[NSIEAB by Nina Boe ]For the last week, a small group of 8 Anglican young adults from 5 countries have been in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the World Anglican Youth Encounter. The brainchild of Revds Nicholas Wheeler and Daniel Cabral of the Diocese of Rio de Janeiro, with the support of Diocesan Bishop Filadelfo Oliveira, this event is taking place alongside World Youth Day, an event attracting millions of Catholic youth from around the world.
On Friday, the faithful throngs crowded along Copacabana beach to walk the Stations of the Cross, life-sized constructions along Avenida Atlantica, at which the cross of World Youth Day and the Icon of Our Lady paused and the dramatization of each station was televised on the multiple big screens along the beach. At the end of the procession, the cross was raised on the stage from which the Pope delivered a sermon in a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. For Oliver Petter from the Diocese of London, currently in his second year of seminary in Oxford, Friday evening’s events were particularly impressive. The difference in the symbolism in Brazil was of note for him – he commented that many countries perform the stations of the cross with a ‘body’ present, but: “…to process with an empty cross here with a crown of thorns… it symbolizes absence, loss… and yet 1 million people there on the beach, such a manifestation of resurrection, in stillness and reverence… that was very moving…”
On Saturday, the vigil previously scheduled was for a thirteen kilometer hike, ending at a campsite at Pedra de Guaritiba. However, three days’ worth of rain in Rio made for unsustainable conditions at the field, and the event was rescheduled for Copacabana beach. Thousands upon thousands staked out locations to set up camp and stay overnight, and the Pope processed along the street to greet the crowd before arriving at the main stage for an event of music, testimonies from various individuals from throughout the country, and ending with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Pope Francis praised the spirit and strength of youth today, exhorting them to be leaders in their communities – of faith and otherwise – to call for change, and be guided by their faith to create a church not for a small few, but large enough for all of humanity to be included. The feelings of hope and inspiration were almost tangible, an emotional high note to prepare for tomorrow’s closing Mass, also to be held on Copacabana. For these 8 young Anglicans, this time in Brazil is nearing its end, but what they will take away from this experience is only beginning.