The Papal Welcoming Ceremony kicks off what some call the World Youth Day Triduum. The event is celebrated on the Thursday evening before the Way of the Cross (Friday evening), Vigil (Saturday evening) and Closing Mass (Sunday morning). The Papal Welcome is a highlight for many pilgrims; there's always lots of excitement and given that this was Pope Francis' first visit to South America as the first South American pontiff in history it was, well, historic.
During the ceremony representatives from each continent address the Holy Father and usually present him with a gift. This part of the ceremony is always interesting as we get to hear about the concerns and hopes of youth from across the globe. This year, as I watched with rapt attention I was gladdened to realize that the delegate representing Africa was speaking in Afrikaans! The pilgrim, Liam Smithers, was a fellow South African.
But it got better, later that evening after the broadcast, as the S+L team made its way on foot back to the hotel through throngs of pilgrims, we saw the South African who met the Pope! We couldn't believe it. In a sea of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, there he was. So the team ran up to him and interviewed him on the spot. Still beaming with happiness, Liam Smithers shared his experience with us. He said that to his surprise the Pope spoke to him in English and humbly asked Liam (this made Liam chuckle with delight during the telling) to pray for him and just before they parted the Pope reminded him, "now, don't forget to pray!". It was a fitting conclusion to a memorable evening.
The Papal Welcoming Ceremony in Rio will remain a personal highlight.
To enjoy the reliving the Papal Welcoming Ceremony tune in on Thursday, Aug 15 at 8:30pm ET / 5:30pm PT and Friday, Aug 16 at 12:30am & 1:00pm ET / 9:30pm (Thurs) & 10:00am PT.
If you'd like to see the interview with Liam Smithers, the South African pilgrim who met the Pope, you can watch our World Youth Day Wrap-Up
CNS photo: Paul Haring
Pilgrims react as Pope Francis arrives for the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro July 25. During his first meeting with massive numbers of pilgrims, the pope told the young people that it is always good to be gathered around Jesus and to keep Jesus at the center of their lives.