world youth day rio de janeiro 2013

My Encounter With The Pope: World Youth Day 2013

In Blog, Brazil by Kay0 Comments

world youth day rio de janeiro

Last week, I had the enormous pleasure (and shock) of living in Rio de Janeiro during this year’s Jornada Mundial dos Jovens (JMJ), or World Youth Day. In this event, millions of Catholics gather together for pilgrimages, bonding, and collective prayer through a plethora of organized activities and masses. Brazil has one of the highest concentrations of Catholics out of all of the countries in the world, so it’s no wonder why this year’s JMJ was such a huge success. With a new pope, a booming city, and a bustling crowd, the event was bound to be exciting, full, and successful.

Having grown up in a Catholic family, I am pretty familiar with the lifestyle and activities associated with large gatherings like this. But when I found out the Pope was coming to my city along with over two million tourists, I couldn’t have prepared myself any more for what was in store during these few days.

What I Did

I’m not going to tell you I participated in all of the World Youth Day activities. Since I don’t belong to a church here in Rio and I had Portuguese classes each day from 8 AM until 1:30 PM, I logistically was not able to sign up for certain activities. However, one day, some friends and I decided to check out the setup at Copacabana beach and maybe even catch some glimpses of the Pope in the process. We tied our Brazilian flags around our shoulders and proceeded to make the long walk from Botafogo to Copacabana beach.

world youth day rio de janeiro 2013

On the way, we ran into people from all different countries, ranging from Korea to the United States and everything in between. People had megaphones and large flags, proudly waving in the wind. There were musicians, dancers, protesters, street food vendors, and volunteers all brought together along the sidewalks bordering Copacabana. The entire bairro of the city was closed off to traffic, with the exception of police cars and select taxis. It was like everyone was on the beach. Little did we know that everyone actually was.

We walked the length of Copacabana beach, which proved to be an arduous task given the sheer volume of people out on the roads that day. Different languages, scents, and sounds filled the air as we made our way towards Ipanema. We challenged ourselves to identify as many flags as we could, looking out for the country of my roots, the Philippines. Sadly, we never found them, but we did see flags from various countries in Africa, Iceland, Hong Kong, Australia, and pretty much everywhere you could think of.

Finally, as the sun set, we were able to catch our two-second glimpse of the Pope as he rode by on a cart in between the massive crowds of people. The whole world seemed to be recording, photographing, or grinning at the sight. The Pope was actually a very charismatic man, smiling widely and waving as he passed by the millions of people who had come to see him. Seeing all of these people, hand in hand, collected together for a unified purpose was actually a pretty magical sight, despite the inconvenience and shock of sharing my home with two million others.

All of this tourism and event-planning had gotten me thinking about the implications of this World Youth Day, so I compiled a short pro-con list of my opinions on the matter, as a Catholic person who lives in Rio de Janeiro:

The Good

  • It’s a wonderful thing to have so many people joined together for a communal cause.
  • This much massive tourism brings in a lot of money to the city of Rio de Janeiro as well as Brazil as a whole.
  • Being surrounded by so many different languages and cultures is such a unique and interesting experience. There were so many opportunities to meet people from all over the world.

The Bad

  • It rained the entire duration of the event.
  • The rain screwed up Rio’s plans for this event, big time, and angered a lot of Brazilians:
  • The crowding of the city resulted in massive transportation blockage, as buses and taxis could not enter the entire area of Copacabana, making it basically impossible to get around during that time.
  • With so many people in the streets, it was just hard to get around in general. The metros had to shut down because of the colossal crowds.
  • Some people were culturally insensitive throughout the duration of the program. People yelled “SUSHI” and “ARIGATO” at me throughout the whole weekend. People stood outside my apartment building screaming “USA USA USA…” over and over for hours on end. I’m American too, but can’t it rest for a while?

stage world youth dayThe Reality

World Youth Day was excellently executed, despite the change in venue, but it’s exceptionally difficult to organize so many people. Although I appreciated the amazing work and turnout of the event, I’m admittedly glad it is over now. I guess it’s part of being a “local” here in Rio nowadays, huh?

Did you hear anything about World Youth Day in Rio? What are your thoughts?

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