Video: Protesters and pilgrims together in Rio

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb. discusses the importance of World Youth Day for young Brazilians in the context of the recent political demonstrations.

Last-minute preparations for pope’s visit at several sites

Backstage, literally, at Campo Fidei. (CNS/Cindy Wooden)

Backstage, literally, at Campo Fidei. (CNS/Cindy Wooden)

RIO DE JANEIRO — For media traveling with the resting Pope Francis, today was site visit day.

Despite sometimes heavy rain, hundreds of workers were busy putting the almost-final touches on facilities at Guaratiba, re-baptized Campo Fidei. The field is where the pope’s vigil with young people will be held Saturday night and where he’ll celebrate Mass with them Sunday morning.

Owners of a tiny shop in Varginha, the favela the pope will visit Thursday, are selling papal visit T-shirts and at least one enterprising resident — Carlos, according to the sign in his window — is renting out rooms to people who want to be a resident-for-a-day.tshirts

Up at the St. Francis of Assisi Hospital, the Franciscan friars and sisters were out in the pouring rain raking up leaves, sweeping sidewalks and decorating the chapel in preparation for the pope’s visit tomorrow afternoon.

Here are few more details:

– Duda Magalhaes, CEO of Dream Factory, the event planning company overseeing work at Campo Fidei, said the work is right on schedule. He said the rain isn’t a problem because it’s winter in Rio and everyone knew there was a good chance it would rain. But, like everyone else, he is hoping forecasters are right and the rain ends Thursday or Friday.

The field is 32 miles from the center of Rio. Magalhaes said every site considered was a good distance from town because they needed a big open space. Copacabana beach is being used for the WYD opening tonight, for the welcoming ceremony with the pope Thursday and for the Via Crucis Friday. But, he said, you can’t have hundreds of thousands of young people sleeping on a beach in the middle of town, so that ruled out using the beach for the vigil. Magalhaes is planning to accommodate up to 900,000 overnight campers at Campo Fidei, providing them with restrooms, water and food under the watchful eyes of the Brazilian military … in addition to the group chaperones.

He said the field easily can handle 1.5 million people for Mass; while some have spoken of a possibility of 2 million or more showing up, Magalhaes said studying other papal Masses seems to indicate that when so many people already will have seen the pope at events in Rio, a super huge attendance is unlikely. Plus, there’s the fact that anyone wanting to go will have to walk at least 5 miles from the bus drop off point.

Father Marcio

Father Marcio

– Father Marcio Oliveira de Queiroz, pastor of the parish that includes the Church of St. Jerome in Varginha, said the pope’s visit is “one of the most important moments this community has ever experienced. It’s almost unthinkable that the pope would come here.”

A year ago, the favela underwent what the government calls “pacification,” a major effort that begins with a massive police operation to rid the shantytown of drugs, drug lords and weapons, and includes bringing running water and electricity to all the homes.

Father Oliveira de Queiroz has been pastor for five years. He said his parishioners used to have to think twice before leaving home, even to go to Mass. And they were never sure they would get back home safely either. Asked what things were like, he told us to picture a big open air fruit and vegetable market, “then change the produce to guns and drugs.”

Brothers and sisters at St. Francis of Assisi Hospital.

Brothers and sisters at St. Francis of Assisi Hospital.

– Franciscan Brother Francisco Belotti is the director of the St. Francis Assisi Hospital complex, which includes departments like cardiology found at any major hospital in any big city, but it also includes a very large facility to assist recovering drug addicts, which will be the focus of the pope’s visit. “Coming here, Pope Francis is telling them that they have value, that they are loved,” he said. The visit is another sign that “the pope chose Francis not just as a name, but as a plan,” a signal of how he intended to focus on the poor through his ministry.

Video: WYD pilgrims visit Marian shrine

A look at the site of Pope Francis’ first public liturgy for WYD 2013, the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, the world’s largest Marian shrine.

Video: Brazil protesters await pope

Professor Rachel Nigro of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro discusses the recent wave of protests across Brazil and how the pope’s visit to the country might impact national politics.

Video: Why WYD? Americans in Rio explain.

U.S. pilgrims in Rio discuss their expectations for World Youth Day 2013.

Video: Homes opened for World Youth Day

Brazilian Catholics renew their faith when they open their homes to volunteers helping to run World Youth Day 2013.

Video: Rio hospital ready for pope

A look at the Franciscan hospital Pope Francis will visit during his trip to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day.

 

Video: Brazilians eager for pope’s visit

Catholics in Rio de Janeiro await Pope Francis’s visit for World Youth Day this month and examine the legacy of Blessed John Paul II’s visit to a slum.

Celebrating with Pope Benedict XVI in Cuba

Editor’s Note: Alleluia! As we celebrate Easter, we present the final blog of Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz.,  from Pope Benedict XVI’s March 26-28 visit to Cuba.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass in Revolution Square in Havana. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

HAVANA — We had to get up early to walk to the sight of the papal Mass, which was to begin at 9 a.m. The streets were empty of cars as people were walking to Revolution Square, the same place where Blessed John Paul II offered Mass in 1998. The day was perfect with a bright blue sky. Many people coming for the Mass wore printed visors to provide shade and to remind people of the reasons for the event.

The crowd was made up mostly of Cubans; the day was declared a holiday by President Raul Castro. As in Santiago de Cuba, Castro was in his same spot at the front of the crowd in the middle of the plaza, along with other government officials. Some said the crowd was smaller than when Blessed John Paul was there, others said it was about the same or larger. Crowd estimates are hard to come by. By all standards it was a large crowd. Clearly people identify with the Catholic Church, even though some are not committed to it.

Again the image of Mary on the top of a van preceded the entrance of the Holy Father. It was placed near the altar with great devotion. For this Mass the Holy Father arrived on time. There were about eight cardinals and 35 bishops who concelebrated, a few more than at the Mass in Santiago de Cuba. The cardinals and bishops vested behind the altar in a monument area, which was built just before the revolution and is dedicated to Jose Marti.

The liturgies of Pope Benedict are very subdued and solemn. In fact, an announcement was made before each Mass asking that people refrain from clapping and waving flags. The people respected the pope’s wishes. At the end of Mass the pope walked out in front, waving, his face broad with a gracious smile. After Mass he went to meet Cuban seminarians who had gathered behind the altar. Cardinal Jaime Ortega stood with them, looking very proud.

Before the Holy Father left he met with Fidel Castro. Castro’s health has significantly deteriorated, apparently. According to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican press secretary, the two men talked about aging, and Fidel asked the pope to suggest a book on spiritual reflection.

A choir sings during Pope Benedict XVI's Mass in Revolution Square in Havana March 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Just as Pope Benedict was to leave, a big storm came up just over the airport, delaying the departure. I was doing an interview in the CNN studio, on the 28th floor, and the view was spectacular, as you could see the rain over the airport and eventually, the sun shining through, casting bright white light over the area. My interview was interrupted as we watched the parting remarks by Raul Castro and the pope’s final comments. These were the pope’s most “political” words of this trip. Pope Benedict said Cuba is for all Cubans and there is a need to open dialogue with the human family of nations.

That evening, I and some others walked about seven kilometers, very exhausting. One can walk all over Cuba without fear. Guns are not allowed and violence is not apparent. Our path took us along the Malecon, the seawall, where the water was pretty rough that night. Waves breaking over the wall nearly got us soaked. It began to rain so we tried to get a cab, but by the time he came the rain had stopped, and we continued our walk.

Seeing the work of the church in Cuba

Editor’s Note: Yesterday, Good Friday, was a holiday in Cuba, after the government granted a request from Pope Benedict XVI. Hundreds of Americans traveled to Cuba for the pope’s March 26-28 visit. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., traveled with pilgrims from Florida. Following is the second of three blogs he wrote for Catholic News Service.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

HAVANA — Breakfast was sparse but enough to get started. We met Maritza Sanchez, the director of Caritas Cuba, to visit with her staff and see some of their projects in Havana.

We had an opportunity to visit two projects at St. Barbara Church, located in a very poor part of the city. The parish has one Mass on Sundays and collects about $8. Today only a small percentage of Cuban Catholics attend Mass, and many blend their faith with native religions that came from African slave origins.

St. Barbara’s had a large group of elderly participants, many of whom live alone. They came carrying plastic containers to take food home. The feeding center is also an opportunity to socialize. I found it delightful to talk with the participants. I explained that my mom is going to be 100 in June, and they applauded. One elderly gentleman came up to say he was praying for my mom and asked if I would extend to her his greetings and best wishes.

Caritas also provides opportunities for women to have their hair done, which is so important for a sense of well-being. It is a moment when they feel cared for.

We also stopped by a feeding and nursery program for little ones. The children were gobbling their food and asking for more. Their smiles were precious and they seemed to enjoy interacting with us. Upstairs some of the littlest ones were taking naps, but of course they were eager to meet visitors and show off their toys. These youngsters were from marginalized families not able to receive other assistance.

We enjoyed a marvelous Cuban lunch with the staff of Caritas Cuba. Their ability and skills are obvious and their passion for the work impressive.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Havana is seen illuminated by Italian artist Gaspare Di Caro March 25. (CNS photo/Jorge Silva, Reuters)

After lunch Miguel Angel, who works with the HIV program, took us on a tour of the city. Havana is an amazing city. Marvelous architecture graces its neighborhoods. Gracious buildings with pillars and columns adorned with impressive designs can be seen all over Old Havana. Some areas are in the process of being renovated with UNESCO funds. One can see everywhere glimpses of a grand city that has fallen into disarray. Several of the large plazas have been restored and are impressive, but right next door are streets and buildings that are disastrous.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Havana is marvelous, a beautiful place of worship. But there is a serious lack of priests in Cuba. A new seminary has been built on the outskirts of Havana, but only about half of the priests in Cuba are native. Others come from around the world, not unlike our situation in the Diocese of Tucson. Some of the churches in Old Havana are no longer churches but turned over for other purposes.

Most billboards around the city are political in nature, calling for more socialism. Only recently has the government allowed people to buy and sell cars and property. Lack of that right gave people no incentive to take care of their property. Around the streets you see old Soviet cars and vintage American cars, often used as taxis. The old city, despite the challenges, has a marvelous charm. One can see why many tourists visit Cuba, even though for U.S. citizens, tourist travel is illegal and visits for other reasons are difficult.

We visited the fort and harbor area, which offers a great view of the very impressive Havana skyline. The harbor is large and beautiful. It still has a hand-operated lighthouse, where a man attends to the light personally.

We enjoyed supper at a local restaurant. The rice and black beans are very nutritious. Sleep came easy after a long but productive day.

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