‘Go, don’t fear, serve’

A look at Pope Francis’ trip to Brazil for World Youth Day

The Church must adopt a more simple approach and be capable of “walking at people’s side”, was one of the strong messages to come from Pope Francis during a visit to Brazil for World Youth Day (WYD) from July 23-28.

It was fitting that our first Latin American Pope should make his first international trip to his native continent, and he inspired the millions of young people present to share the Gospel with their peers.


Known for his humility, the publicity around the trip began from the moment Pope Francis left Rome, when he was photographed carrying his own briefcase onto the plane.

After quick greetings at Rio’s international airport, characteristically the Pope’s entrance into the city was in a modest compact van instead of the usual large sedan. Huge crowds greeted him on the street but the swarming of his car by pedestrians and the driver’s decision to enter rush-hour traffic caused huge concern for his security.

At the city’s cathedral, the Pontiff boarded an open popemobile and made a 25-minute circuit of the downtown streets to cheering crowds and confetti, occasionally stopping to kiss a baby or small child.

After flying by military helicopter to Guanabara Palace, to meet with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Pope Francis referred to the statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking the city saying, “The arms of the Pope now spread to embrace all of Brazil in its human, cultural and religious complexity and richness”.

Social justice

The Pope then spent the week visiting dignitaries, holy shrines, young prisoners, offering confessions and perhaps most poignantly visiting one of this city’s notorious ‘favelas’, where he denounced corruption and a “culture of selfishness and individualism,” and called for a “culture of solidarity” in pursuit of social justice.

After walking the streets for half an hour, the Pope thanked more than 20,000 residents gathered in a local soccer field for their hospitality, and said Brazilians could “offer the world a valuable lesson in solidarity, a word that is too often forgotten or silenced, because it is uncomfortable”.

Over two million people attended the prayer vigil on Copacabana beach on July 27, including 160 Irish pilgrims. After a wet and cold night sleeping on the beach, three million young people participated in the Closing Mass the next day where Pope Francis announced that the next WYD in 2016 will be in Krakow, Poland.

On the flight home to Rome, Pope Francis gave a surprise inflight press conference, spending over an hour answering questions with a spontaneity and openness that he has become known for.


On the possibility of the Catholic Church ordaining women priests, the Pontiff said, “the Church has spoken and said, ‘no’”. However, he said it is not enough to just have altar girls or women readers, because “women in the Church are more important than bishops and priests”, just like “Mary is more important than the apostles”.

Pope Francis said gay people are “our brothers” and should not be marginalised. “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?”

He explained that his decision to continue living at the Domus Sanctae Marthae was because it was a “psychological necessity” for him to live in community, and he described having Pope Benedict living nearby was like “having a grandfather at home – a very wise grandfather”.