Pope presides over solemn procession

Pilgrims on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro watch Pope Francis on a giant screen .
Pilgrims on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro watch Pope Francis on a giant screen . (FELIPE DANA / Associated Press)
Posted: July 28, 2013

RIO DE JANEIRO - Pope Francis presided over one of the most solemn rites of the Catholic Church on Friday, a procession reenacting Christ's crucifixion in the improbable location of Rio's hedonistic Copacabana beach, as he headed into the home stretch of his first international trip for World Youth Day.

The evening procession highlighted Francis' spiritual side a day after he showed off his rebel streak by calling on young Catholics to shake things up in their parishes and make a "mess" by going out to the streets to spread their faith.

Francis took a long drive in his open car along Rio's oceanfront to reach the stage, kissing babies brought to him and waving to the shrieking crowds held behind fences and soldiers in camouflage. He then watched as young people began the Stations of the Cross procession, which recounts the final hours of Christ's life as he is condemned to death and crucified.

The procession is one of the mainstays of World Youth Day, designed to remind young Catholics about the root of their faith that Christ died to forgive their sins. Francis drove home that message at the start of Friday, hearing confessions of five pilgrims in a Rio park.

"It was just five minutes, it followed the regular ritual of confession, but then Francis stayed and talked with us," said one of the five, Estefani Lescano, 21, a student from La Guaira, Venezuela. "It was all very personal. He told us that young people have the responsibility of keeping the church alive and spreading the word of Christ."

Later, he met privately with a few juvenile detainees, a priority of his ever since his days as archbishop of Buenos Aires and an expression of his belief that the church must reach out to the most marginalized and forgotten of society.

Even now as pope, he calls a group of youths in a Buenos Aires detention center every two weeks just to keep in touch, and one of his most memorable gestures as pope was his Holy Thursday Mass at a juvenile detention center in Rome where he washed the feet of young offenders.

Francis has made a point of not just focusing on the next generation of Catholics during World Youth Day, but on the older generation as well.

Speaking from the balcony of the residence of Rio's archbishop, Francis said Friday that young people should honor and thank their grandparents for the wisdom they share.

"How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society!" he said.

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