The closing Mass on Sunday morning with Pope Francis was even more moving and more emotional than anything else that has taken place this week. We were witness to all nations coming together to become disciples. The Kyrie and then the Gloria resounding across the shore of Copacabana beach felt like some epic moment from Sacred Scripture.
We were on a balcony again above the crowd, and it was an incredible experience from up there. Ryan O'Connell, our videographer pilgrim, said, "I feel like we are getting to see what God sees; we are seeing what it looks like when the Church worships him." I could not agree more with Ryan. To hear more than 3 million people sing the Alleluia is enough to make a grown man move to tears — though I will not confirm or deny if it did.
Millions dance for Pope Francis
There were some very fun moments as well, like the 3 million-man flash mob that took place for Pope Francis before Mass began. This was an impressive display of how much the World Youth Day pilgrims get into any task placed before them. It was a great way to keep spirits high throughout the night as pilgrims camped out on Copacabana. The dance came on the screens a few times so everyone could have it memorized by morning. When the actual moment came to perform the dance, everyone was on their feet and moving! I am sure the WYD pilgrims gave Carnival a run for its money at that moment. Even the bishops and cardinals were dancing!
'How can we not speak of what we have seen and heard?’
What surprised us at Mass was how brief the pope's homily was. Sometimes "less is more," and the pope certainly proved that with his words Sunday morning. He again spoke with conviction, even sometimes shaking his fist as if he were a coach trying to get a fallen player back in the game and motivated. "Go; do not fear; serve," said Pope Francis. He has insisted all week in his many speeches in Rio that the time for young people to change the world is now! This only can be done if the young people learn to serve.
In his final remarks of his homily, he told us that we must cling to Our Lady and take her along our journey to become missionary disciples. She is the perfect model of what it means to be a missionary disciple. I found it ironic as a young man from a developed country that I was standing in a country that we often see as mission territory, but I was being sent as a missionary back to my own country where there is a greater need.
Rio has treated my group and I extremely well. Everything about this World Youth Day has been of epic proportions. Many people that I talked to since WYD 2011 in Madrid doubted how it could be pulled off in Brazil. I am here to attest that not only did it get pulled off, but it will be remembered as one of the best! The Catholic Church and especially the youth of Brazil have much to be proud of, and I have grown in my faith because of them. As the Church, we cannot fear taking our faith to the most dangerous parts of the world. It is what the apostles did, and if it was good enough for them then it is good enough for me.
We are all excited to return home. We are excited not to return to our comforts and the food we are used to, but rather we are excited to share what God has done in Brazil and in the young Church. After all, "How can we not speak of what we have seen and heard?" (Acts 4:20). Viva Papa Francisco! Vivo Rio! Viva la Iglesia Catolico!
Stephen Lenahan is the director of youth ministry at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, Ga., and is blogging for Our Sunday Visitor from Rio throughout World Youth Day.