Monday, 29 July 2013

Stations of the Cross and Pope pics

All roads certainly lead to Copacabana this week! Tonight Pope Francis was back at the beach again, for the Stations of the Cross, and once again, he made his entrance via the long barricaded promenade that runs parallel to the beach, standing in the back of the vehicle that long ago was  nicknamed the 'popemobile'. As was the case on the first night, he was transported to the motorcade's starting point in a military helicopter. While travelling in that and the popemobile, he is always escorted by a phalanx of Vatican and local security guards whose sole job is to ensure that he is kept safe. It is sad that this kind of protection is needed at all but the wounding of Pope John Paul 11 back in 1981 changed forever the idea that nobody would ever want to harm a man whose main message to the world was one of peace, love and tolerance. A man called Mehmet Ali Agca almost succeeded in doing that back then, shooting the Pontiff four times in St Peter's Square. Of course, Pope JP11 survived and forgave Agca for what he had done. He even met with him personally to tell him he was forgiven.

The crowd for the Stations of the Cross seemed just as big as the one for the Holy Father's arrival. On this night, like on the other, there was this extraordinary buzz around the Copacabana precinct when the video screen showed the Holy Father getting into the chopper which did a few laps of he bay (just to add to the theatre of it all) before landing at Ipenema, From there it was into the popemobile and off down the concourse.

People wanting to get a close view of the Pope as he motored past had once again taken up their positions along the barricades many hours before his arrival. I got to Copa pretty early for the official Papal Welcome and they were two and three deep along the barricades even then. I travelled on my own to the venue for this event and arrived a bit later in the day. Not only could I not get close enough to take even an average photo (average photos are my speciality), I couldn't get beachside at all as the barriers had already been locked together by the time I got there.

As the Holy Father drove past where I was standing, there was a huge surge of energy and emotion. It was palpable and real. People get incredibly excited just knowing that he would soon be close to them. People who the Holy Father has never met (and that is almost everyone here) shriek with delight when he passes close to them. Their joy is almost uncontainable if he happens to be facing them or waving in their direction at the time of his passing. The really lucky are those who are nearby when he decides to stop to take something offered from the crowd or kiss a child. Then, seconds later, he is gone and everyone is checking their cameras to see if they got a shot that turned out not-too-bad, or if they managed to get him on video. In all, it takes a total of about 20 seconds. It is an extraordinary scene.

Once the Papal motorcade had passed, the barricades were - eventually - opened (the Brazilian security have an odd way of going about this task which I might try to describe to you in at another time) and I made my way over the the beach and to our pilgrim groups to watch the event on the big screen.

The Stations of the Cross at WYD 2008 in Sydney established a theatrical tradition for this event that has carried over into Madrid and now Rio (just by-the-by, one of our Pilgrim Group Leaders, Anita Finneran played Mary Magdalene in the Sydney performance - to great acclaim!). I sat on the sand and watched an extraordinarily elaborate production, full of stunning music and lavish costumes. The performance blended the traditional with the contemporary. It was fast-paced, highly entertaining, at some points even mesmerising but unfortunately, because it was entirely in Portuguese (with no sub-titles), I couldn't make out the interpretation being presented. This was such a shame - what I was seeing on the screen was stunning. I was was reminded (again) just how powerful and enabling a command of language can be. A picture doesn't not always tell a thousand words; while images stimulate and challenge - words build understanding.

It was an earlier finish than the previous event so my  Bus Group - Bus Group 1, had a great dinner together at a restaurant where the cost of your meal was measured by how much the plate weighed. That appeals to me as a pretty fair system. Dinner done, we headed back home via the Rio subway.

The night's crowd was again reported to be over 1 million and I wasn't going to argue with that estimate.There was a lot of people at Copa again last night - a lot of very happy people who had come to share their faith with other liked-minded pilgrims, and  maybe, just maybe, get that photo or that video of the Holy Father that they could put in a frame to occupy pride of place somewhere in their home. I cannot think of a more loved and admired leader anywhere in the world.

I was one of those camera people too but I can report that there remains no need for me to race and buy a nice new frame for the mantelpiece just yet. Maybe tomorrow...


There was little that  could take  picture of during the performance (and none of my photos of the Holy Father were any good)  here are some photos of the kids and staff having some fun on the beach right at the back of the crowd a few hours before the event started. With the sun out for the first time this week, as you can see, they had a great afternoon!

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