Later, he met privately with a few juvenile detainees, a priority of his 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.
On Friday, the young offenders presented Francis with a large homemade rosary made of Styrofoam balls, each one bearing the names of the eight street children gunned down by police death squads in 1993 as they slept outside Rio’s Candelaria church — a notorious massacre that underscored the unequal treatment that outcasts often receive in Brazil. On the cross were the words “Candelaria Never Again” in Portuguese.
Francis also had lunch with a dozen World Youth Day volunteers from around the globe, bringing them to tears when he asked them a simple rhetorical question on which to reflect: Why were they here having lunch with the pope while others were hungry in the slums?
The sun finally came out Friday, ending four days of rain that soaked pilgrims and forced the relocation of the festival’s culminating Mass on Sunday. Instead, the Mass and the Saturday night vigil that precedes it will take place at Copacabana beach rather than the mud pit covering the original site in Guaratiba, about 30 miles west of central Rio.
The improved weather also provided a brighter backdrop for his words to young and old during his noon prayer, in which he praised the elderly for passing on wisdom and religious heritage.
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. It’s part of his longstanding work caring for the elderly in Argentina, the crucial role his own grandmother played in his spiritual development and the gentle deference he shows his predecessor, Benedict XVI.