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Historic WYD Comes to a Close

After celebrating Mass for nearly three million people yesterday, Pope Francis announced that the next Word Youth Day will be held in Krakow, Poland in 2016, then flew back to Rome where he stopped by the Basilica of St. Mary Major on the way home to thank Our Lady for her help during the trip.

According to the Associated Press, the closing Mass at World Youth Day (WYD) was held on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janiero and was attended by an estimated three million people. Spanning an area of more than two miles, the crowd was the second largest ever to attend a papal Mass, bested only by Pope John Paul II's Mass in the Philippines in 1995 which drew five million. WYD 2000, which was held in Rome, drew two million.

On hand for the Mass were dignitaries from several Latin American countries including the presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Suriname, as well as the Vice Presidents of Uruguay and Panama.

In his homily, the Pope addressed the youth with three simple ideas - go, do not be afraid, and serve.

" . . .(T)he experience of this encounter must not remain locked up in your life or in the small group of your parish, your movement, or your community. That would be like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly. Faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on . . ." he said.

They must carry the message of Christ to everyone. "There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love."

He also asked them to not be afraid, remembering that Christ is with us when we carry His message into the world. "Jesus does not leave us alone, he never leaves you alone! He always accompanies you," the pope said.

Nor does Jesus send us out alone. "Jesus did not say: 'One of you go', but 'All of you go': we are sent together. Dear young friends, be aware of the companionship of the whole Church and also the communion of the saints on this mission. When we face challenges together, then we are strong, we discover resources we did not know we had."

Finally, he encouraged them to be servants. Referring to the day's Psalm 95, which proclaims: "Sing to the Lord a new song", Francis asks: "What is this new song? It does not consist of words, it is not a melody, it is the song of your life, it is allowing our life to be identified with that of Jesus, it is sharing his sentiments, his thoughts, his actions. And the life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service."

Francis spoke encouragingly to the youth throughout the week, imploring them to put their energy, their creativity, into building a better world.

“Please do not leave it to others to be the agents of change," he said during the prayer vigil on Saturday night. "You hold the future … continue to work against apathy and offer a Christian response to the social and political problems that arise all over the world. I ask you to be builders of the future, to set to work for a better world. Dear young people, please, do not live your lives as observers, watching the world go by. Go into the fray, as Jesus did – He did not sit back and watch. But where do we start? Once, Mother Teresa was asked what should be the first thing to change in the Church, and she replied: 'You and I'. Today I too repeat the words of Mother Teresa and I say to you: you and I must be the first to change.”

Just before leaving Brazil, he announced that the next World Youth Day will be held in Krakow, Poland in 2016.

While standing on the tarmac at Rio's Galeao airport, he revealed the great faith he has in the youth he encountered during the week who will bring a bright future to the Church.

"Many of you came here as disciples," he told them. "I have no doubt that all of you will leave as missionaries. . . .Show, by your life, that it is worth giving your time and talents in order to attain high ideals, it is worth recognizing the dignity of each human person, and it is worth taking risks for Christ and the Gospel. I will always place my hopes in the young people of Brazil” – Pope Francis said – “and in the young around the world: through them, Christ is preparing a new springtime all over the earth."

Twelve hours later, he landed at Rome's Ciampino airport. On the way back to his residence, he stopped at the Basilica of St. Mary Major to offer a brief prayer to Our Lady. On his way inside, a group of young people stopped and offered him a t-shirt and a ball. He took the gifts inside the basilica and offered them as gifts to the Madonna.

His first tweet after returning home was full of joy: "I am back home, and I assure you that my joy is much greater than my exhaustion!"

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