Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Finale

The big finish to World Youth Day is the Final Mass. It takes place at 10.00am on Sunday, following the Vigil and the WYD slumber party. As you know our pilgrims found a nice comfortable patch of sand on Copacabana Beach to watch the Vigil then pulled out the sleeping bag, curled up in the sand and slept 'til the morning. Every pilgrim that I spoke to said that they slept pretty well. I am sure that they would have slept a whole let better than those who arrived at the Vigil late and pitched their tent on the pavement, road or in some cases nearby the bank of portable latrines or overflowing  garbage bins (there were far too few of both). For some reason, it didn't seem to matter where they slept, as long as they were there.

Once again there was the big Papal arrival. That went just as the two before it: massive crowds along the promenade, great excitement and emotion, lots of hopeful clicks of cameras (and likely, lots of the clicks of the delete buttons soon after) and then a wait until the removal of the barricades to move either to the beach or from it. Sound familiar?

The Final Mass was not a particularly elaborate affair. It had the beautiful liturgical music that has been the feature of previous ceremonies and while it was again done in Portuguese and/or Spanish, because we were familiar with the order of the service, we had more of an idea of what was happening. Steve, one of the PGLs from Bus 1 had a radio through which an English translation was being played. I was able to hear some of that and what a difference that made  I was out of hearing range when the Holy Father delivered his homily, which is a shame because it generated a lot of applause from the crowd. I  will try to get an English translation of that up on the blog too even though I haven't come good with my commitment to get his address from the day before up yet. I need to be better at following through on everything to say I will do...

I was mightily impressed with the way that our student pilgrims participated in the Mass. Some followed the service closely with their pilgrim liturgy booklets and a few, like Steve, had radios tuned into the English translation. Staying connected with a ceremony that is an hour-and-a-half long and in an entirely different language is no mean feat, but I thought that they did that well.

For the second time in two days, Copacabana struggled to cope with another massive crowd of somewhere between 3 and 4 million people. It is just so hard to describe what being in a crowd of that size feels like. I reckon about 70-80% of those who attended the Vigil slept over and I suspect that those who didn't, like me, were the ones back the next day. Despite all the issues created by a crowd of up to 4 million people, I am still pleased the Mass was celebrated at Copa rather than on the muddy paddock at the original venue. I guess the late change didn't leave too much time to get Copa ready for one more gig. Still, the sight of so many people in one one place at the one time, all there for a singular purpose (well, almost all - unfortunately pickpockets saw this huge assembly of people as an opportunity to ply their trade, and sadly, one of our PGLs was a victim. Damn!). There was a real party mood in the air at the conclusion of the Mass. The dancing, singing, chanting and playing of musical instruments continued for hours afterwards. As you might imagine, the streets were crammed with people heading out of Copa or sticking around for a while longer to do a bit of shopping, or just taking in the atmosphere for a bit longer or having lunch on one of the many cafes or restaurants along the strip.

All of our bus groups hung around on the beach for while while the crowd thinned. We even managed to get everyone together for a massive group picture. I have included it here. My group, Bus Group 1, then headed into the mall for lunch before cramming ourselves into the subway one more time for the journey home.

The Final Mass marked the end for the official WYD week of events, but the journey for us all is far from over. A two-day retreat, which includes a visit to the mystical, magical Iguazu Falls on the Argentina/Brazil border, await us, and the journey concludes with a day or two in the capital Buenos Ares before flying home. Most of jet back into Sydney on either Sunday or Monday .

I am very interested in hearing some reflections from the students over the next few days about what the WYD week was like for them. I imagine it will be different for each student. We'll see. The retreat should provide a opportunity for them to share their thoughts. I think my most lasting experience of the week in Brazil will be the opportunity it gave me to be be with a more than 300 incredibly impressive Catholic school students and teachers to share a moment in history with the Holy Father and 3 or 4 million others for whom their Catholic faith is also an important part of who they are.

Oh yes, and insane Brazilian bus drivers - how will I ever forget them....


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