UK Pilgrims from the media stand at Copacabana beach.
Due to setting off slightly late and a crowd of more than 1.5 million people, me and Conor Galligan could only get to the stand after the celebration had already begun. There we met Paula Mendez, Jo-Anne Rowney and Catherine Anderson, all from the UK Pilgrims Communications (Comms) Team. It felt good to be up and close to listen to Pope Francis deliver his first speech to WYD Rio2013 pilgrims, during which he urged the pilgrims “to put on faith!”.
As the celebration went on we began to learn that due to heavy rain the location of the Vigil and Closing Mass of WYD Rio2013 was being changed from Guaratiba to Copacabana beach. After the ceremony, there was a music festival.
On the morning of day five, due to the change of location for the Vigil and Closing Mass of Rio2013
I didn’t attend Catechesis+Mass after morning prayer, instead I went to the media centre at Forte de Copacabana to gather information for our group (food, disability, allocation spaces, etc.).
In the afternoon, I went to Via Crucis, but only for a short time since we had booked to go and see Christ the Redeemer in the evening. Christ the Redeemer was a powerful experience, I had been there before but this time around it seemed to mean a lot more for some reason, maybe it was the rain (yes, it rained heavily in Rio for most of the WYD week!), or the darkness of the night, or even because this time I entered the little chapel, or a combination of all of these? I guess I will never know, what I know is that I felt the presence of God there and it was refreshing.
Day six was the Vigil Saturday, and morning prayer was followed by Mass. After Mass, me and most of our pilgrim group went to Copacabana beach to occupy our spot for the Vigil and Closing Mass the day after; a music festival preceded and followed the celebration with the Pope. It was an unforgettable experience, I saw Fr Marcelo Rossi, one of my favourite Brazilian priest singers, singing before Pope Francis joined us. As in previous days, Pope Francis was driven in his Popemobile the extent of Copacabana beach as he blessed, kissed and thrilled pilgrims. During his homily, the Pope said he knows that we “want to be serious Christians, not half Christians, not Christians who lift their noses but in the end don’t do anything, but authentic Christians”.
The seventh and final day was the day of the Closing Mass of WYD Rio2013, which began just after 9.30am with the now usual drive of Pope Francis in his Popemobile, with thousands more people receiving blessings; the Pope even drank Chimarrão, a south American drink. At the altar the first statement came from Dom Orani Tempesta, who said, referring to Pope Francis, that “we feel that on Monday, we will be missing someone very important and close to us, someone that made us very happy and got close to each one of us with his words and actions, but our holiness announced us Jesus Christ who will remain with us, He unites us despite the distance”.
During his homily, Pope Francis sent the more than 3 million pilgrims present on Mare Fidei (Copacabana beach) on a mission to show the world that the new world is possible, a world of a love that can only be found in Christ, “go without fear to serve!” he said. At the end of the celebration, Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, thanked God for the many gifts given to us, Pope Francis for leading WYD Rio2013, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for choosing Rio de Janeiro as the host city of the XXVIII edition of WYD and Pope John Paul II for creating WYD. After thanking Dom Orani Tempesta and Cardinal Rylko for their kind words, and the youth for the happiness they brought to him during WYD, Pope Francis announced that our next meeting (WYD) would be happening in 2016 in Krakow, Poland, and prayed the Angelus.
WYD has been a great experience to me. I met so many devoted people that made me look at myself and ask the question of whether I’ve been good enough. In particular, I remember this American woman I met, who has been to eight WYD’s and was so keen to meet the Pope that when I told her that I had taken a photo of the Pope’s van, she gave me her contact details so that I could email the photo to her. WYD Rio2013 gathered over 3 million like hearted people from across the globe in one place to in one voice proclaim their love to Jesus Christ. The trip to Christ the Redeemer was a big moment for me, I felt the presence of God and I could tell that the people who were with me felt the same, it was dark and raining heavily but it all didn’t bother us. During the 24 hours I spent on Mare Fidei (Copacabana beach) for the Vigil and Closing Mass of Rio2013, I was amazed by the two great Catechesis sessions by Pope Francis, great show of friendship from the 3 million plus pilgrims, some of the greatest choir performances of all time and the world’s largest flash mob that welcomed Pope Francis onto the altar on Sunday. And if that wasn’t good enough, Brazilian food as usual didn’t disappoint me!
Rio de Janeiro
30th July 2013
Edited in the UK on the 1st August 2013