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Sing the song of life in the world says pope

HONG KONG (SE): World Youth Day 2013 ended in spectacular fashion as around three million people shoehorned themselves onto the famed Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, drinking in the last few words to be uttered by the first bishop of Rome from Latin America, Pope Francis, on his first return to his native continent.

Even though over one million young Catholic people had gathered for the event, Pope Francis proved himself to be the golden haired boy of the moment, dominating media reports (including Catholic media) coming out of the week-long international gathering to the extent that it would be forgivable to mistake it for World Pope Week. 

While no doubt the stories of the young people who attended will filter through as they have time to let them settle and reflect, the informal manner in which the gregarious pope mingles with the crowd and chats easily with both the poor and rich alike, captivated the imagination of the world.

However, he shoots straight. His message is consistent and clear. 

He wants a Church of the poor, a Church that is concerned with the plight of the poor that not just speaks, but acts in a way that shows the poor know it understands their suffering.

During his days in Brazil, Pope Francis showed that he is not afraid of the people, shaking hands with them through the open window of his car and taking walks among them, even in what are considered the most dangerous and hostile of places.

As a pope who persistently proclaims that the shepherd should smell like the sheep, he certainly gave himself plenty of opportunity to let the aroma of the people settle on him.

In a manner reminiscent of the former president of the United States of America, Jimmy Carter, who won hearts in Japan when he carried his own bag into a hotel, Pope Francis carried his own luggage onto his Alitalia flight.

He expressed great concern for the youth of today, saying, “Young people today are in crisis.”

He spoke of their exclusion from the workforce in so many places, asking how they can hold their heads up in society with dignity if they cannot earn their own bread.

He called it a culture of exclusion that is particularly poignant, since self-identity is intricately entwined with work.

“Because we isolate young people,” he said, “we take away their belonging.”

The pope warned that this is leading to the development of a disposable culture, where people are measured only by their economic value—where labour can be thrown out when not needed and those in their sunset years can be excluded from mainstream society and ignored.

“Today, we need a culture of inclusion, a culture of encounter,” Pope Francis stressed.

In the days running up to the official activities of World Youth Day, various groups were hosted by parishes on the fringes of society, not only in Brazil, but in the slum areas of Santiago in Chile and the sprawling rubbish dumps in Lima, Peru.

One group from Australia took on the challenge of building concrete stairways on the unstable dirt slopes the poor have to negotiate each day in Lima, just to get water.

Apart from the usual spiritual preparation for their pilgrimage, they took part in engineering classes to learn the techniques of building such a construction and a physical fitness programme to ensure they could do the back-breaking work forced upon the poor, which mechanisation can achieve in their own country.

In a moment of his trademark spontaneity, Pope Francis invited 12 young people to lunch and renamed the famed Copacabana Beach, Camp Faith, for the way of cross and the overnight prayer vigil.

Angelo Cardinal Bagnasco, the president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, called the camp God’s smile on earth. 

He described the young people as a ray of sunshine in the midst of the humidity and grey skies of Rio de Janeiro’s rainy season.

The cardinal coined the phrase, the Francis Effect, in describing the infectious influence that the Latin American pope has on the young people gathered for the international event.

Although relations between the host country and the pope’s native Argentina have often been tense, the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, described the visit of her distinguished guest as an opportunity to change the world for the better.

She spoke of their common enemies—inequality, underdevelopment and indifference towards the poor and the weak. She too called for social justice and development, as well as the creation of an inclusive society.

“The faith is an indelible feature of Brazilian life,” Rousseff said, “and World Youth Day will last longer than a week and nourish hope in everyone’s hearts.”

In his final homily at Copacabana, Pope Francis called on young people to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. He stressed that this commission from Jesus was not addressed to a few, but to everyone.

Also, in line with his call to the Church in Brazil to talk in simple language that the people can understand, Pope Francis delivered his homily in a chatty, down-to-earth style.

He referred to the Song of Songs, asking, what is this new song? He concluded by saying that it has no words.

 

“It is the song of your life. It is allowing your life to be identified with Jesus. It is sharing his sentiments, his thoughts and his actions. A life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service,” he said.

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