The plane to Rio from Heathrow was packed. A group of Polish pilgrims, men with crew cuts, talked excitedly, emotionally, in the aisles, joshing with the stewardess as they whiled away the 11-hour flight to World Youth Day.
As his wipers cleared rain off the windshield, David told me of the money he’d made in the last week, ferrying pilgrims into Rio’s centre from the airport. He pointed towards a hill face dotted with lights – where Pope Francis will be staying in Rio, o Morro do Sumaré.
World Youth Day is being experienced from different perspectives. Some travelled Club Class to the event from London. But there are also individuals such as Lauro, a kiosk vendor at Campus Fideli in Guaratiba which was the original venue for Saturday and Sunday ‘s events, whose prospects are now wrecked because the venue changed to Copacabana Beach due to flooded fields. Another man lost £400 on drinks for pilgrims as he pre-bought for his stall at Guaratiba.
Other concerns at Fort Copacabana are that disabled people are not being taken care of in the adequate manner. People on Thursday complained of the disabled left marooned in the middle of large crowds with no proper facilities for them to be able to enjoy their day.
The Pope’s progress along Avenida Atlantica yesterday, which borders Copacabana Beach, included him pausing to sip some of a pilgrim’s chimarrão, or mate, a traditional South American herbal tonic prepared in a gourd with a straw. While most of the pilgrims on this avenue were Brazilian or Argentine, it still drew thousands of international pilgrims.
The rain caused some discomfort for pilgrims, and on Thursday, in one marked-off section of the crowd up to 40 people were attended to by the emergency services.
Today the pope visits Palácio São Joaquim at 4pm GMT and will lead “Angelus Domini” prayers from the balcony.