RIO DE JANEIRO — The rain and the wind did not dampen the spirits of hundreds of thousands of World Youth Day participants this evening and they didn’t dampen the pope’s either. In fact, he seemed in no hurry to leave, repeating phrases, ad-libbing encouragement and simply readjusting his cape every time the wind blew it over his head.
In his first remarks to the young people at the huge World Youth Day celebration on the beach July 25, Pope Francis spoke of belonging to the great family of faith and that included a moment of silent prayer for Sophie Moriniere, a French WYD pilgrim who died July 17 in a car accident in French Guiana.
The celebration also included a “shout out” to retired Pope Benedict XVI, who chose Rio as the site of WYD 2013. Pope Francis told the young people that Pope Benedict was watching on television from Rome and had promised to pray for them.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said an estimated 1 million people were on the beach for the ceremony with the pope.
Pope Francis said he knew the youths had a variety of reasons for being part of World Youth Day and a variety of levels of previous involvement with the church. “But today you are all here — or better yet, we are all here together as one in order to share the faith and the joy of an encounter with Christ, of being his disciples,” the pope said in his introductory remarks.
Katherine Tanadi, 21, from the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Singapore told Catholic News Service that World Youth Day already “has been a life-changing experience.”
Standing on the beach, she said Rio was her first WYD and “I have met young Catholics from all over the world. It’s incredible.”
Ida Szuzepaniak, 25, from Poznan, Poland, said the experience of being in Rio with hundreds of thousands of her peers has taught her “that I have to have more patience, I need to pray more.”
In a homily during a Liturgy of the Word, Pope Francis told the young people that Jesus asks each person gathered on the seashore: “Do you want to be my disciple? Do you want to be my friend? Do you want to be a witness to my Gospel?”
The Gospel reading for the service was St. Luke’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus, including St. Peter’s line, “Master, it is good that we are here.”
In his homily, the pope echoed those words, telling the young people that it is always good to be gathered around Jesus and to keep Jesus at the center of their lives.
Faith, he said, is a “Copernican revolution,” an operation that shifts concerns and priorities so that they revolve around Jesus and not the individual or false idols.
“Certainly possessions, money and power can give a momentary thrill, the illusion of being happy,” he said, “but they end up possessing us and making us always want to have more, never satisfied.”
Instead, he said, with Christ as the center of your life “you will never be disappointed.”
Pope Francis asked the young people to think about a meal and what it means to “put on salt,” then he told them, “Put on faith and your life will take on a new flavor.”
“Put on hope and every one of your days will be enlightened and your horizon will no longer be dark,” he told them. “Put on love and your life will be like a house built on rock, your journey will be joyful because you will find many friends to journey with you.”
“Put on Christ,” he said, “you will find a friend in whom you can always trust” and “your life will be full of his love.”
Getting practical about matters, the pope told the young people that Christ is waiting to wash away their sins in the sacrament of penance, to nourish them with his body in the Eucharist and to encounter them through their Christian peers who will give them friendship, encouragement and support.
As winter darkness settled over the crowd, Pope Francis told the young people to offer the witness of faith and the service of charity to others, “carrying to this world a ray of his light.”