Smiles, music, games and so much joy. The young people who have come from the whole of Italy to Rio de Janeiro for the World Youth Day (WYD) are a ray of sun in the humid and rainy season of the carioca metropolis. In particular those gathered in Casa Italia, the Center in the heart of Rio run by a Confraternity of Barnabites, next to the parish of Sao Paolo the Apostle, which has become the point of reference for the numerous pilgrims of our country.
The service for the Youth Pastoral of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) has created its base there and in the coming days the Bishops will give their catecheses prepared for the WYD. The CEI volunteers have really thought of everything to receive in the best way possible the different groups, being on the alert day and night to distribute to the last arrivals the pilgrim’s kit and guide of the city and putting at their disposition every sort of comfort, even televisions to follow the activities of the Holy Father and some computers creating a sort of Internet point.
The courtyard of the Casa is a happy island: despite a light rain, young people play ball, sing, take photos or stay delighted in front of several screens that project CTV images of Pope Francis’ first immersion into a crowd this afternoon.
Together with them are the various Bishops who come from the dioceses of Italy to accompany the young people in this historic adventure in Brazil. Among these are Monsignors Leuzzi, Giusti, Segalini, Spina, Seccia to mention a few. In total they are about forty.
At 7:30 pm Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco arrived, the president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, who came to celebrate Holy Mass in the parish. The Cardinal’s first greeting was to the volunteers of Casa Italia. He spent time with them in chats and presentations, had photos taken, some also with the blue cap that is in the pilgrim’s kit, recommending: “Don’t spread this photo too much, I’m not very photogenic.”
He then approached each one of the young men present, joked with them, shook their hand and asked all of them where they came from, what group they belonged to, and how many had come. He patted the disabled boys present, and blessed some on the forehead, subjected himself to an innumerable queue to kiss his hand, requests for personal greetings and group photos as souvenirs. To a clumsy Roman youth who by mistake hit him on the back with a rubber ball he said smiling: “Stop trying to be a Brazilian who always plays soccer!”
The “Francis effect” has truly infected everyone, even a “man of integrity” such as CEI’s president. The Cardinal’s bright eyes were bursting with joy, above all when, entering the structure, he found an improvised choir of the Youth Pastoral intoning, with the guitar, “Emmanuel”, the historic hymn of the WYD 2000 at Rome, to welcome him.
“The first thing I wish to say to you with all my heart is thank you for having come here,” said the Cardinal. He then recalled the words of Blessed John Paul when he said to the pilgrims of the first World Youth Day: “I called you and you answered.”
Your presence, he added, is a “great grace and a sign of hope for the Church and the world. To see young people arrive from the whole world with this joy and interior ‘cleanliness’ is God’s smile on the world.”
After thanking the volunteers, the bishops and all those who gave of their own time and energy for the WYD, Cardinal Bagnasco exclaimed: “To Brazil we say that we love it and that we thank all the people for their hospitality.”
The Cardinal then concluded with a prayer not only to Our Lady of Aparecida, but also to the Italian Madonna of Loreto, that she protect the Pope and the pilgrims and intercede for the good outcome of the event.