Vatican Radio is reporting that Pope Francis kicked off his visit to World Youth Day the same way he began his pontificate earlier this year - at the feet of Mary. His first scheduled event was a visit to the Marian Shrine of Aparecida, who is the Patroness of Brazil.
"When the Church looks for Jesus, she always knocks at his Mother’s door and asks: 'Show us Jesus'," the Pope said in his homily at the shrine. "It is from Mary that the Church learns true discipleship. That is why the Church always goes out on mission in the footsteps of Mary."
He continued: "Today, looking forward to the World Youth Day which has brought me to Brazil, I too come to knock on the door of the house of Mary – who loved and raised Jesus – that she may help all of us, pastors of God’s people, parents and educators, to pass on to our young people the values that can help them build a nation and a world which are more just, united and fraternal. For this reason I would like to speak of three simple attitudes, … : hopefulness, openness to being surprised by God, and living in joy”
The pope went on to explain that we must be hopeful because, despite the presence of so much evil in society, God always has the upper hand. We must allow ourselves to be surprised by God because even in the darkest times, if we trust in Him, He will surprise us. And we must live joyfully because Christians should never be gloomy.
He certainly practiced what he was preaching later in the day when, in the pouring rain, he visited the Hospital Sao Francisco de Assis na Providencia de Deus (St Francis of Assisi of the Providence of God Hospital) which serves indigent Brazilians who are drug- or alcohol-dependent.
"Huddling beneath plastic raincoats and dripping umbrellas, they cheered and listened intently to Pope Francis as he told them they are not alone," reports Sean-Patrick Lovett, head of the English Program of Vatican Radio.
"The Pope had words of consolation for those who suffer – and words of condemnation for those he called the 'dealers of death' . The scourge of drug-trafficking, he said, requires an act of courage from society. Liberalization is not the answer. We have to confront the problems underlying drug abuse through education, closeness, affection and love. "
Speaking directly to those who have fallen into ‘the darkness of dependency’, the Pope said the Church offers outstretched hands to help them on their long and difficult journey and encouraged them to "Look ahead. Do not let yourself be robbed of hope!"
Wherever he went, hearts were touched.
Outside the shrine, 20 year-old Felipe Cirto, a law student, described his feelings about the encounter with the pope to the Associated Press.
"It was a once in a lifetime experience for us," he said of seeing the pope in person and hearing him speak. "He enchanted us with his smile, with his gentle manners, with his warmth. I think he knows he has a home in Brazil, in the hearts of the Brazilian people."
Nacilda de Oliveira Silva, 61, who works as a maid, was equally delighted.
"I have been up for almost 24 hours, most of that time on my feet and in the rain and the cold. But I don't feel any pain," she said. "I feel bathed in God's glory, and that's because of the pope. For me, it's the same thing as seeing Jesus pass by. That's how moved I feel."
Natalia Pereira, 16, a high school student from Sao Paulo, said the cold rain was a "test of faith" for her.
"I've been up all night in line, I'm soaked to the bone and freezing but I'm so excited that it's worth it," she said. "This is my first time seeing a pope and this was an opportunity of a lifetime for me. I wasn't about to let it go because of a little rain."
Rio Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta, who officially opened World Youth Day with an evening Mass on the rain-soaked Copacabana, was impressed by the enthusiasm of the young people for their famous visitor.
“This week Rio becomes the center of the church, alive and young,” he told the 400,000 brave pilgrims who braved the weather. “These youths’ enthusiasm show the face of the young Catholics. … I celebrate for all those who believe that a new world is possible.”
Today, the Pope will receive the 'golden keys' to Rio and will bless the Olympic flags. He will then visit the Manguinhos slum, where over 50,000 impoverished Brazilians call home. At 6:00p.m. he will attend his first massive gathering with young pilgrims in the Copacabana beach, which will be followed by a Youth Festival.
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