Pope Francis arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Monday to a jubilant welcome that at times involved crowds swarming the popemobile, but rather than frightening him, the display of affection made him quite happy.
“The Pope is very happy with the way Rio has expressed enthusiasm and love for him,” said the Holy See’s press office director, Father Federico Lombardi.
“Many people have asked if there were big problems in the trip from the airport to the palace of Guanabara, but it was an extraordinary experience of the people’s enthusiasm,” he added.
Fr. Lombardi spoke July 22 at the World Youth Day media center at Copacabana beach during a 7:45 p.m. press conference.
“The Pope’s secretary told me that when the car was stopped, he was scared at times, but the Pope was very happy and waving,” he remarked.
Fr. Lombardi admitted that there was “a moment of difficulty in which the car took a different turn than planned,” but he said in the end there were no concerns about security.
The only change to the Pope’s itinerary came on the final leg of his journey from the Guanabara Palace when he took a helicopter trip “to avoid demonstrations.”
“The Pope’s trip on the airplane was great, it was a beautiful and cordial encounter between him and the journalists that were all able to speak with him personally,” Fr. Lombardi said.
According to the Italian priest, the Pope made two points during his brief remarks to journalists on the plane.
“He said his personal perspective of World Youth Day is to not see it as something isolated from the rest of society,” said Fr. Lombardi. “He said young people should always be seen in a bigger concept of society.”
Pope Francis emphasized that both young and old are necessary for society because “young people have the strength, but they need the advice of the elderly, who have wisdom.”
“I spoke last week to the Pope about this meeting with the journalists and he said that he would tell them about the importance of youth in society, which is exactly what he said,” the Vatican press office director said.
The importance of united young and old was also on the Pope’s mind when he made an unannounced visit to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, just two days before his trip to Brazil.
“He prayed for the youth and the elderly also when he prayed at Santa Maria Maggiore before coming to Rio, which shows that they are very important elements for him,” Fr. Lombardi explained.
The theme of moving away from a disposable culture, a “throwaway culture” to a culture of inclusion was also present in the Pope’s first speech, he added.
“Pope Francis is also asking for journalists to help young people and to help him in this event,” said Fr. Lombardi.
The director of the Holy See’s press office also noted the Pope has a “tremendous amount of energy.”
“The talk he gave at the presidential palace was very personal because he spoke of the great heart of the Brazilian people,” he noted.
Fr. Lombardi stressed that the Brazilian president told the pontiff she had been very impressed with his speech at the Italian island of Lampedusa – an island that has been flooded with Africans fleeing hardship or conflict.
The importance of Mary for Pope Francis was another element of the trip to Rio and of the pontiff’s personal spirituality that Fr. Lombardi highlighted for journalists.
“He has a great Marian devotion because when World Youth Day was organized, he ordered the organizer to have included a visit to Our Lady of Aparecida,” he said.
Pope Francis will be resting after his 12-hour flight and enthusiastic reception until Wednesday morning, when he will visit the national shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida.