The Pope has arrived in a whirlwind of drama and joy, but he did not make the usual papal entrance.
Having watched and even been to a few papal events, I would like to think I now know what to expect. I am, however, quickly learning the mantra for our new pope is expect the unexpected.
His arrival in Rio de Janiero for World Youth Day did nothing to change this view. As soon as his plane touched the tarmac it became clear this was to be a different kind of visit.
The Pope spent some time on the plane with journalists, speaking about our ‘throwaway culture’ one where everything is disposable. He addressed concerns over young people being unable to find work, saying that from work comes dignity. It was a sentiment I felt echoed the feelings of many of my friends back home.
The critical speech, though it struck a chord, was forgotten briefly as the Pope took to the streets. The car of choice? A simple Fiat probably more at home in a supermarket car park than the vehicle whisking off the Holy Father to meet thousands of screaming young people waiting, lining the streets of Rio. The window was left open, which led to many a gasp in the media centre. It seemed to draw the pilgrims to the car.
The Fiat halted as the driver took a wrong turn hitting rush hour traffic. Hoards of pilgrims rushed to get a view of the Pope. He wanted to be with the pilgrims and they wanted to be with the Pope. We were told later the Pope was not scared, despite babies being passed through the window and pilgrims holding on to the car. His press secretary though was another story, he said later he was ‘fearful’ and shocked by the enthusiastic response.
Fr Lombardi in a press conference held after the journey described the reception as “extraordinary enthusiasm” but for me this underestimates the strength of feeling. Pilgrims were sent wild just by the sight of the car, they were screaming, crying, running after the vehicle. It was pure madness.
The journalist in me, and even the English genes in me, was appalled that this was allowed to happen. The pilgrim in me rejoiced. This was a statement, that this is a Pope who wants to be with his people.
This message was made even clearer as the pope took to his open popemobile. There were no barriers between this shepherd and his sheep.
As the Pope stopped to give his speech we were on tenterhooks. Would he go off script? What would he say? He must have felt he had given us enough surprises for one day, as he chose to read from his prepared speech. This did not take away from what he said. The pilgrims roared as phrase after phrase hit home. “I bring no gold or silver but I bring the most precious gift of all, Jesus Christ!” he said. The most retweeted phrase of the evening.
What made the moment even better, was when I realised wading through the onslaught of tweets about the Pope, the hashtag #papa had just beaten the royal baby as a hot topic.
The sheer joy was contagious, and even watching from further away I was caught up in the spirit of his words. We are here to live out the motto of World Youth Day, Go and make disciples of all nations. Now we know there are millions of young people ready to answer this call.