By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – An estimated three million people filled the sands of Rio’s famous Copacabana Beach on the evening of Saturday, July 27th for the World Youth Day (WYD) prayer vigil and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament ceremony.
Pope Francis led both events during the evening that also featured numerous musical performances and personal testimonies of faith by national and international pilgrims.
The vigil had originally been scheduled to take place at Campus Fidei (Field of Faith) in the Zona Oeste (West Zone) neighborhood of Guaratiba but officials transferred the event and Sunday’s final mass to Copacabana Beach due to days of heavy rain which made the site a massive field of mud.
During his address, Pope Francis commented on the location change saying: “I believe we can learn something from what happened in recent days. Was not the Lord trying to tell us that the real area of faith, the true Campus Fidei, is not a geographical place beyond ourselves?”
In his remarks, the Pope also addressed the ongoing protest movements led by young people around the world, including Brazil’s own massive demonstrations, which took up to a million to the streets of major cities in June.
“These are young people who want to be agents of change. I encourage them, in an orderly, peaceful and responsible manner, motivated by the values of the Gospel, to continue overcoming apathy and offering a Christian response to social and political concerns present in their countries,” the pontiff said.
Throughout the day, protesters gathered on the closed roads and beaches of Copacabana. The demonstrations included the afternoon Marcha das Vadias (March of the Sluts), whose participants were critical of the Pope, the Catholic church and also of Rio de Janeiro Governor Sérgio Cabral. During the march some members broke religious images and others protested naked.
Participant Marco Rocha told O Globo, “The march takes place every year on the same date in Copacabana. This year was canceled due to the World Youth Day. But we decided to come anyway.” Protesters were prevented from approaching the WYD stage by a human barricade of police officers and metal partitions.
On the WYD stage, the Pope finished his part of the evening by leading the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Musical performances continued after the pontiff’s departure and many pilgrims spent the night on the beach. Pope Francis will return on Sunday morning to celebrate the final mass, which will conclude the 2013 Rio World Youth Day.
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