Both Rockin’ and Prayerful

Nothing could dampen the enthusiasm at last night’s World Youth Day Rio 2013 kick off celebration. Cold? Rain? Power-outage on the subway? Nothing. A party thousands strong right on Copacabana Beach was both rockin’ and prayerful. Oh yes, I said it: rockin’ and prayerful. I was there with fellow @TJPOnTour contributor Chris Schroeder, and I’d like to think we scooped the major networks by doing something they wouldn’t: live-tweeting the event from ground level right along with the pilgrims.

The night got off to a rough start when Rio’s Metro system suffered a major electrical problem and had to shut down just an hour ahead of the scheduled start.

But that couldn’t stop the thousands of stranded but enthusiastic pilgrims, who just set out on foot.

So we hiked across traffic-jammed streets, through tunnels, and over hills. We were not disappointed upon our arrival. Music was being blasted across the beach, with thousands of pilgrims already there, dancing, singing and waving flags. It was raucous and wonderful.

Even as the music and dancing paused and the huge crowd started praying the rosary in five different languages, you could still feel the excitement in the air.

Everywhere we went strangers would approach us and ask where we were from, and that opened up some great conversations with amazing people from every corner of the world. Not to mention a case of mistaken identity.

And it let us ask the question we’ve been wondering ever since we started planning our trip down to Rio:

The responses we got told us a lot about the pilgrims and their motivations making this incredible pilgrimage.

We heard this over and over. The words love, community, and joy started to sound like a mantra. Love, community, joy. Thousands of people coming together, sharing a community across nations, cultures and languages. When I came to Brazil I expected Pope Francis to be a major draw, and definitely, young people are excited about his upcoming appearance. But when you ask pilgrims directly why they’re here, he’s usually not the first thing they mention. It’s the thirst for community, and the knowledge that there’s really love and joy that moves them so powerfully.

So I’m learning a thing or two from the pilgrims. About what matters to them, and why it’s important to gather, and how–as much as they love the pope–one man does not an event make. An on a practical level I’m also learning a thing or two about life and fashion in Rio:

So the great pilgrimage continues. There is singing and dancing, silence and prayer, plenty of international encounters and love. If you don’t want to take my word for it, Fr. Robert Ballecer, SJ got the reactions from a few pilgrims as they arrived home for the night: