RIO DE JANEIRO: Pope Francis told young people God might have been trying to communicate something in forcing the World Youth Day vigil’s change of venue from a huge field to a long, narrow stretch of sand and sea.
Addressing as many as three million young – and not-so-young – people on Rio’s Copacabana beach on July 27, Pope Francis said he had prepared a reflection that would have used the original venue, a space baptised Campus Fidei or Field of Faith, as the starting point.
“Isn’t the Lord asking us to say that the real field of faith, the real Campus Fidei, isn’t a geographic place but is us?” Pope Francis told the crowd, which had begun to gather on the beach 12 hours before he arrived.
The beach, site of events with the Pope and pilgrims the two previous nights as well, became the site of the vigil and the next morning’s closing Mass after several days of unusually heavy rain turned the Campus Fidei into a field of mud and standing water.
Hours of music and dancing – including repeated practices of the dance steps for what organisers hoped would be the world’s biggest flash mob – gave way in the end to a hush in the crowd and the crash of the waves during Eucharistic adoration led by Pope Francis.
Prayer and the sacraments, he told the young people, were essential for growth in faith.
The result, he said must be that the pilgrims “take this message to those who were not able to come”.
The evening’s formal program began with short speeches from young people, a former drug user from Rio, a priest, a man in a wheelchair who had been shot in a robbery, and a female youth minister.
They recounted how they came to the faith, then each added a wooden plank to a “church” that was being constructed on the stage.
Pope Francis recalled the story of St Fran-cis of Assisi, who heard the Lord tell him to rebuild his house.
“Slowly but surely, Francis came to realise that it was not a question of repairing a stone building, but about doing his part for the life of the Church,” the Pope said.
Pope Francis said for the saint, as well as for all young people, it was about “being at the service of the Church, loving her and working to make the countenance of Christ shine ever more brightly in her”.
Telling the young people the Church needed each and every one of them to build the Church and share the Gospel with the world, the Pope turned to the image of the field – a place where seeds are sown, a place where athletes train and perform, a place where buildings can be constructed.
“Please,” he told them, “let Christ and his word enter your life, blossom and grow.”
In Jesus’ parables, the seed sown on rocky or fertile ground was the word of God, and the soil was the human heart, he said.
“What kind of ground are we?” he asked, the kind where God’s word just stayed on the surface, or started to grow but withered when enthusiasm died, or “thorny ground” where “negative feelings choke the Lord’s word in us?”
Pope Francis told the young people he was confident they were fertile soil, “not part-time Christians, not starchy and superficial, but real”.
Turning to one of his own passions and one Brazilians are famous for, Pope Francis spoke of soccer fields, and especially the athletes who train and sweat and train some more.
Jesus, he told them, wanted you “to play on his team”.
“Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup,” he said, referring to the soccer championship that Rio will host in 2014.
Jesus offers the possibility of a fulfilling and fruitful life on earth and eternal happiness in heaven, he said, “but he asks us to train, to get in shape” through regular prayer, the sacraments and loving one another.
The Pope had the young people repeat with him: “Prayer, sacraments and helping others.”