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The rain and the pilgrims

Having just arrived in Rio de Janeiro the Bishop of Rome ended his first address by saying that he wanted to embrace the whole of Brazil so that “no one is excluded from the Pope’s affection”. The entire first part of this first international journey has shown beyond any doubt that his words were not conceived of merely as fitting for the occasion. Indeed the image of the embrace is what portrays best the welcome given to the Pope and the eloquent introduction to the WYD in the Cariocan metropolis and at the Marian Shrine of Aparecida – which took place with no problems but under a constant downpour.

Nevertheless the winter cold met with the warm and enthusiastic response of hundreds and thousands of Brazilians and pilgrims who had come from across Latin America and from every part of the world. Pouring out on to the overflowing streets of Rio and Aparecida, they embraced the Pontiff who, sparing no effort, reciprocated by smiling at everyone, shaking hands and kissing and caressing children, the elderly and the sick. It was of course the young people who were not put off by the bad weather and in huge numbers they thronged the evening concelebration for the opening, at which the Archbishop of Rio presided on the beach of Copacabana while hundreds of flags fluttered in the wind from the ocean.

Nor did the cold and rain discourage the hundreds and thousands of Brazilians who wanted to pray with the Pope in the enormous shrine dedicated to Mary or to wait for him along the streets of Rio to pass by on his way to the Hospital of St Francis. A few hours before the moving meeting in Aparecida, the destination of many millions every year, with his prayers before the little image of Our Lady the Pontiff had entrusted to her not only the WYD but also the life of the Latin American people.

In the Shrine Pope Francis chose to recall his extraordinary experience as Archbishop of Buenos Aires during the Fifth  General Conference of the Latin and American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences, inaugurated by Benedict XVI. The Pope described it as “a great moment of Church”, because of all that had happened  at the time. Indeed the bishops felt surrounded – “encouraged, supported and in some way inspired” – by all those who flocked to the great Marian Shrine every day to entrust themselves to Our Lady.

“It can truly be said that the Aparecida Document”, that document on the encounter with Christ and on the mission of the Church, “was born of this interplay between the labours of the Bishops and the simple faith of the pilgrims, under Mary’s maternal protection”, the Pope said. So it was that the fundamental relationship between bishop and people, which Pope Francis chose to emphasize by invoking God's blessing on the very evening of his election, was relaunched in a new way.

In Aparecida and then in Rio, at the Hospital of St Francis – where many victims of drugs and of the drug trade that makes money out of death are treated  – the Bishop of Rome talked about hope, rejecting calmly and clearly the path of the liberalization of drugs and pointing out the removal of the causes that lead to their use as the way to a solution: especially the commitment to greater justice and to the patience for rehabilitation, so that all may become “bearers of hope”, in accordance with the Gospel model of the Good Samaritan.

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