World Youth Day has officially begun, with about half a million pilgrims descending on Copacabana beach.
The rain did nothing to deter the young people as they prepared for the Opening Mass. It was a very different scene to what we are used to in England, or even to what I witnessed at the last WYD.
The streets were filled with young Catholics singing and dancing. There was the famous Brazilian carnival atmosphere pervading everything. Before the Opening Mass began the pilgrims, donning their waterproofs, got into the World Youth Day spirit with a music festival on the main stage.
As the sunset and darkness fell it was more akin to a rock concert than the lead up to a Mass. It was no surprise, as World Youth Day is often dubbed the Glastonbury or Woodstock of the Catholic world.
If the festival was exuberant and enthusiastic, the Mass was joyful and passionate and proved to be a beautiful sight to behold. There were flags waving in the wind so even in the dark the night sky filled with colour. The latest figures estimate between 500,000 to 600,000 people were on the beach celebrating Mass together.
The pilgrims who were part of the crowd had no idea of what they were part of at the time. It was only after as I caught up with my fellow volunteers that we were able to speak about the infectious enthusiasm the Brazilians have.
The passion and joy they have spills over into their prayers and music in the Mass. They find a balance that often we struggle with in the UK. Only at World Youth Day would a rock guitar lead to contemplative prayer after communion.
It was the homily that made us all pause and think. Pope Francis has asked us to look at ourselves, and be disciples. He has asked us to use World Youth Day as the launch pad for this evangelisation, to consider how we can bring back home the spirit and faith we experience here. Rio Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta said Rio had become the “centre of the Church, alive and young”, as pilgrims shouted and cried with joy.
He gave us our next mission of this World Youth Day to “form a new generation”. We were asked to pass on our faith, to not only make disciples of all nations, but to go back refreshed ready to face the challenges back home.
The Mass ended with Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the pontifical council for the laity, the council responsible for WYD, inviting us all to be embraced by Christ the Redeemer, the “main protagonist” of the event.
While people cheered and whooped, anticipating the events to come, I spent my time taking a moment to ponder what had been said. I was left reflecting on something Archbishop Tempesta said. “Another world is possible,” he promised, and for the first time in a long time I believed it to be true.