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The party is here!

· World Youth Day inaugurated Tuesday evening with Mass on Copacabana Beach ·

Pope Francis watched the celebration on television

The Church is putting her stakes on the missionary enthusiasm of young people: first and foremost here in Brazil and in Latin America, but also in the rest of the world. It is a bet with good chances of success, given the extraordinary participation of half a million young men and women from every continent who gathered Tuesday evening, 23 July, on Copacabana Beach for the  World Youth Day Mass. The hour, long awaited by hundreds and thousands of young people, struck with the chimes of Esperança do amanhecer, “Hope of the Dawn”, the official WYD hymn.

Multitudes of youth were there, even though the presence of Pope Francis was not anticipated  — he watched the event on television — and despite the bad weather. It is winter here and although the climate in this season is usually mild this week, unfortunately, temporatures have dropped considerably. The wind and rain are making their presence felt with the same vehemence as the still towering waves crashing on the shore.  And it gets dark quickly.

Yet the Mass yesterday in the evocative natural scenery provided by Guanabara Bay was a real celebration. Beneath the Leme Promontory a stage inspired by Rio’s mountain had been set up. It consisted of four circular platforms arranged at different levels, in front of a giant screen, 15 metres high. Numerous other giant screens  flecked the strip of sand between the ocean and the glitzy Avenida Atlantica, to enable everyone to follow the Rosary, with the testimonies and dancing that marked first the wait and then the Mass.

The celebration was inaugurated with the solemn procession to the altar of the cross and the icon, symbols of the WYD, while the 500,000 youth of Copacabana sung Emmanuel , the hymn of the Rome WYD in the year 2000. Archbishop Orani João Tempesta then presided at the concelebration with the clerics of the papal entourage and the prelates who had gathered for the catechesis, 400 bishops and archbishops in all and about 20 cardinals. Among those concelebrating were Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State, and Archbishop Becciu, Substitute.

At the beginning of the rite Archbishop Tempesta rememberd the young French girl, the pilgrim who died in a road accident in Mission Week, the youth killed at Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, the unemployed, those with no family and the homeless, as well as those persecuted for their faith.

Six young people of various nationalities read the bidding prayers: Fracesca De Negri in Italian, Audrey Oliver in French, Luiz Edmundo in Spanish, Konrad Krämer in German, Emiko Yamada in Japanese, and Datarzyna Wiktoria in Polish.

“This marvellous city”, the Archbishop began in his homily, after welcoming the young people, “becomes even more beautiful with your presence. It will be your home in these days. You are part of our family. The consequence of our experience will be missionary enthusiasm: going out and being disciples”.

After describing Rio as “the world shrine of youth”, and “the centre of the Church, vibrant and youthful”, he highlighted the presence in various parts of the metropolis of several relics of WYD patrons, which is a reminder that young saints are to be found in every epoch and in every part of the world. “The youthful enthusiasm seen everywhere”, the Archbishop explained, “reveals the face of the young Christian who seeks to combine the testimony of an authentic Christian life with the social consequences of the Gospel. The world needs young people like you!”.

Then commenting on the Readings the Archbishop pointed out that the international meeting was taking place in the Year of Faith, “a favourable time for renewing the  commitments taken on in the Christian community. We are called to live the faith profoundly in this multi-facetted period with such a proliferation of questions, in this change of epoch, but with the enthusiasm and consistence of those who let themselves be guided by the Spirit’s action”.

Lastly he praised the commitment to hospitality offered by his Archdiocese. Parishes, families, schools, pastoral centres, associations, movements, groups for service. “There is a revolution of love at this time:  the other is Christ for us. The other is our brother or sister”. Hence the invitation to build a new world, infecting everyone, as dawn watchmen, with the joy and peace of Christ.  Because, he added, “you, dear young people, are the hopeful present of a society that is waiting for a solution to its crisis of values. You are called to form a new generation that lives out faith and passes it on to the successive generation, to testify that a different world is possible. The first pilgrim, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, – who is already here with us – will walk beside us and show us the way”, he assured everyone.

Of course, the pastor of this great metropolis is aware that many barriers and many forms of injustice have yet to be overcome, but he considers it is possible “to build bridges instead of walls and obstacles. The whole world, present through you in this city, must bear witness to solidarity, sharing and the acceptance of Christ’s love. It is time to reawaken trust and hope so that they become attitudes for a future of light”, he concluded, entrusting the WYD celebrations to Mary, venerated here in Brazil with the title of Nossa Senhora Aparecida as the main Patroness, but also with the titles of Nossa Senhora de la Penha and Nossa Senhora de Nazaré.

At the end of the celebration Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the dicastery to which the Pope entrusted the organization of the WYDs, greeted the young people who were waving the flags of every country in the world, emphasizing the extraordinary beauty of the metropolis which in these days has become “the capital of Catholic youth”. He thanked all those who had made sacrifices in order to be there and the group leaders who had guided them in the programme of spiritual preparation for what he called a “great adventure of faith” which could also lead to “important discoveries” and “crucial decisions for life”.

Lastly he pointed to the impressive statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado that dominates the entire bay of Rio. “It is he”, he said, “who is the true protagonist of this event. His heart beats with infinite love for each one of you and his arms wide open are ready to embrace you all”. This prompts the invitation “to let ourselves be embraced by Christ”, to entrust to him our most difficult decisions, as well as fears and worries. “Youth”, he concluded, “is in itself an enormous source of wealth: you possess it and you must make it fruitful”. A challenging task, therefore, which recalls the missionary mandate chosen as the theme of this Cariocan WYD:  “Go and make disciples of all the nations!”. And when at the end of the rite the young people began to leave, Copacabana weaving their way among the banners celebrating Pope Francis, at the same time the first groups of pilgrims in Aparecida were starting to queue for the Mass the Holy Father was to celebrate Tuesday morning at this Marian Shrine, visited every year by millions of pilgrims.

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