August 19, 2013
The 34-member delegation from the Diocese of Amarillo who participated in World Youth Day returned to the Texas Panhandle July 30.
The delegation left Amarillo July 16, after a sendoff Mass at St. Laurence Church, presided by Bishop Patrick J. Zurek, who joined the delegation in Brazil on July 21.
During the July 28 closing Mass on the white sand of Copacabana Beach, Pope Francis commissioned some three million young people to join forces and form what could be called Missionaries Without Borders.
“Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: He sends us to everyone.”
Although retired Pope Benedict XVI had chosen the theme for the gathering—”Go and make disciples of all nations” —it was tailor-made for Pope Francis, who continually tells Catholics: “Go out. Go forward. Keep going.”
“Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole church and that includes you,” he told his beachfront congregation, which included hundreds of thousands who had spent the night on the sand, sleeping or not.
Long journeys, days of rain and sometimes improvised accommodations did not dampen the spirits of the World Youth Day participants, and Pope Francis told them that if they did not share their experience of God’s love with others it would be “like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly.”
Jesus did not tell his disciples to share the Gospel “if you would like to, if you have the time,” the pope said. Instead, he commanded them to proclaim the Good News to the world.
Sharing the love and mercy of God and the salvation offered by Christ through the church “is born not from a desire for domination or power, but from the force of love,” the pope told the young pilgrims, who were joined on the beach by tens of thousands of Rio residents and other Latin Americans, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Suriname’s President Desi Bouterse.
But even more special guests were present: The pope invited a couple and their baby girl, who has anencephaly (missing part of her brain), to come forward during the offertory. Pope Francis met the family July 27 as he was leaving Rio’s St. Sebastian Cathedral and invited them to participate in the Mass. Under Brazil’s abortion laws, the couple would have been able to abort the child, but chose not to.
With the father carrying the baby, the parents walked up to the pope wearing shirts with a Portuguese message on the back: “Stop abortion.”
In his homily, Pope Francis told the young people that evangelizing requires a personal witness of love for God and love for others, especially the weak, the poor and the defenseless.
When the psalm says “Sing a new song to the Lord,” he said, it is not talking about a certain set of lyrics or a specific melody, rather “it is allowing our life to be identified with that of Jesus; it is sharing his sentiments, his thoughts (and) his actions.”
“The life of Jesus is a life for others,” the pope said. “It is a life of service.”
The pope did not mince words with his young audience, telling them: “Evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness, it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did.”
Pope Francis said he knows how daunting it can be to recognize that each Christian bears personal responsibility for sharing the Gospel with his or her actions and words, but Jesus told the first disciples and tells disciples today, “Be not afraid.”
“Jesus does not leave us alone; he never leaves you alone,” the pope said.
And the church does not leave any of its members, or even small groups, to go it alone, he said. “Jesus did not say: ‘One of you go,’ but ‘All of you go.’ We are sent together.”
“Be creative. Be audacious,” he said. “Do not be afraid.”
Pope Francis thanked the hundreds of bishops and thousands of priests who accompanied their young pilgrims to Rio, but told them the pilgrimage was just one step on the young people’s journey of faith.
“Continue to accompany them with generosity and joy, help them to become actively engaged in the church; never let them feel alone,” he said.
He gave the younger generation a final instruction, “As you return to your homes, do not be afraid to be generous with Christ, to bear witness to his Gospel.”
It can change the world, he said. “Bringing the Gospel is bringing God’s power to pluck up and break down evil and violence, to destroy and overthrow the barriers of selfishness, intolerance and hatred.”
At a prayer vigil July 27, Pope Francis told young people God might have been trying to communicate something in forcing the World Youth Day vigil’s change of venue from a huge field to a long narrow stretch of sand and sea.
Addressing as many as 3 million young—and not-so-young—people on Rio’s Copacabana beach, Pope Francis said he had prepared a reflection that would have used the original venue, a space baptized “Campus Fidei” or “Field of Faith,” as the starting point.
“Isn’t the Lord asking us to say that the real field of faith, the real Campus Fidei, isn’t a geographic place but is us?” the pope told the crowd, which had begun to gather on the beach 12 hours before Pope Francis arrived.
The beach, site of events with the pope and pilgrims the two previous evenings as well, became the site of the vigil and the next morning’s closing Mass after several days of unusually heavy rain turned the Campus Fidei into a field of mud and standing water.
Hours of music and dancing—including repeated practices of the dance steps for what organizers hoped would be the world’s biggest flash mob—gave way in the end to a hush in the crowd and the crash of the waves during eucharistic adoration led by Pope Francis.
Prayer and the sacraments, he told the young people, are absolutely essential for a growth in faith.
One of the pilgrims, 19-year-old Denilson Paulo of St. Mark’s Parish in the Archdiocese of Luanda, Angola, said the vigil was “an encounter with Christ, an encounter with God” and “a time to pray to God that he may watch over the youth here ... the youths of the world.”
The result, Paulo told Catholic News Service, must be that the pilgrims “take this message to those who were not able to come.”
The evening’s formal program began with short speeches from young people: a former drug user from Rio, a priest, a man in a wheelchair who had been shot in a robbery, and a female youth minister. They recounted how they came to the faith, then each added a wooden plank to a “church” that was being constructed on the stage.
Pope Francis recalled the story of St. Francis of Assisi, who heard the Lord tell him to rebuild his house.
“Slowly but surely, Francis came to realize that it was not a question of repairing a stone building, but about doing his part for the life of the church,” the pope said.
Pope Francis said that for the saint, as well as for all of them, it is about “being at the service of the church, loving her and working to make the countenance of Christ shine ever more brightly in her.”
Telling the young people that the church needs each and every one of them to build the church and share the Gospel with the world, the pope turned to the image of the field—a place where seeds are sown, a place where athletes train and perform, a place where buildings can be constructed.
“Please,” he told them, “let Christ and his word enter your life, blossom and grow.”
In Jesus’ parables, the seed sown on rocky or fertile ground is the word of God, and the soil is the human heart, he said.
“What kind of ground are we?” he asked, the kind where God’s word just stays on the surface, or starts to grow but withers when enthusiasm dies, or “thorny ground” where “negative feelings choke the Lord’s word in us?”
Pope Francis told the young people he was confident they were fertile soil, “not part-time Christians, not starchy and superficial, but real.”
Turning to one of his own passions and one Brazilians are famous for, Pope Francis spoke of soccer fields, and especially the athletes who train and sweat and train some more.
Jesus, he told them, wants you “to play on his team.”
“Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup,” he said, referring to the soccer championship that Rio will host in 2014.
Jesus offers the possibility of a fulfilling and fruitful life on earth and eternal happiness in heaven, he said, “but he asks us to train, to get in shape” through regular prayer, the sacraments and loving one another.
The pope had the young people repeat with him: “Prayer, sacraments and helping others.”
Finally, he said, when people’s hearts are prepared to accept the seed of God’s word and people have “worked up a sweat” striving to live a Christian life, “we experience something tremendous: We are never alone, we are part of a family of brothers and sisters, all journeying on the same path: we are part of the church.”
Pope Francis said the church they are called to help build is not “a little chapel, which holds only a small group of persons,” but rather a “church so large that it can hold all of humanity.”
Leidiana de Jesus, 32, of Euclides da Cunha, Brazil, said the evening left her with a challenge: “Try and walk the path with Jesus.”
Italo Chinchay Mendoza, 24, a pilgrim from St. Peter’s Parish in the Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, said one thing was clear, “The youth of the pope is the youth of the future.”
Pope Francis also used his speech at the evening vigil to make his first public comments about the demonstrations that have been taking part all across Brazil in the past month. He said it is right for young people to want to be “protagonists of change” on behalf of a more just world, but they need to “offer a Christian response” to political and social concerns.
Shortly after celebrating the final Mass, Pope Francis announced that Krakow, Poland will be the site of the next World Youth Day in 2016.
“It is a joy, an honor and a great responsibility for us,” Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow said in a statement, noting that 2016 will mark the 1,050th anniversary of the establishment of Christianity in Poland.
Krakow is the former episcopal see of Blessed John Paul II, who founded the tradition of World Youth Day in 1986.