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A journey through the new forms of poverty

A journey through the various forms of suffering which hit the young in our time can best describe the evocative Way of the Cross on the beach of Copacabana made in the late afternoon on Friday, 26 July, by Pope Francis and the tide of young men and women who took part in it with him on the beach of Copacabana.

And, precisely in order to reassert his closeness to those who have a more direct experience of the hardships of the human and existential “outskirts”, the Holy Father once again wanted beside him – as at the Mass on 19 March for the beginning of his pontificate – representatives of the Argentine cartoneros and escludidos. They came dressed in their blue uniforms with fluorescent yellow stripes that stood out in the footlights on the dais.

In a truly original and touching atmosphere the Pope set out from Forte Duque de Caxias, beneath the Limes promontory, for another long drive in the popemobile among the enthusiastic faithful, who according to the organizers numbered more than a million. Among his various brief – now customary – stops, he got down to greet an elderly woman, to bless a statue of St Francis and to kiss several children.

After covering almost four km of Rio's seafront, he reached the central podium, level with Praça do Lido, from which he followed the representation of the sorrowful way. Surrounded by 1,500 people, including several disabled persons, he watched in silent recollection the dancing with its original choreography, prepared in order to retrace Christ's footsteps to Calvary: 14 stations, punctuating the ocean promenade of Avenida Atlantica that borders one of the world's most beauitful beaches, which could also be seen on maxi-screens at other points of the city outside this area.

As at the previous WYDs the Way of the Cross is the moment in which the local Church stages her faith experience inspired by cultural elements of her own. In Brazil's case the reference was to the processions that took place in the 16th century (when this religious practice developed), interwoven with references to topics deeply relevant to the new generations: the defence of life, the fight against drugs, the sense of religion, sickness, the new media. Because, as Pope Francis said in his discourse – a reflection based on three questions which the Cross poses to youth today – in “'The  Land of the Holy Cross'  The Cross of Christ was planted five centuries ago not only on the shores of this country, but also in the history, the hearts and the lives of the people of Brazil”.

The representation was a spectacle of colour, sound and light. Extending for about a kilometre, pieces of ancient Jerusalem had been reconstructed in the style of the epoch and with characteristic scenes such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Arch of the Ecce homo , the balcony on which Pilate displayed Jesus scourged to the crowd. Beside each of the scenes was a lectern from which the Gospel passages and the various meditations were read. The texts were written by two priest-singers, well known to the youth of Brazil: the Dehonians Fr Zezinho and Fr Joãozinho. They were read by a young missionary, a yong convert, a young member of a rehabilitation community, a young mother, a seminarian, a woman religious who fights abortion, a couple in love, a young woman – the symbol of suffering women, a disabled student in a wheelchair, a young user of the social networks, a prison inmate, a terminally sick young man, a young man with a hearing disability, and then once again by young people from the five continents who prayed: “May Eastern Europe be marked by peace and by religious freedom; may Europe overcome the destructive wave of secularization through a courageous proclamation of our faith; may Africa overcome the violence and build up the Church as family and the family as Church; may North America be able to recognize all the cultures that are drifting away from the teachings of the Gospel; may Latin America and the Caribbean find a way to overcome violence and injustice; may the Christian minority in Asia continue to be present as a fertile seed even amidst persecution; may Oceania feel a more impelling commitment to spreading the Gospel”.

The journey was completed in a little less than two hours by five hundred volunteers working as interpreters, actors, and dancers while the Cross was escorted by altar servers, heralds of the Gospel, sailors and the Guard of Honour of the pilgrim Cross of the WYD, accompanied by the flags of more than 190 countries. The live music was played by the symphony orchestra that incorporated pop musicians. “One faith, one voice, one Church” was the slogan of the event in which  Pope Francis had once again been able to speak to the hearts of the young and they reciprocated with overwhelming demonstrations of affection. Their next appointment was for Saturday evening where, once again at Copacabana, the Prayer Vigil that precedes the conclusive Sunday morning Mass will take place.

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