RIO DE JANEIRO (CNS) — “I saw the pope! I saw the pope!” yelled Hiago Ferreira de Araujo of Feira de Santana, Brazil, as he jumped up and down like a little kid who had just scored a goal.
The 23-year-old student said he had been waiting for at least three hours on a side street near Copacabana beach the afternoon of July 25 because he knew “the pastor of our church would come my way.”
One million people braved the rain to hear Pope Francis that evening on the beach for a World Youth Day welcoming ceremony. Despite problems with transport and loudspeakers, pilgrims stood patiently and cheered at the pope's words.
“The crowd is so large we knew we wouldn't be able to see him on stage, so we waited here and heard him through the loudspeaker,” Araujo told Catholic News Service.
He and his 38 friends came by bus. The normal 24-hour trip took 40 hours because the bus broke down on the highway, but the young people were not complaining.
“I expected this to be incredible, but it is so much more than I ever hoped,” he said.
Araujo said that, over the years, the young people had weakened their connection to the church because it seemed so unreachable to them. But this, he said, was changing.
“Pope Francis will bring the church close to us once again. The father comes to bring a renewal of the church. He brings back the essence of Jesus Christ with his humility.”
Liona Castro, 14, and her friends came to Brazil from a Catholic school in Lima, Peru. Sitting in her wheelchair in the rain, she wore a raincoat with her group's slogan “If I can, then you can.”
The group, The Father's Joy, consisting mostly of young people in wheelchairs, was chosen to perform in one of the many activities during World Youth Day. Those in the group who could walk ventured out with volunteers closer to the stage, but Castro remained safely near the hotel entrance.
With a big smile, she said, “I never thought in my whole life I would be here like this.”
In interviews with dozens of pilgrims from dozens of countries, the recurring word to describe Pope Francis was humility.
Rhoe Price, 20, of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Narre Warren, Australia, said the humility and simplicity the pope shows is inspiring.
“I hope people will view the church as more humble. He reminds me of Pope John Paul II. He is so friendly. I loved it when he switched his hat with one someone in the crowd gave him,” Price said.
Despite the rain, pilgrims were in a festive mood. Nicolas de Thore, 22, of Notre Dame de Grace de Passy Parish in Paris, said he was enjoying the week and had come to Rio hoping to find some direction in life.
“That is why I came to World Youth Day,” he emphasized.
A few hours after Pope Francis left Copacabana beach, many pilgrims were still trying to get home. Many groups held hands, making long lines as they walked along the closed roads.
Some took Pope Francis' words as individual messages to them.
“I hope to leave here stronger with his words,” said Lelito Paulo Quade, 27, of Our Lady of Good Help, in Bissau, Guinea Bissau.
“What makes him spectacular is that you can relate to him,” said Isabella Udovicic, 18, of St. Carthages Parish in Melbourne, Australia, as she rested before continuing back to her lodging.
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By Lise Alves, Catholic News Service.