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I haven’t seen much news in English regarding World Youth Day 2013, so I don’t know the individual tales of misadventure, trouble, or sorrow that must have occurred with a gathering of 3 million-plus. Those stories will come out now, I’m sure, as they did after the World Youth Days in Germany and Canada, to name a few.

But I watched the final Mass on television yesterday morning and marveled. It appears that God certainly had a hand in the event, sending unrelenting rain that washed out the field on which the pilgrims were to have gathered 30 miles south of Rio, and prompting the Masses to be held on Copacabana Beach.

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I mean really, what could have been more appropriate? Three million young Catholics lining the beach like so many tiny ants, with the statue of Christ the Redeemer looking over them. I’ll say this for Brazilians…they sure can pull things off with élan at the last moment!

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Behind the altar backdrop, the beach was abandoned and pristine, most likely a security measure and a means to get Pope Francis away safely in the event of an incident. In front of the stage, the pilgrims carpeted the beach as far as the eye could see, and giant TV screens kept them connected with what was happening on the altar a mile away.

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Despite their distance from the center of activity, the crowds seemed completely focused, arduous in their faith and eager to participate with our new pope. It was truly an amazing thing to watch.

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Pope Francis, who’d had days of activity leading up to the event, tweeted en route home to Rome, “My joy is much greater than my exhaustion.” The crowd loved him, and he loved in return.

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“Do not be afraid,” he told the pilgrims during the Mass, but go out and spread the Word of God, telling all mankind of His love for each of them individually. And the crowd roared their promise to do so.

I sat grinning from ear to ear. THAT is what World Youth Day is all about.

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IMG_7190IMG_7170 IMG_7207 IMG_7202The next World Youth Day, in 2017, will be held in Krakow, Poland, home of Pope John Paul II, soon to be St. John Paul (along with St. Pope John XXIII). How incredibly fitting is that, home of the man who began the World Youth Day celebrations?

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I pray that all of the pilgrims get home safely, and I pray for all those who encountered danger, hardship, or privation during the event. As pilgrimage, it’s life changing, but it can also be difficult, as I wrote before. Still, this was an amazing event to watch from afar. It must have been incredible to experience it in person.

(As an aside: The field where the event was supposed to be held was reported by journalists to be a field owned by a wealthy Rio family, who were supposed to keep it as an ecological reserve. But they offered it for WYD, and offered to use the bus line they own to get pilgrims to the site, where I’m cynically certain they would have offered food and beverages for a price to the pilgrims. So, they razed the field and erected tents and strapped on the feed bag. But the best-laid plans of mice and men do often go astray…. So sad, too bad, it appears that God had other plans!)

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