The immediate preparation for the first international journey of this Bishop of Rome, come from almost “the ends of the earth”, was marked by three actions, simple but rich in meaning in a sort of “triduum” to introduce the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro desired by Benedict XVI. First of all came the affectionate visit Pope Francis paid to his Predecessor — it is obvious that the two are fundamentally in sync — to pray together and to ask for Pope Benedict’s spiritual closeness on the eve of this new and important world event of a Catholicism that is as vivid and vital as at the meetings in Cologne, Sydney and Madrid.
What came as a surprise was his long, silent prayer before the ancient icon of the Virgin, Our Lady Salus populi Romani , venerated in St Mary Major, where as the new Bishop of Rome he had also chosen to go only a few hours after his election in the Conclave. Like a simple member of the faithful on this occasion too Pope Francis brought flowers to Our Lady. He then lit a candle — an image of ceaseless prayer — bearing the logo of the wyd in Rio and he asked those present to accompany him on his journey with prayer, trust and penance.
Lastly, at the Angelus, which marks the hours of the day referring to the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation, for the third time the Pontiff requested prayers for the Brazilian meeting — which he called a “week for youth” — and whose core he was able to describe succinctly: “The heroes of this week will be the youth. All those who come to Rio desiring to hear the voice of Jesus, to listen to Jesus. ‘Lord, what should I do with my life? What is the path for me?’”. These are questions, he added, that certainly do not only apply to the meeting in Brazil.
Thus with these three actions Pope Francis clearly showed the main aim of the week, opening in Rio de Janeiro, which is consistent with the now almost 30-year-old itinerary of the World Youth Days wanted by John Paul II: emphasizing and witnessing to the centrality of Christ, combining contemplation and service. As the Pope had just said in his comment on the Gospel passage that presents Martha and Mary: For a Christian, acts of service and charity are never detached from the principle source of our every action: that is, listening to the Word of the Lord, and being — like Mary — at the feet of Jesus, with the attitude of a disciple”.
Listening to this voice — which is not imposed but knocks at the door of every human creature, according to the image in the Book of Revelation — will consequently be the true centre of World Youth Day. After the trip to Lampedusa, a memorable and moving sign of closeness to the most neglected and forlorn humanity of our time, Rio de Janeiro is the first international destination of the pontificate, just as Cologne was for Benedict XVI, in another World Youth Day that was called for by his Predecessor. In an unusual succession of events which marked the return of the two pontiffs — certainly not planned — to the respective lands of their birth: then, in the heart of Europe, today, in Latin America.
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