We made the decision to avoid the gathering crowds by getting to the venue pretty early. It is a relatively short walk from Aussie Central to the subway station in central Rio where we boarded our train, We left at about 11.30am and were on the beach by about 2. There was a music festival starting around 4.00pm with the liturgy kicking off around 7.
Copacabana is a beautiful beach shaped in a sweeping arc and lined by tall buildings, mostly hotels, bars, restaurants, cafes and shops. There a along wide avenue along the beach front that was eventually barricaded off as the crowds swelled. Speaking of swell, there was a punchy little shore break happening but with the intermittent drizzling rain, there was little inclination to try to slide into a barrel or two. The rumour of a shark sighting at the beach earlier in the day stopped stone dead any suggestion of a quick dip.
The decision to arrive early was an inspired one. We had no trouble getting on a train, we were able to set up where we wanted to, the students had time to get lunch and we had lots of room to have some fun - and have some fun we did! Street vendors are a common sight on and around the beach front, and one was selling soccer balls. I thought, why not! No sooner had I bought one than the game of soccer (sorry, football!) was in full swing! There are soccer goal posts permanently located right on the section of beach here we were positioned (Of course! We are in Brazil, after all...). Pilgrims from other countries also joined in. It was big fun!
While the rain was drizzly and persistent, it d not dampen spirits at all, Things really started to to liven up once the music stared. It was played through a thumping, throaty p.a. and while most of the songs were sung in Portuguese, the native language of the Brazilian people, it didn't matter - it was all about the rhythm - the Latin American rhythm, of course!
While it started with just a small group of students, it eventually became a mass dance party with pilgrims for many countries being part of the crowd. Even the local media took an interest with various TV camera crews coming over to film the action. A couple o four students were even interviewed for the news!
There was a great mood on the beach that afternoon. With such a packed schedule so far, it was clear that the students were really enjoying this unstructured time to relax in each other's company.
The Mass started around 7.00pm and the principal celebrant was the Archbishop of Rio De Janeiro. Some of the PGLs (Pilgrim Group :Leaders) had purchased ground sheets and spread them out over the sand for the kids to sit on, which they did once the ceremony commenced. The students were reverent and engaged during the service which was said almost entirely in Portuguese, but the music held it all together very nicely.
At the end of the ceremony, and with the drizzling rain now quite steady, we made a start quite quickly back to the subway station Siquira Campos to give ourselves the best chance of getting on an earlier train before the crowds really started to move. The area where we were positioned on the beach was relatively close the station. Unfortunately, it seemed that others had a similar idea. The entrance to the station was already crowded but we were able to negotiate a path through, and after three or four stops to do head counts make sure we had everyone with us, we were on the train and on our way home. Some of the other bus groups walked to the short extra distance to the next station - they were fine too. In the end, the trip home was quicker than the trip there. Most of the students arrived back at Aussie Central between 10.00pm and 10.30pm with a few stopping with their PGLs to get a quick bite to eat just nearby.
The real focus of this week in Rio De Janeiro is on pilgrimage. The days ahead feature the big events such as the Stations of the Cross, Catechises sessions, the ceremony to welcome the Holy Father Pope Francis and the Vigil Mass, at which students will sleep out overnight. As we are all well aware, travelling to foreign countries always presents it challenges but over the next few days, the students will be challenged in different ways. They will asked questions about what it means to them to be a Catholic and what that commitment expects of them and calls on them to do. That will not be an easy question for them to answer (it is not an easy question for any of us to answer) but I have a very strong sense that they will approach the days ahead with open, passionate heart, just as they have approached every other day on this pilgrimage.
That is the young women and men they are, after all...
Here are some pics of what the kids got up to in the hours leading into the Opening Mass on Copacabana Beach!