CNS PHOTO | PAULO WHITAKER, REUTERS
Pope Francis arrives at Quinta da Boa Vista park, where he heard the confessions of five young people at World Youth Day, in Rio de Janeiro.
RIO DE JANEIRO – "I saw the pope! I saw the pope!" yelled Hiago Ferreira de Araujo of Feira de Santana, Brazil, as he jumped up and down like a little kid who had just scored a goal.
The 23-year-old student said he had been waiting for at least three hours on a side street near Copacabana beach the afternoon of July 25 because he knew "the pastor of our Church would come my way."
One million people braved the rain to hear Pope Francis that evening on the beach for a WYD welcoming ceremony.
"The crowd is so large we knew we wouldn't be able to see him on stage, so we waited here and heard him through the loudspeaker," Araujo said.
"I expected this to be incredible, but it is so much more than I ever hoped," he said.
Araujo said that, over the years, the young people had weakened their connection to the Church because it seemed so unreachable to them. But this, he said, was changing.
"Pope Francis will bring the Church close to us once again. The father comes to bring a renewal of the Church. He brings back the essence of Jesus Christ with his humility."
Liona Castro, 14, and her friends came to Brazil from a Catholic school in Lima, Peru. Sitting in her wheelchair in the rain, she wore a raincoat with her group's slogan "If I can, then you can."
The group, The Father's Joy, consisting mostly of young people in wheelchairs, performed at World Youth Day. With a big smile, she said, "I never thought in my whole life I would be here like this."
In interviews with dozens of pilgrims from dozens of countries, the recurring word to describe Pope Francis was humility.
Rhoe Price, 20, of Narre Warren, Australia, said the humility and simplicity the pope shows is inspiring.
"I hope people will view the Church as more humble. He reminds me of Pope John Paul II. He is so friendly. I loved it when he switched his hat with one someone in the crowd gave him," Price said.