I am 72 years old and wish I could, right now, be with those wonderful young people in Rio for the 28th World Youth Day. I have to stop and think, because I sometimes call them “kids” when I am not paying attention, sometimes when I am talking to them. I always regret saying that even though they sure do look young to me.
I have only seen WYD (World Youth Day) in Sidney and Madrid in the past because I am a new Catholic and before that, I was not aware of this marvelous event. I may have seen a short news story of the event somewhere, but I am sure I would have just thought, looks like those Catholics are having a good time. Now, listening to the interviews from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and remembering those young people who spoke in the past to EWTN television, I can tell you coming direct from the source, that they are there because of Jesus Christ. Christ is mentioned by name, proudly, by these youngsters when they have a microphone thrust at them. Most are not used to this kind of attention but manage to speak clearly and from their heart. They tell you with the enthusiasm that all young people have when they are really into something, that they are excited to be among other Catholics, excited to see and hear their Pope, excited to openly express their love of the faith. I have heard more than once from the youth and others that they are not just the future of the Church, they are the present of the Church. I thank God for them.
The pope arrived after a long flight and immediately entered into the event with gusto. As his simple car, part of a police escorted fleet of vehicles, tried to make it’s way through the crowds of Rio towards the Cathedral and a change to a new open pope-mobile, he brought his own personal style to the event. Mobbed by people wanting to be close to him, he kept his window open and waved and greeted people, as his Swiss Guards tried in vain to keep people at a distance. The caravan was stopped several times as the available road narrowed and the crowds poured into the roadway. There has been a record 5,500 journalists registered according to the National Catholic Register, over 10 times the largest record from Madrid. But, as I checked Google news while writing this I only saw one story, and that about the security problems that the Brazilians had on the Pope’s arrival.
The opening ceremony at Copacabana beach on Tuesday featured a Holy Mass. Before Mass, the World Youth day cross that has been carried from parish to parish after each WYD to the next one anywhere in the world since 1984, was carried to the stage that held the altar. With an icon of Mother and Child following, as it was brought through the crowd, hands reached out to touch it.
Having had many conversations with atheists, I can predict the reaction to these various scenes will be curiosity. The faith underneath the color, music, clerical dress and enthusiasm runs deep. Catholics will immediately recognize that Jesus Christ is the focus of all these marvelous souls. There is still time to visit EWTN online or on TV and radio to participate as I am; wishing I could be there also.