The Vatican Information Service is reporting that the pope's plane left Italy at 8:35 a.m. Rome time this morning and is scheduled to land at 4:00 p.m. local time in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Just before departing, the pope tweeted: “I am arriving in Brazil in a few hours and my heart is already full of joy because soon I will be with you to celebrate the 28th WYD”. The message has been disseminated to over seven million users who follow the @Pontifex account.
Part of his preparation for his first international trip was an unscheduled visit to the Basilica of St. Mary Major yesterday where he asked for the protection of the Blessed Virgin during the trip, and for the young people who will gather in Rio for World Youth Day.
Using a side door, the pope entered the Basilica and went straight to the chapel housing the image of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani where he spent an hour in silent prayer. He then offered flowers and lit a candle.
He spoke briefly to visitors who were pleasantly surprised by the famous visitor, asking them to accompany his trip to Brazil "with prayer, trust and penitence."
Francis also spent some time meeting with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI before his departure. The two spent about two hours together on July 19 during which time the pope gave Benedict his schedule for the trip and asked him to accompany him to Brazil with "spiritual nearness and prayer."
Pope Francis will be ushering in a World Youth Day event that is seen as being pivotal for the youth of Brazil, a country that has seen mass student protests in recent months. What started as a protest against rises in public transit fare increases across Brazil eventually blossomed into large protests expressing discontent with the government over a variety of issues including corruption, unsatisfactory health care, and education. These protests have recently begun to die down but the country remains in a state of unrest.
His visit is also important for the Church. Brazil has long been considered to be the world's largest Catholic nation but the faithful have been slowly drifting away into evangelical Protestantism. In 1994, 76 percent of Brazilians considered themselves Catholic. Today, that number has dwindled to 57 percent.
Those hoping the Church's first Latin American pope will inspire people to take a second look at Catholicism are already optimistic. People can be seen in the city wearing bright yellow soccer jerseys with the name "Francis" on the back. Young pilgrims who have already arrived are gathering in groups along the Copacabana, strumming guitars and singing religious songs. Many are carrying sleeping bags and intend to camp on the floor at local churches and schools, or in the open fields surrounding Rio where the final Mass will be held on Sunday.
For those who cannot make the trip, the Vatican is planning to beam high-definition coverage around the globe with three satellites.
EWTN is the station to watch for complete coverage of the events of the coming week. beginning with the pope's arrival at 3:00 p.m. EST today.
© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace® http://www.womenofgrace.com