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.
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 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.”
— 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.