Pope Francis conducts mass on Copacabana beach

Copacabana, Brazil

July 28th, 2013

Paul Lee and Sol Yoon

[“WYD Rio 2013 – Promo Trailer,” YouTube video, 2:49, posted by “JMJ Rio”, June 12, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2JrK-aqO5U]

This year, the semi-annual celebration for ‘World Youth Day’ was held on Copacabana Beach in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. World Youth Day is a Catholic celebration that started in 1984. On Palm Sunday, Pope John Paul III looked out to 300,000 young people who gathered for a mass and was touched by their faith. Many members of the Catholic church had been skeptical about the youth’s faith at the time. Despite their questioning, the Pope was swayed by the youth on this account. He was so inspired that he devoted a day to them, which manifested as ‘World Youth Day’. Semi-annually, the Pope travels to a different country to conduct a mass to the youth of the Catholic church. It is typically a week long event with masses, celebrations, baptisms, and service.

The location of World Youth Day varies each year. This year’s location of Brazil caused much controversy over the government’s spending. During the 19th century, Brazil’s economy thrived because of it’s agriculture. However, during the early 20th century, Brazil industrialized in an effort to catch up to the other countries in the world. However, Brazil was unable to develop as strongly. Unfortunately, this attempt at industrialization led to an economic collapse. Although Brazil’s economy is much stronger today than it was in past years, there are still many slum villages where people struggle daily.

With the vast size of this event, both physically and religiously, the Brazilian government spent a lot of money in preparation. Two different stages were designed and placed on the beach along with many television screen installations. The total money spent for the event was $53 million. There were many different public responses on the government’s spending.

One Brazilian Catholic civilian, Denise da Silva enjoyed the entire event very much. She described her experience: “It was such an excellent week, everybody was in such good spirit, you could just feel a sense of peace… I have never seen something here in Rio so marvelous as what we have just lived.” Many responded positively to the event, whereas others were opposed to it. Edina Maria Perreira Lima, a 49-year-old retired cook, described her discontent with the government: “The government is putting a facade for the world to see the best of Brazil. But behind this facade, people are dying in hospitals”. Perhaps she wanted the government to put the money towards a different cause. Others would agree, including Adilson de Sena, who rents beach chairs on Copacabana: “Our leaders must be more in touch with the pope and invest more in the country… The pope is simple, humble. I think he’s going to think this was too much for him.” Clearly there are mixed responses over the government’s spending. In more extreme cases, atheists and the Anonymous protest group were rumored to protest the event.

With the controversy that occurred over the event, one begins to question, what is the empirical cause of all this controversy? And multi-dimensionally, how does it relate to architecture? Both of these questions can be answered by a single statement. It wasn’t cause by just the government’s spending or the Catholic church’s overwhelming celebration. Rather, the scale of the event and the architectural gestures that followed were the cause of controversy. The word ‘scale’ in this context refers to the ‘measure’ of something, whether physical or not. The celebration of World Youth Day was large at the physical scale as it accommodated over 3 million people. It was large on a religious scale as well. To the pilgrims who travelled to attend, being part of the celebration meant a great deal.

Combining the large physical scale and the large religious scale resulted in the need for a large site, at both scales. The use of Copacabana Beach succeeded by fitting 3 million people on it’s two and a half mile long coast, while the installations sought to bring a sacred atmosphere. The most prominent of these installations was the main stage designed for performances and the Pope’s message. It’s design gave much hierarchy to the performer or speaker on the stage, similar to the hierarchical structure of the Catholic church. However, the use of Copacabana Beach as the ‘site’ is highly peculiar, as the installation’s size and complex lighting make the ‘beach’ no longer recognizable. Perhaps then, the beach was chosen as the location solely for it’s size, and not it’s contextual potential.

The next World Youth Day celebration will take place in Krakow, Poland. The Catholic church is planning to use Krakow’s history to it’s advantage. There are many public squares and basilicas that will house events throughout the week. In Brazil, the only place of celebration is Copacabana Beach. Why then, choose Rio de Janeiro as a location? By using Krakow’s historical places, the city will probably spend much less money to prepare for the celebration. However, due to the difference of Brazil’s architectural history, the Brazilian government had to spend much more money on preparations. The money spent caused controversy among the public. However, that money was only spent because of the inept decision making in terms of the site for the event. By overlooking the historical and architectural context of the city of Rio de Janeiro, and rather focusing only on the size, the Brazilian government had to spend millions of dollars to fabricate the lackluster site. When choosing a site in any architectural project, it is extremely important to analyze the site at many different scales. The poor analysis of this site resulted in potential unnecessary government spending.

As is seen from this event, larger scales of larger events and their architectural gestures that follow can create catastrophic results. How then, do we prevent this from happening? How does the government spend less money, or use money more efficiently in the future? There is much potential in the natural atmosphere of Copacabana Beach. Perhaps by taking advantage of the beach’s serene atmosphere, similar to that of many European churches, less money could have been spent on installations. Expanding on this idea, how could other large areas of nature be used to house activity at a large scale? How could large forests or large bodies of water work to create a desirable atmosphere? How could the smells and sounds of the forest or the sublimity and ambiguity of the ocean be used architecturally?

Inversely, perhaps $53 million could have been spent on something sustainable, rather than a temporary installation. Perhaps a structure could have been designed that could coexist with the beach and function as more than stage. The installation wouldn’t simply be removed and unused after the celebration is over, but perhaps work together with the site at many different dimensions to become permanent. How could a stage installation work at different scales than just a physical gathering and a religious celebration? How can design begin to capture these many scales, the temporary and the perennial, and make them coexist? By answering these questions, we could propel architecture forward toward something it had never been before, and maybe save $53 million.

Caption: Pope Francis conducts a mass on Copacabana beach where an estimated 3 million Catholic believers occupy 2.5 miles of land. (http://www.sfgate.com/world/article/3-million-gather-for-Pope-Francis-beach-Mass-4692481.php)


Pope Francis' entrance to mass installation (http://www.metro.us/philadelphia/photo-of-the-day/at-the-copa/attachment/pope-francis-celebrates-mass-on-copacabana-beach/)
Pope Francis’ entrance to mass installation

Overview of mass installation [Daytime]
Overview of mass installation [Daytime]
Overview of the mass Installation [Nightime]
Overview of the mass Installation [Nightime] ()

Lighting effect (http://www.rio2013.com/en/news/details/2540/construction-on-the-main-events-structures-begins)
Lighting effect (http://www.rio2013.com/en/news/details/2540/construction-on-the-main-events-structures-begins)
Orthographic perspective of second design (http://www.rio2013.com/en/news/details/2540/construction-on-the-main-events-structures-begins)
Orthographic perspective of second design (http://www.rio2013.com/en/news/details/2540/construction-on-the-main-events-structures-begins)


In celebration of this year’s ‘World Youth Day’, an annual gathering for the Catholic youth, Pope Francis traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to deliver a message on Copacabana Beach. The celebration is meant to provide a ‘spiritual encounter’ for the Catholic Church’s youth and pilgrims that travel to listen. Many preparations were made for the celebration, including $53 million spent by the Brazilian government. The different types of people attending the celebration, the sheer size of the event, and the religious nature of the gathering stir up issues of social class, public security, and demographics.

Pope Francis conducts a mass on Copacabana beach where an estimated 3 million Catholic believers occupy 2.5 miles of land. (http://www.sfgate.com/world/article/3-million-gather-for-Pope-Francis-beach-Mass-4692481.php)
Pope Francis conducts a mass on Copacabana beach where an estimated 3 million Catholic believers occupy 2.5 miles of land. (http://www.sfgate.com/world/article/3-million-gather-for-Pope-Francis-beach-Mass-4692481.php)




1. AFP. “Pope Francis heads to Brazil to say mass on Copacabana beach,” accessed September 4, 2013, http://www.thejournal.ie/pope-francis-brazil-1003003-Jul2013/

          This article gave us a general overview of the event where Pope Francis traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to deliver a mass. The writing spoke of how the Pope’s visit resulted in many different social perspectives relating to socio-economics, politics and demographics.

2. Eric Marrapodi and Miguel Marquez, CNN, “Pope to mass of millions: Get out to church” accessed September 7, 2013, http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/28/pope-to-millions-gathered-fear-not/

          This blog gave us much information about the specifics of the Pope’s message during his trip to Rio de Janeiro. His message revolved around the idea of taking one’s faith and experience beyond the church and applying it to one’s everyday life. The content directly quotes the Pope’s message, making it seem much more relevant to Catholics than non-Catholics.

3. Rob Williams. “Pope Francis ends first foreign trip with mass for crowd of three million people at Copacabana Beach,” accessed September 7, 2013,http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/pope-francis-ends-first-foreign-trip-with-mass-for-crowd-of-three-million-people-at-copacabana-beach-8735274.html

         This article focuses on the reactions to the celebration of World Youth Day. It documents the quotes of many who attended the celebration and their responses to the entire event. It offers much insight into how the public interpreted and valued the Pope’s message differently.

4. “HISTORY,” worldyouthday.com, accessed September 7, 2013, http://worldyouthday.com/about-wyd/wyd-history

          The Pope’s visit to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was part of the annual celebration of ‘World Youth Day’, a time of gathering for the Catholic church. This website is created solely for the purpose of informing people about the celebration. It gave us a historical background of the celebration and its roots, the schedule of events, and the past and future locations.


Encyclopedia Entries

1. “Anonymous (group)”, last modified September 7, 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anonymous_(group)

          The government of Brazil spent nearly $53 million in preparations for the celebration of World Youth Day. Due to the economic situation of many residents in Brazil, this use of money has stirred up much controversy. There are few groups who have threatened to protest this use of money, one of them being a group of hacktivists called ‘Anonymous’. This encyclopedia entry gave us a general knowledge of the history of Anonymous and examples of their past protests.


Scholarly Articles

1. Melo, John J., “Urban Security Policy Management Analysis: The Role of the Brazilian Armed Forces in Rio de Janeiro’s Urban Security Policy of Pacification in the Favelas of the Complexes do Alemao and Penha.” (2012). Open Access Theses. Paper 382. Accessed September 7, 2013, http://scholarlyrepository.miami.edu/oa_theses/382/

          Due to the vast amount of people gathering for the World Youth Day celebration, there have been threats of protesting and bombing. The idea of public security during the celebration comes into question. This is a paper that was published based on research of the Brazilian national military and how it can be used for security in urban areas.

Orthographic Documentation

1. “Construction on the Main Events Structures begins,” accessed September 7, 2013, http://www.rio2013.com/en/news/details/2540/construction-on-the-main-events-structures-begins

         In order to prepare for the mass in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian government arranged for a large stage installation on the beach. The installation is designed to give hierarchy to the Pope and Bishops, influenced by ideas of monumentality. This website offered us renderings and diagrams of the design.


Video and Audio

1. “Anonymous Hackers LIVE FOX NEWS,” YouTube video, 2:55, posted by “Enea Xhani“, Jan 11, 2013,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6YhC0ryBtc

          This video shows an example of a member from the group ‘Anonymous’ hacking a live Fox News report, explifying their controversial activity.

2. “Anonymous on FOX11,” YouTube video, 4:18, posted by “NegativeNigra”, July 27, 2007, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNO6G4ApJQY

          This video shows a news report given about ‘Anonymous’ and how their activity is stirring up much controversy. It gives a report about the investigation of ‘Anonymous’ and how the public is reacting to their cyber attacks.

3. “The Pope at Rio. Prayer Vigil with the young people,” YouTube video, 3:10:59, posted by “Vatican”, July 27, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-aU8PgmaL8

          This video is a complete recording of the final session of the celebration. It captures the different acts of the night and more relevantly the atmosphere and function of the installation.

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