On July 24, more than half a million young people participated in the opening Mass of the 28th World Youth Day, celebrated by the archbishop of St. Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro, Msgr. Orani Joao Tempesta, on the beach at Copacabana. At dusk, the large stage dominated by a blue cross was lit up with the colours of the Brazilian flag. Silence greeted the arrival of the Cross and the image of the Virgin of World Youth Day, carried in procession by young people from the five continents.
Before Mass there were prayers for the young unemployed, for the victims of a nightclub fire in Brazil, for the street children murdered at La Candelaria church, and for the young French woman who died in a bus accident in French Guiana while preparing to travel to Rio to participate in World Youth Day.
As is customary, the Pope did not participate in the opening ceremony of World Youth Day, but the director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J., confirmed that he watched the event on television and was impressed by level of participation in the event.
In his homily, Archbishop Tempesta returned to the theme of World Youth Day: “Go and make disciples of all nations”, inviting the young to be missionaries: “This week Rio has become the centre of the Church, its heart both youthful and vibrant”, he said. “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”.
With regard to the Pope’s schedule over the coming days, Fr. Lombardi confirmed that, due to bad weather conditions, the Pope will travel by aeroplane rather than helicopter to the shrine at Aparecida, at least for most of the journey. He will also meet with a group of young Argentines in the cathedral of Rio de Janeiro.
Bad weather also prevented Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. from presenting the medal commemorating World Youth Day at the feet of Christ the Redeemer at Corcovado, as had been planned. Instead the event took place at the archbishop’s Sumare residence. The medal, struck in metal by the Braziian mint, depicts a smiling Pope Francis, and the cross of the Cathedral of St. Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro and the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida. Cardinal Bertone said, “It shows the Pope’s closeness to his people and the simplicity of his gestures, which have won over the world”.
In addition, from 24 to 26 July, 250 bishops from all five continents will deepen the themes of World Youth Day in three mornings of catechesis on the following themes: “thirst for hope, thirst for God” (Wednesday 24 July), “being a disciple of Christ” (Thursday 25) and on “being a missionary: now go!” (Friday 26). The catechesis sessions will take place in 300 distinct locations, from Copacabana and the metropolitan area to the favelas, and in churches, gyms, sports camps and social centres. The majority of the sessions will be held in Portuguese (133), but there will also be 50 in Spanish, 25 in English, 15 in Italian and French, 8 in German and 5 in Polish. In total, the catechesis will be held in 20 different languages, including Arabic, Croatian, Danish, Slovenian, Greek, Czech and Russian.