Each day at World Youth Day is truly an international experience. Thursday, our morning catechesis session was led by Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Akkra, Ghana. Archbishop Charles is very dynamic and energetic, often bringing both music and dance into his catechesis. He spoke on the gifts that young people have and particularly identified five – life, energy, creativity, idealism, and a hunger for God. He also shared his own vocation story and how he came to realize that Jesus did not need him to be a priest – Jesus wanted him to be a priest. The same is true for all of us – Jesus does not need us, but he wants us to come to him as we are, and he will make us good.

We were also joined on Thursday by musician Steve Angrisano, who led us in music for the catechesis session and Mass. As usual, the make-up of the young people was broad, coming from about 18 different countries. Many of the people in our group identify this opportuity to get to know people from different languages and cultures a highlight of our experience.

As we were celebrating Mass, I realized that for each of the past four days, the presider for our Mass has been from four different continents – Monday, Fr. Jonathan Meyer from North America; Tuesday, the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro from South America; Wednesday, Bishop Moses from Asia; and Thursday, Archbishop Charles from Africa. How often have you experienced that? We don’t know day-to-day who our bishop catechist will be, so we are anxious to find out who we will have on Friday – perhaps Australia?

After Mass, we went straight to downtown Rio to Copacabana Beach to get a spot for the Papal Welcoming Ceremony. We broke into smaller groups to be able to find the best spots, and then waited for about three hours until Pope Francis arrived, moving down the street lining the beach riding in the Popemobile. It’s estimated that there were about 1.5 million people there for the welcoming ceremony, but even with the huge crowd, just about everyone in our group got at least a quick glimpse of Pope Francis as he drove by. A welcoming ceremony followed, and the Holy Father had his first chance to himself officially welcome everyone to World Youth Day. There was a great energy among the people gathered, there to see the first pope from the Americas back on his native continent.

As I have mentioned before, it has been raining here off and on all week – really more on than off. The Papal Welcoming Ceremony saw only a little drizzle, and then when it ended and we were walking back to the bus, we looked up and saw a sight that we had not been able to see at all since the first day we arrived – the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado that had been hidden by clouds all week was now visible. The statue is lit up brilliantly at night, hovering over the city and watching down over us all. It was quite an amazing site to behold, and a great visual symbol of Christ reaching out to welcome us all to this great event, just as Pope Francis had done as well.

A major downside to the rainy weather has been that the field where this weekend’s Vigil and Mass with Pope Francis was to be held has been turned into a huge mud pit. The local officials have been trying to use pipes to drain the water, but it hasn’t helped much. Late in the day on Thursday, we began to hear that the weekend events would be moved and held instead on Copacabana Beach, where we have gathered for the other major events this week. We don’t know many details yet, but it sounds like that is the plan. I hope to be able to post once more before we head to the Vigil site on Saturday and World Youth Day 2013 draws to a close.