It is a journey which the first Bishop of Rome from the American continent – “the New World” beyond the mythical “Pillars of Hercules” that marked the boundary of the known world until the beginning of the modern age – did not himself plan, but which has enabled him to return to his “beloved Latin America”. In fact, it was Benedict XVI who chose Rio for the World Youth Day without knowing that his Successor would come from this part of the world. And the first American and Latin American Pope wished to emphasize this providential dimension in the first words he spoke in this immense country, where Catholics abound and in a city which has received him with a literally overwhelming enthusiasm. Welcomed with a passionate discourse by President Dilma Rousseff — and several times applauded by Pope Francis himself — the successor of Peter let the exuberant, cordial warmth of the Cariocan metropolis give him a long embrace. He then reciprocated this embrace with moving words in his own discourse: “The arms of the Pope now spread to embrace all of Brazil”, so that “no one is excluded from the Pope’s affection”.
Before meeting the journalists on the aircraft, one by one, Pope Francis spoke to them in particular of young people, mentioning with indulgence an existential reality that he has known for decades. When we isolate them, he said astutely, we are committing an injustice because they belong, they have a social fabric of which the elderly are also an integral part: they too, like the young, are the future of a people because they constitute its memory. A mindset that excludes should thus be rejected, to build instead a culture of inclusion and encounter.
Hundreds and thousands of young people have arrived in Rio from every part of the world for this event that begins with the Mass at which the Archbishop is presiding. The Pope will take part in it, as have his Predecessors over the past 30 years. With a meaningful prologue introduced by the prayer in front of the icon of the Salus populi Romani at St Mary Major: the prayer to Mary at the Shrine of Aparecida, where six years ago the General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate took place.
The Successor of the Apostle Peter introduced himself to the Brazilians with his words, asking their permission to knock at the door of the nation’s heart: “I have neither silver nor gold, but I bring with me the most precious thing given to me: Jesus Christ!”. So it was that the Bishop of Rome, who wants only to pursue his mission of “confirming my brothers in their faith in Christ”, went straight to the heart of the matter. And the Pope wishes to meet the young people who are “drawn to the open arms of Christ the Redeemer”, symbol of Rio de Janeiro, and who want “to find a refuge in his embrace, close to his heart, to listen again to his clear and powerful appeal: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’”.