A hush fell over the million strong crowd when Pope Francis stepped to the microphone and asked the crowd what they had learned from the cross of Christ.
The pope asked this question after presiding over the Stations of the Cross on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach.
A traditional World Youth Day event, thirteen of the stations were set up along Avenida Atlantica, the street the runs along Copacabana Beach. The fourteenth station was unveiled on the main altar infront of Pope Francis.
Artistic Director Ravel Cabral and a team of 300 people put together the 14 stations and the artistic performances that accompanied each station. Each set depicted one station, but set in modern day Jerusalem, or in some cases in well known Rio de Janeiro landmarks. Each episode of Christ’s passion was linked to a situation faced by young people today.
Pope Francis was welcomed to the Copacabana Beach altar by Ziza Fernandes, a renowned Brazilian, Catholic musician, singing “Peregrino Incansevel” or “Untiring Pilgrim” Fernandes also served as Musical Director for the Main Events in Rio.
After the scene at the final station was finished, Pope Francis gave a brief homily, recalling the World Youth Day cross which traditionally travels around the host country in the months leading up to World Youth Day.
He said the cross is steeped in the lives of the young people who are asked to carry the cross from one pilgrimage point to another, each of them leaves something with the cross and each takes something with them from the cross.
“It gives us a treasure that no one else can give: the certainty of the unshakable love which God has for us. A love so great that it enters into our sin and forgives it, enters into our suffering and gives us the strength to bear it. It is a love which enters into death to conquer it and to save us. The Cross of Christ contains all the love of God, his immeasurable mercy,” the pope said.
Deviating somewhat from the prepared Portuguese text, Pope Francis said other than Jesus there are three main characters in the stations of the cross, Pilate, Simon the Cyrene, and Mary. “Who do you want to be like?” he asked, Pilate who washes his hands of the situation, Simon the Cyrene who helps Jesus carry his cross, or Mary?
The prayer service ended with a group of young, Brazilian Catholic artists singing “Hope is among us.” Many of the actors involved in the scene for the 14 th station were visibly moved by the pope’s homily and the closing song.
Pope Francis left Copacabana by car, using the same silver Fiat Idea he has been using throughout the trip. Pilgrims remained on the beach for several hours taking in post – prayer service musical entertainment, which included Canadian singer Matt Maher.
Authorities worked through the night to prepare Copacabana Beach for Saturday’s closing prayer vigil.
(CNS Photo / Paul Haring)