Rio de Janeiro (AsiaNews) - The streets of Rio are invaded by young people from all around the world, with a prevalence of South America: Argentina in the lead, then Brazil, followed by Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico and Central America. Someone called this the Latin American WYD. In any case, this time, the streets of the 'Marvelous City' are not being filled by Carnival or football celebrations but faith. Some say that Rio de Janeiro was chosen for the large number of "crentes" (evangelical churches) in this area and the drastic reduction of Catholics in the percentages of the census done by 'IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), hoping that WYD will inspire a new wave of faith and missionary commitment, and help people rediscover their Christian roots.
Brazil was evangelized from the 16th century through the work of the Jesuits, followed by the Dominicans, then the Franciscans, Capuchins, Redemptorists and recently, in the 50s, the missionary institutes that arrived in the "Land of Santa Cruz" at the invitation of Pope Pius XII. Since then the reality has greatly changed: in Brazil globalization is ripping itself out a path, with rampant materialism, especially among young people, its most numerous victims: violence, drugs, alcohol and cheap sex. Yet in this context, which is so confrontational, we are witnessing a reversal. We are under the influence of the heavily emotional experience of these days, and perhaps it will take time for us to settle and understand what is actually happening. Either way, it is simply outstanding to welcome Pope Francis. Perhaps this Pope speaks more with gestures than words, as the SBT (Brazilian Television System) reporter said yesterday on the evening news program. He has awakened religious sentiment within people and they have literally poured out on the streets to welcome him since last Monday. A climate of deep emotion has invaded hearts.
I was in the crowd, because we have set up a PIME Editrice Mundo Missão booth, along with ACN (Aid to the Church in Need), right in the heart of Rio, the "Largo da Carioca," four steps from the cathedral, where the Pope arrived in a simple grey car, before climbing onto the Popemobile during his first tour of the city. There was talk of more than half a million people to welcome him. Startled smiling faces, but also many, many young people. With his first words he captured Brazilian hearts: "I come to gently knock at the door of your heart ... I have neither gold nor silver. What I have is Christ and I came here to bring Him to you". Above all for faith then, although there are strong references to the social situation, calls for greater justice with an explicit no to the trafficking and liberalization drugs and violence. After the celebration at the National Shrine of Aparecida, where the Pope recalled the Fifth meeting of CELAM (Episcopal Council of Latin America and the Caribbean) and the commitment taken with Aparecida document to be disciples and missionaries of Christ, Francis returned to Rio and blessed the new wing of a hospital for drug addicts, the mentally ill and the poor run by the Association and fraternity of St. Francis of Assisi in Providence. A new community of consecrated young people, who are inspired by the charism of St. Francis, and who do not hesitate to take on charitable organizations on the brink of bankruptcy and turn them into real healthcare centres.
The ACN stand offers us a privileged observation point of the young people who pass by. There are young people from Jamaica, where Catholics are just 1%, accompanied by two young missionaries from Belize, Fr. Maicon and Brother Maximilian, belonging to a new congregation called 'Misioneros de los pobres', founded in the '80s by a former Jesuit of Chinese origins, Father Ho Lung Richar. Their charism is to serve the poorest and homeless inspired by the words of Jesus in Matthew 25, 35-40. A Latin American group, therefore, with only 30 years of existence and this, with its more than 500 members, not only in Jamaica, but in India, the Philippines, Haiti, Uganda, Kenya, USA and Indonesia: a Church with 1% Catholics able to look to the mission ad gentes, with courage and hope.
Another interesting group who came to the stand was of 8 young people from central China, led by Fr. Marco Chen, of one diocese where PIME worked for decades. During the Mass, Fr. Marco told his story of how his vocation was born thanks to the testimony of his grandmother and mother who told him about the times in which the missionaries preached the gospel in those inaccessible areas, and they were called men of God. When he was a child, Fr. Marco listening to those stories felt the desire well up in him to be a man of God, and after overcoming many obstacles, access to studies and economic difficulties, he finally achieved his desire to become a priest. To him it seemed impossible to come to Brazil for World Youth Day with the youth of his parish, but his dream was realized thanks to ACN. On the altar he laid a reliquary with a relic: um fragment of bone of the Chinese martyrs, found in a mass grave. This witness aroused enthusiasm and emotion among the young people present. Fr. Marco pointed out that China above all needs faith and asked for our prayers.
I encountered another important witness visiting the Riocentre Catholic expo, a large space to promote events, in the north of Rio. There we have a stand for our magazine Mundo and Missão, and there I met the secretary of the bishops' conference region 2 ( the region that includes the state of Paraná), Fr. Mario Spak, who was speaking with Bishop João Bosco de Souza Barbosa, about an ad gentes missionary project with the church of Bafatá, Guinea Bissau, where PIME missionary Msgr. Pedro Zilli - paranese by adoption- worked. It is a serious commitment that must involve all the dioceses of Parana. Two parishes in each diocese will have to find missionaries to be sent to Bafatá and help the church of Guinea. We are still in the planning stage, said Fr. Mario, but next year it must be launched. These testimonies have a great impact on young Latinos and, in the words of Pope Francis, will be able to generate a new commitment to missionary life, according to the theme of World Youth Day: "Go and make disciples of all the nations."
* PIME Missionary in Brazil, director of Mundo e Missao.