After 460 years another Jesuit dressed in white, Pope Francis, wrote on the carioca beach another splendid poem, altogether Marian and Franciscan: give Christ to the world through young people.
Arriving by helicopter at the Copacabana fortress, the Pope was driven in an open-top jeep a few kilometers along the sea.
In some 30 minutes, advancing at a man’s pace, between stopping and going to embrace and kiss children who were presented to him in a jubilant crowd, he also received the gift of a white skull cap, not made in the “regular” way, which he put on without hesitation offering his own to the young donor.
Having taken his place on the stage, from which he came down to greet some prelate friends present there, he embraced Monsignor Marini, his master of ceremonies, who introduced him to Deacon Marcio to give a nice framework to the moment, that cleric being his Brazilian double, be it for his striking physical similarity, be it for his passion for the sacred liturgy.
While the ovation “esta es la juventud del Papa” [this is the Youth of the Pope] was being heard, he was greeted by five youths representing five continents.
A visibly moved Brazilian girl offered him the gift of a seedling, a sign of a bond with the Brazilian earth.
“I have so much hope in you! Above all, I hope you will renew your fidelity to Jesus Christ and to His redeeming Cross,” said Pope Francis to young people, quoting John Paul II’s same phrase at the 1997 WYD of Buenos Aires.
Always remembering his predecessors, he then asked for a greeting to Benedict XVI, who chose Rio as the place for the present WYD.
The thunder of applause for the Pope Emeritus was preceded by a minute of silence for young Sophie Moriniere and those wounded in the tragic bus accident of the French pilgrims of the WYD while they were in Guyana. In the morning, Pope Francis had also sent a message of sympathy for the victims of the train disaster in Santiago de Compostela.
“My Pastor’s heart embraces you all with universal affection. May Christ the Redeemer, from the top of the mountain of Corcovado, receive us in this most beautiful city of Rio!”, were the Pope’s vibrant words.
In the somewhat surreal atmosphere of the techno-illumination there was then a leap to the past, when merchants, mercenaries and missionaries, disembarked on the same coast of Vera Cruz for evidently different objectives.
With appropriate costumes, young people evoked that period pulling in a cart a beautiful image of Our Lady of Aparecida followed by the Cross and by all the disinherited of the earth crucified by poverty, sickness and exclusion.
During the meditation of the Liturgy of the Word that concluded the event, Pope Francis added a recipe for young people: “Put in faith, put in hope, put in love!”
The Pontiff explained himself thus: “Bota fe (put on faith). When we prepare a plate of food and we see that it needs salt, well, we “put on” salt; when it needs oil, then you “put on” oil. “To put on”, that is, to place on top of, to pour over. And so it is in our life, dear young friends: if we want it to have real meaning and fulfilment, as you want and as you deserve, I say to each one of you, “Put on faith”, and your life will take on a new flavour, it will have a compass to show you the way; “put on hope” and every one of your days will be enlightened and your horizon will no longer be dark, but luminous; “put on love”, and your life will be like a house built on rock, your journey will be joyful, because you will find many friends to journey with you.”
Faith, hope and love, however, have a foundation and a model: Christ Jesus.
“Dear young people: “Put on Christ” in your lives.”
From the emotional to the real, Pope Francis indicated the sacrament of Confession to be reconciled with Christ, with others, and with oneself.
He invited to feed on the “Flesh of the Eucharist,” sacrament of Christ’s presence, of his sacrifice of love.
Finally he proposed meeting one’s neighbor in these days in which young people are living a unique experience of cultural exchange with their contemporaries from different countries, and spiritual growth through voluntary work and the catecheses received.
“It’s lovely to be here,” said Pope Francis, interpreting the thoughts of the young people, but he also recalled them to their responsibilities and to a mature plan of life when he said:
“Looking at this sea, the beach and all of you, there comes to mind the moment in which Jesus called the first disciples to follow him, on the shore of the lake of Tiberias. Today Jesus asks us again: Do you want to be my disciple? Do you want to be my friend? Do you want to be a witness of my Gospel?
Each one felt asked; each one will give his answer to Christ with his life.
Receiving the image of Our Lady of Aparecida, Pope Francis invited them to “be disciples and missionaries as She is (…) because Christ is counting on us!”