An estimated three million Catholics celebrated mass with Pope Francis when he visited Brazil for World Youth Day.
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One of those making the pilgrimage to see the pope was Carolyn Straight, 47, of Rescue, who with her son Charles, 16, went with a group of other people.
A stay at home mom of three, Straight said they arrived on Tuesday, July 23, in Rio de Janeiro for the week-long event that included religious activities, movies, concerts, conferences and discussions culminating in a mass conducted by the pope on Sunday.
Visiting Brazil and taking in its culture was an extra bonus.
Straight said World Youth Day officially opened Tuesday evening with a mass conducted by a local bishop. On Wednesday, they toured Rio de Janeiro and went to the Cathedral Candelaria, St. Sebastians Cathedral and St. Anthony’s Friary, where they celebrated mass.
Visiting the friary was particularly moving for Straight as three generations of her family have considered St. Anthony to be their patron. “It was huge for me and a significant event for my son,” she said.
Thursday was one of the most exciting days of the trip as that was when Pope Francis arrived, with hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets of Rio. “We stood for seven hours waiting to see him,” she said, adding that it rained the whole time.
“The kids complained about waiting but it was good. We played cards and talked. I was also interviewed by lots of reporters. Afterwards I always ask the kids if it was worth it and they always say, ‘Yes.'”
She said members of the crowd were equally excited when they saw the pope, with many of them screaming while others were moved to tears. “It was unbelievable that the Holy Father was right there. He is the shepherd of our faith. He guides us, we’re his sheep. It was so cool to see him.”
On Friday, Straight said members of her group visited the statue of Christ the Redeemer that sits on a granite peak overlooking Rio. That involved a short train trip through a jungle followed by haggling with motorcycle taxis over the price of a ride. But once they got to the top, they had a spectacular view of the statue and of the Brazilian coastline.
Friday night also featured a mini pilgrimage for those wanting to revisit the passion of Christ. Fourteen stations were set up with the first one re-enacting the condemnation of Christ and the last one with him on the cross.
Mass with the Pope on the Copacabana
All of these activities were a build up to the weekend. On Saturday was a vigil and mass with the pope. Straight said originally it was supposed to be held on a separate site, but because of all the rain, the site became flooded and the event was moved to Copacabana Beach. However even though the pope was a mile away, huge screens set up on the beach allowed everyone to see the mass.
On Saturday evening, helicopters hovered overhead before delivering the pope for the eucharistic adoration. “It was amazing to see that quiet, prayerful and reverent audience of millions,” said Straight.
The mass included readings from the Bible interspersed with songs, periods of silence and prayers spoken in five languages. “The prayers were short so people could meditate in between them,” she said. Some people stood, others prayed or knelt. After the ceremony, the pope blessed everyone. “In doing so, we literally believe that Christ is blessing us,” she said.
The atmosphere after the eucharist was very relaxing as people settled in on the beach to sleep. And even though she was freezing in her sleeping bag, she said the evening’s event put everyone in a different frame of mind.
“It was very calming and exhilarating,” she recalled. “It took me two days to process all that, it was so surreal. Mass with the Pope on the Copacabana. It doesn’t get any better than that. It was a beautiful, moving, and joyful night. Definitely a blessing.”
‘Go without fear to serve’
Sunday morning, everyone was awoken on the beach by the sounds of helicopters circling as the pope flew in for the mass. In the water off the beach were several warships. “The ships didn’t look right there,” she said.
Lasting two hours, the mass was conducted in Spanish and Latin with an estimated three million people witnessing it. Some people had radios that translated what was being said into English.
“The Pope’s sermon, or homily, was about Catholics as disciples,” said Straight. “‘Go without fear to serve’ was the gist of his homily. It was beautiful.”
After mass, she said their group had a small liturgy among themselves. Then on Monday they left Rio and spent four days visiting the Amazon, which her son wanted to do before they left Brazil.
Straight said this was the third World Youth Day she had attended. Previously she went to ones in Madrid, Spain and Sydney, Australia.
She credits the one in Australia with giving her “an incredible emotional and spiritual healing experience.”
“I was born and raised a Catholic,” she said, “but I didn’t practice it much and didn’t include God in my life. But at 25 I decided I wanted a better life for my son and wanted to bring him up with faith.
“To live life for Christ, not myself. In Australia, all that was taken away and the healing was complete.”
Saying the experience of attending brings “definite blessings that manifest themselves now or down the road,” she noted that attending also helps to reaffirm the oneness with her faith.
“You see millions of people who are part of your family. I saw flags from countries I didn’t even know existed. You see that unity of one big family — the body of Christ.”
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.