Four hours for seven seconds … We waited four hours for seven seconds with the successor of St. Peter! And it was totally worth it. Thursday in Rio was the day we have all been waiting for — our first chance to see the first pope from the Americas.
We were able to get in the front row because we saw federal police setting up barricades after dinner on Wednesday night. They were putting them up at the end of the street where our hotel is located, between Copacabana and Ipanema. Not knowing any Portuguese, I used sign language and the one universal word that is the same in every language, "Papa Mobile," to ask if this was the route for Pope Francis. The police told me not only was it the route, but that the pontiff would begin his journey from the fort at the end of the beach, which is only 200 yards from the door of our hotel. To say we were excited was an understatement.
Preparing to see Pope Francis at 'Popacabana'
Thursday morning our priest, Father Michael Silloway, led us in morning prayer and Mass at our hotel. To prepare for the pope's arrival, Father Michael gave a very catechetical homily on the meaning of the papacy. The focus of the Mass to prepare our hearts was that we were about to see a descendant of the Apostles, and not just any apostle, but St. Peter himself.
After Mass, we walked the 200 yards to the end of Copacabana (or "Popacabana" as it is now being called). No one had really started gathering at this end of the beach because most wanted to get closer to the stage. Being a WYD veteran, I knew that it is better to go for the less known sites if you want to see the pope up close and personal. We set up camp right on the barrier with our American flags and our picnic lunch, which was composed of cheese, salami, bread and Nutella — the perfect diet for a pilgrim.
As the crowds started to come in, we were enclosed perfectly next to the fort, and no other pilgrims could get to where we were located. Across the street from us pilgrims were 15 deep and hanging from trees and street signs. To prepare ourselves we said a Rosary. It seemed appropriate given the pope's focus on Our Lady of Aparecida the day before.
Seeing Pope Francis
Finally, as four battleships hugged the coastline and a dozen helicopters swarmed the skies, the moment came and Pope Francis arrived to greet the Church! The entire moment we were all reminded of when the people in Scripture just wanted to pass through the shadow of Peter and be healed in Acts 5:15. For one of our pilgrims, Meredith Mohr, this was her first time seeing any pope. Mohr said, "I was caught up in all the screaming, and then when Pope Francis was right in front of me all I could think to do was reach out. It just seemed natural."
It was an exhilarating moment that none of us will soon to forget. After the pontiff passed by, the entire crowd followed him further down the beach toward the main stage. Pope Francis captured how we all felt Thursday night when he said:
"Looking out to this sea, the beach and all of you gathered here, I am reminded of the moment when Jesus called the first disciples to follow him by the shores of Lake Tiberias. Today Christ asks each of us again: Do you want to be my disciple? Do you want to be my friend? Do you want to be a witness to my Gospel? In the spirit of the Year of Faith, these questions invite us to renew our commitment as Christians. Your families and local communities have passed on to you the great gift of faith Christ has grown in you. I have come today to confirm you in this faith, faith in the living Christ who dwells within you, but I have also come to be confirmed by the enthusiasm of your faith!"
Stephen Lenahan is the director of youth ministry at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, Ga., and is blogging for Our Sunday Visitor from Rio throughout World Youth Day.