In the aftermath of World Youth Day, former Ennis priest, Fr John Molloy, who was in Rio with a number of youths from his parish of Mount Sinai in Ecuador, reflected on his experiences of the event that attracted millions to South America to celebrate with Pope Francis
On route from Rome to Rio, Papa Francisco said, “I have learned that to gain access to the Brazilian people, it is necessary to pass through its great heart, so let me knock gently at this door. I ask permission to come in and spend this week with you. I have neither silver nor gold but I bring with me the most precious thing given to me: Jesus Christ. I have come in his name, to feed the flame of maternal love that burns in every heart and I wish my greeting to reach out to one and all. The peace of Christ be with you.”
After time spent visiting many parishes in Rio, our final parish was ‘Paroquia Nossa Senhora do Amparo’ near Tangua. Again, the welcome and hospitality abounded. We visited nursing homes, a St Vincent de Paul Hostel for the Homeless and a hospital. All were in walking distance so it was a good feeling walking unknown streets and being part of a community for another day.
So, Mission Week came to an end. Brazilian parishes and parishioners have been so gracious and welcoming to all of us.
We saw the official start-up of World Youth Day on Copacabana Beach. The warm up music presentations, songs and dancing began. Prayers were recited in the form of a Mission Rosary. There was a wonderful street atmosphere with everyone greeting each other and taking photos.
The colours of clothing, flags, hats, banners, you name it, were striking. All countries and Nations being represented. Naturally I was looking out for an Irish flag.
The Pilgrim Cross was put in place and also a beautiful Icon of the Black Madonna native to Brazil. Earlier in the day Pope Francis kissed another statue of the Black Madonna.
On the Tuesday night, mass was celebrated by Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, who has responsibility for working with lay people. I was a little disappointed with the involvement in this mass, as so many of the Youth of the World are here I felt this celebration was being ‘controlled’ in some way and lacked a young leadership. I certainly believe a pilgrim from some part of the world should have been let say a few words but that is only my opinion.
Two more days had catechetics led by different bishops in different locations in different languages. We attended and, to be honest, again it all needed a more youth-focused leadership, especially from the lay church. There were 273 venues that the organisation calls catechesis headquarters.
While catechesis continued, Pope Francis had arrived on Brazilian soil. He visited Aparecida, the largest church in the hemisphere.
He also visited a hospital that takes care of people with drug addictions and visited the slums, the ‘Favelas’.
At 6pm on the Thursday, helicopters circled Copacabana. Papa Francisco was on his way. The beach and street of some 3km lined with people. The excitement was palpable. Young, middle and not so young, all out waiting for a glimpse of a new leader in our Catholic Church. Some 2.5 million estimated to be present on this evening. As Pope Francis passed me by, I just thought to myself ‘What a Man for others’ His reaching out, his energy, enthusiasm, smile, care for the weaker, he kissed many children and people in wheelchairs. One sees a person whom you know is happy in his the job.
He eventually made his way to the platform that was lit up with wonderful colours. The music played and we all thought ‘it is good for us to be here’.
You can read in many places now on the internet some of Papa Francisco’s quotes from this evening and the days to follow but some words stay with me.
He wants priests and religious in particular to be happy. He said, ‘there is nothing as bad as a sad bishop’. He wants priests to be happy in their lives and ministry. He wants the youth of the world to go home and shake the dust off parishes, even if that means upsetting bishops and priests.
What a great challenge that is for me as a priest. I have witnessed and been with youth of the world at their best here. They are full of faith, hope and love.
Up to three million gathered, we know these statistics from those using public transport systems, por la Oracion del Rosario de la Misericordia y Inicia el Viacrucis con el Papa. Many actors were used for the Stations of the Cross. Again, it lacked youth involvement but the atmosphere and sense of prayer was special.
The most dramatic news of the week had to be the following. Now, being an Irishman, we always talk about the weather. For our first few days in Brazil it was hot. Very hot. Then the temperature dropped and rains arrived. I thought I was out in Kilkee in winter one day as the rains, winds and cold beat against us on the beach in Copacabana.
Again, maybe a godsend but for every ceremony the weather was not a problem and it actually dried up and winds eased as a main ceremony was to take place. For those with me, James, Isidro and Ricardo, this was like going to Antarctica, as we don’t have weather like this in Guayaquil. The rainy season in Guayaquil is hot, so the guys were freezing in Rio and it cost them a day at home, where they stayed in with our family and just chatted, relaxed, played music and spoke in three languages to each other. That, in my opinion, is what World Youth Day is all about too.
But, to conclude about why I am calling these paragraphs ‘dramatic’ is the vigil and final mass was to be held in a place called Campus Fidei. This location was swamped and muck and chaos abounded but to make matters worse for organisers, crocodiles arrived on the site. The organisers decided it was a little dangerous for pilgrims, as the vigil was to take place here so they had to change the venue for the vigil and final mass, with Papa Francisco back to the beach in Copacabana.
All went well, a grand total of over three million pilgrims arrived from ‘the ends of the Earth’ to be in the presence of Papa Francisco. It was so, so good to be present. I remember well, as a young boy, getting up real early to go and see Pope John Paul II in Galway in Ireland.
We brought our granny with us plus a little chair that my dad made for her to sit on. We carried the chair in turns to hear from John Paul, “Young People of Ireland, I love You.”
There is something about the Pope. No matter what Pope it is in time and moment, he draws a crowd. This Pope, Our Papa Francisco, wants change in our Church. He wants young people to be the force of that change. We adults must let that happen. Praise God for Papa Francisco. As he journeyed back to the Vatican and Rome I hope his heart, mind and body are smiling and saying to him, Todos amistad y amor y esperanza con Brazil, amigo, John.