The wind and rain did little to dissuade hundreds of thousands of young people from filling the beach of Copacabana on Tuesday to attend the opening Mass for the 28th World Youth Day, held this year in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.
The archbishop of Rio, Orani João Tempesta, presided over the Mass, which was attended by an estimated 400,000 pilgrims who had traveled from across the globe to take part in the week-long event. Despite the cold and wet winter weather – Brazil being located in the Southern hemisphere – those who attended the open-air Mass described the scene as filled with joy and enthusiasm, and highlighted the vibrant musical culture of the country.
“The opening Mass was a beautiful example of the Brazilian Church, a church that is joyful, prayerful and musical!” said Salt and Light producer Deacon Pedro Guevara-Mann, who is in Rio de Janeiro covering the WYD event for the Canada-based network. “The music was a wonderful example of how contemporary music can be used in Liturgy. Even though all was in Portuguese, the songs were very singable and congregational, really inviting all to enter into the spirit of the celebration.”
Deacon Guevara-Mann took note of the generosity of some of the pilgrims after Mass had ended: “Coming back to our hotel after the Mass, among the swarms of pilgrims on the streets we saw two nuns sharing food with a homeless man.”
Pope Francis: What to expect?
Although Pope Francis took a day of rest from his travels, and did not take part in Tuesday’s opening Mass, Deacon Guevara-Mann expects his time in Brazil to be “full of surprises” – as was already seen with his arrival into the country.
“The fact that he got into a tiny car and rode in it down the highway with the window open was surprising and exciting,” the deacon commented. However, “when his vehicle was then stuck in traffic it seemed like a security nightmare. The crowds were cheering and excited – that,” he admitted, “was not a surprise.”
The Pope’s address at Guanabara Palace, he continued, was full of “Francis-isms,” such as referring to young people as “the window through which the future comes” and “when I speak to the youth I will also be speaking to the elderly, the sick, the poor.”
This being his first WYD as Pope, the Holy Father is following in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, both known as being beloved by the youth.
“I think young people loved John Paul II’s clarity and Benedict’s gentleness,” Deacon Guevara-Mann said, explaining how, with Pope Francis, the youth respond to his authenticity. During this WYD visit, the deacon went on, “I suspect that Francis will just be Francis, as we already saw with his arrival, and the youth will respond very positively.”
WYD: personal testimony
Deacon Guevara-Mann is no stranger to WYD, having attended three others before this one. During the 2002 WYD in Toronto, Canada, he served as the artistic director in charge of all artistic programming, music, and the youth festival. He attributes this experience to his eventually being ordained a deacon.
“But every WYD is different,” he said. “They all have their high points and their not-so-high ones. The fact that we have Pope Francis will make this one a memorable one for sure. The little things also make a difference. Sydney had great merchandising; Madrid had a great system of food with local merchants. I think that Rio’s natural beauty is setting this experience apart for a lot of people. But, it’s too early to tell.”
With the week’s events just beginning, Deacon Guevara-Mann said that for him, the Sunday before WYD is always a high point. This past Sunday, he recalled, he and the Salt and Light team attended Mass in English near the hotel where they were staying.
This Mass is “usually attended by some 50 people,” he said. “But it’s WYD, so, there were 8 priests, 2 deacons (I was one of them), from different countries and a packed church with pilgrims from all over. It was presided by Bishop Vincent Long of Melbourne, Australia. I’m sure the local parishioners were thrilled!”
“This is how WYD evangelizes!”