Boy who got past security barrier to embrace Pope Francis at WYD 2013 is now a seminarian

Nathan de Brito Nathan de Brito hugs Pope Francis during his visit to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day 2013. | Credit: Nathan de Brito/personal file

The little boy who managed to get past the crowd control barrier at World Youth Day (WYD) in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 to give an emotional embrace to Pope Francis is now a seminarian preparing for the priesthood.

On July 26, 2013, de Brito, then 9 years old, managed to get to the popemobile carrying Pope Francis through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. He then hugged the Holy Father and told him that he wanted to be a priest.

Ten years later, de Brito is in the preparatory seminary of the Archdiocese of Campo Grande in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. For de Brito, “remembering that encounter is to always rekindle the flame of vocation.”

Nathan de Brito with his mother, Ana Paula. Credit: Personal file.
Nathan de Brito with his mother, Ana Paula. Credit: Personal file.

Pope Francis visited Rio de Janeiro for WYD in 2013. It was his first international trip after being elected pope in March of that year.

The photo of de Brito hugging Pope Francis soon went viral, becoming one of the most memorable images of the trip.

The young man said that he is moved when he talks about that encounter. “It will be 10 years since that great moment in my life. Of course it was not the awakening of my vocation, because I had wanted to be a priest for a long time. But it was, without a doubt, one more motivation within my vocation,” de Brito told ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese-language news partner, in an interview.

The seminarian said that since he was little he wanted to be a priest. “I liked to play at celebrating Mass, going to Mass.” At the age of 5 he began serving as an altar boy in Cabo Frio, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, where he lived with his family.

“I was an altar boy for many years and really enjoyed serving. I also really liked catechism and was in a hurry for the sacraments. I remember my first Eucharist a lot, which was the happiest day of my life,” he shared.

De Brito recalled that it was at the age of 7 that he first said that he wanted to be just a priest: “Before I said that I wanted to be a teacher and a priest, a doctor and a priest, always something and a priest. But at the age of 7, one day when my father picked me up from school and asked me what it would be like when I grew up, I told him that I would only be a priest.”

“I always emphasize that my call is to holiness. We are all called to holiness and each one has a call, a specific vocation. And I understand that my vocation is to the priesthood, so I said ‘yes’ to this vocation,” he explained.

The young Brazilian stressed that the pope of his childhood was Benedict XVI and that his “attraction to the vocation was precisely in him, because he saw in him an imposing figure, who spoke timidly, but who spoke very well, he was the man of the liturgy.”

“When I was 7 years old, I used to watch the Masses at the Vatican, my eyes wide open,” he related.

When Pope Francis arrived in Brazil in 2013, he said he saw a pontiff “very close to us.”

“When he was elected pope, my love for the Church and for my vocation grew, because he was someone close to us. It’s not that Benedict XVI wasn’t,” he said, but his perception was that “Benedict XVI was the pope who lived in the Vatican and was distant.”

Then came the opportunity to be close to the pope with Francis’ visit to Brazil for WYD Rio 2013. At that time, de Brito was living in Cabo Frio. He and his mother went to Aparecida, where the pope was present on July 24. But they didn’t manage to see him up close.

They then traveled to Rio de Janeiro, where de Brito managed to get to Pope Francis on July 26. “And this [matter of] being a priest is so important to me that when I met the pope, I didn’t even tell him my name. I don’t know how he knew my name, but I didn’t say it. I just said, ‘Holy Father, I want to be a priest, I want to be like you,’” de Brito recalled.

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“At that moment of meeting the pope, I could feel God’s enormous affection for me, saying, ‘My son, I love you,’ in the arms of the one who welcomes us like a father. I had this very great experience of being welcomed by the pope and that he received what I told him. He simply told me: ‘Pray for me and I will pray for you,’” he said.

“Of course, we have the obligation to care for our vocation. But knowing that a person so special prays for us is something very special.”

In early 2020, de Brito joined the Order of Friars Minor as an aspirant. He was a member of the congregation until the end of last year, when he asked to be transferred to the seminary of the Archdiocese of Campo Grande.

“It’s my duty as a person called to the priesthood to keep that flame burning, if that is God’s will. But those sparks that help us maintain our vocation, like the meeting with Pope Francis, are always very pleasant, very happy to remember,” he concluded.

This story was first published by ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by ACI Prensa/CNA.

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