Busted Halo

Follow along as Busted Halo® correspondent Mark Irons & Paulist seminarian Jimmy Hsu, CSP, bring you reflections, videos, photos and more from the front lines of World Youth Day in Rio!

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August 14th, 2013

As I grabbed for my shoes recently, grains of sand fell to the floor. A joyous reminder that just a couple weeks ago, I was on a beach. This wasn’t your typical beach vacation though –– I was on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro with millions of other Catholics, celebrating World Youth Day. For me it was a super-charged spiritual retreat. I assure you, Rio is still fresh on the minds and hearts of all the WYD pilgrims. It was uplifting and inspiring, and for this pilgrim, something I will truly never forget.

I think back now, and the whole week seems like a blur. Like a dream. A dream with lots of sand.

I went down to Rio with Paulist Seminarian, Jimmy Hsu. If you haven’t had the chance, check out the rest of our videos, pictures, and blog entries from a life-changing week in Brazil

World Youth Day has ended but the impact it left on the millions who lived it remains strong. Many pilgrims are now spreading their faith all over the globe. After all, the theme for this WYD was “Go and make Disciples of all Nations” (Matthew 28:19). The sand from …

August 4th, 2013

Yes, World Youth Day Rio has ended, but we shot so much footage it’s still coming in, in a big way. One of my favorite memories from WYD, was our trip to Corcovado. Atop this lush mountain, is an iconic statue of Jesus – “Christ the Redeemer”. Standing tall for nearly a century, this statue represents the man who claimed he was God incarnate.

As we ascended Corcovado in a compact tourist van, which I do believe was driven by a crazy man, I began to think, many people thought that Jesus was pretty crazy, right? He was even put to death by folks who thought his messianic claims had gone too far. And what about today? Is there still a need for Jesus, or for his teachings, or the need to know him? In our present culture is Jesus relevant? So, as we waited in line to see the very big statue of Jesus, I began to ask World Youth Day Pilgrims their thoughts on the real Jesus. And although it was an overcast and rainy day, I do believe the truth shined through clear, tall, and firm. My Spanish is another story……

July 30th, 2013

Hot off the heals of World Youth Day Rio, Pope Francis is still making headlines. Luckily, we were able to see this rock star pope up close not just once, but twice, the latter time as he arrived at Copacabana beach to celebrate Mass. We’ve all seen images of this pontiff celebrating Mass, visiting the poor, getting on and off a plane, etc., but what happens when he hits the beach for the first time?

I was on the beach along with 1.5 million other World Youth Day Pilgrims, all pushing to get a view of the man entrusted with the keys of Peter. In the process I lost Jimmy, and asked some pilgrims why we need a pope and what he does for our Church.…

July 28th, 2013


Ever wondered what it’s like to have mass on a beach with 3 million of your best friends? That’s kind of what it’s like on the beach today. Incredible energy and excitement as the final mass of WYD 2013 begins. While the beach was jam packed, a group of Peruvian pilgrims welcomed Busted Halo into the space they had camped last night. And it turns out that one of those pilgrims is a classmate of mine at Catholic University!

And to cap off the experience, I noticed during mass that the organizers were in desperate need of ministers to distribute communion. And so I was able to offer my service to distribute communion at a mass with the pope! And let me say, I thought there was no end in sight for the communion line. I was simply told to take two containers of the Blessed Sacrament into the crowd, as far as I can go. When I ran out of host, which was way after the communion service had finished and the bishops had begun to talk on the stage, there were still many who had not been able to receive. It was the best experience of the whole …

July 28th, 2013


Do you remember those sleepovers with your friends or cousins? Well, here at WYD, millions camped out on the beach in a massive sleepover. And it was packed! Groups were forced to form human walls around their campsite to prevent themselves from getting trampled. And space on the beach is a premium. One group of pilgrims even went right up to the water and constructed a elaborate wall system to prevent the water from washing away their camp site.

Excitement is high on the beach, even after the changes in location, when there were rumors that pilgrims would not be able to camp out for the night, which would have displaced many of those who had planned to be at the vigil all night. And now, this sleepover will end with mass with the pope, when the location of the next WYD will be announced. Rumors abound!…

July 27th, 2013


As the weekend comes, so does the climax of the World Youth Day. Because of the rain earlier this week, the vigil and papal mass was moved from its original location, which was more than seven miles away from the closest subway stop. Instead, the vigil and the mass will be on Copacabana Beach, where other events had been this past week.

It is another WYD tradition for the final mass to take place a bit aways from other events, so that the pilgrims would make a pilgrimage to the final mass the night before, and keep vigil for the mass with music, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and lots of meeting people from other countries.

Despite the change, many pilgrims are still making the journey on foot, as seen above. And in a little bit, the vigil will begin. We wonder — what have people thought of the week? What are they going to take away?…

July 27th, 2013

What is your vocation? No, I’m not asking where you went on your summer trip, but rather what is God inviting you to do? At World Youth Day, a big focus has been on the exploration of religious vocations, whether one is called to be a priest, brother, or nun. We spoke to some pilgrims who had questions about the call, and got responses from those who have already answered theirs. In the process we had a lot of fun, and assured one pilgrim you don’t have to fit a certain mold to bring great glory to God.…

July 26th, 2013


Tonight, Copacabana Beach was packed again with young Catholics from all over the world, joining Pope Francis for the Stations of the Cross. In a change of venue, I watched the stations from Vivo Rio, the English catechetical site where I have been for the morning sessions with various bishops. There, the stations were streamed live with English translation by Salt and Light television from Canada. Even though it’s not the beach, it was still packed with pilgrims.


Mark also has been working hard in producing our third video, documenting our trip out to the WYD Vocations Fair, where many activities were set up to help the young pilgrims discern, or figure out, what God is calling them to do in life. Since being at WYD, I have encountered countless priests and religious on the streets, at WYD events, on the subways, and even in elevators. In this picture above we see just a small contingents of the young Jesuits here, members of the religious order to which Pope Francis belongs to. These Jesuits have faithfully served as guides and ushers at Vivo Rio for the last week. And in all these encounters, I find that I share a sense …

July 26th, 2013


After my disappointment at not seeing the pope close up last night, my friend Pope Francis texted me saying that he’ll have a few minutes and told me to go and meet him on the streets of Rio. Ok … Maybe not. But I did run into a barricade on a street I was trying to cross when he drove right past, and waved at me (or in my direction).


Shortly after seeing the pope, I ran into a friend of mine from Catholic University of America, who is a Conventual Franciscan. Friar Emanuel gave me a tour of the Franciscan space, a collaborative project of all the Franciscans to host a site for WYD pilgrims to experience the brothers. I got to meet so many Franciscans! I even got a small gift from the minister general, the worldwide head of the Franciscan Order!…

July 26th, 2013


Last night, we had the official welcome of my good friend, Pope Francis, to World Youth Day, again on the beaches of Copacabana. The crowds were simply immense. And for a short person like me, it means that I didn’t get to see anything past the shoulders of taller pilgrims (which is almost everyone).

However, Mark was able to get a good vantage point for the camera. He also got to meet a few friends from a few different countries.


During the short time Mark and I got separated by the crowd, I got to meet a group of pilgrims from Taiwan, where my parents were from. I got to brush up a little on my limited Chinese. Here in this picture, one pilgrim from Taiwan exchanges a culture item with me. It is the customs at WYD for people from different countries to exchange small tokens to remember the trip. I was able to present them with a Busted Halo beach ball.…

July 25th, 2013

It would be hard to find a place on earth that better showcases the unity of the Catholic Church than here at World Youth Day. Hundreds of thousands of young people, all different, yet united by their faith, have gathered together here. Imagine a huge amount of Catholics coming together to worship at Mass. Now imagine them representing their countries with pride and talking about what faith is like back home. Finally, throw in a four mile beach that serves as the church. Ok, now stop imagining and watch it all right now!…

July 25th, 2013


At the end of every catechetical session, the bishop who led the catechesis presides over a mass in that language for the gathered WYD pilgrims. Today, the Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, spoke on discipleship. He uses St. James, whose feast day it is today, as the model of disciples, who are called to give fully of themselves in whatever way God calls.

Archbishop Coleridge was joined by many English-speaking people from England, Scotland, South Africa, Canada, Australia, United States, and others. One thing different that I saw at this mass was that there was someone holding an inflatable kangaroo. Maybe that’s part of the Mass in Australia.…

July 25th, 2013


Almost as soon as we arrived at Rio, it started raining. Coincidence? Maybe. Today, the rain got even harder as pilgrims begin to arrive for the second day of catechetical sessions. And there is no end in sight.

Even with all the rain, Vivo Rio, the catechetical location I’m at is still packed, with more people arriving every second, with the same enthusiasm as ever. Later this afternoon, there will be an official welcoming ceremony for Pope Francis, who has been in the country since Monday. I hope he packed an umbrella!…

July 24th, 2013


Celebrities are everywhere! Tonight, our very own Fr. Dave Dwyer spoke to the English-speaking pilgrims about his vocation story. There have been a lot of priests, seminarians, brothers, and sisters here at WYD. I wonder what drew them all here?

P.S. — Here’s a link to the video of Fr. Dave talking to pilgrims about his own call to the priesthood at the last World Youth Day he attended 20 years ago in Denver. Fast forward ahead in the video to 1:10:00 to hear Fr. Dave.…

July 24th, 2013

It’s an understatement to say that it has been an absolutely amazing time for us since landing in Rio. Having never traveled to another country, I didn’t know what I should expect, but everything seems to be coming together, as if God was guiding this whole Busted Halo® pilgrimage.

Shortly after we arrived, we found out that the pope was going to drive right past us — and, boy did we get to see him close up! We spoke to a few other young Catholic pilgrims from all over the world about this unique experience. Reflecting on this whole event, it’s hard not to say that God isn’t guiding it with his own hand. Knowing this, I’m filled with confidence and excitement for all that the rest of the week will bring us.…

July 24th, 2013


After the opening mass for World Youth Day, celebrated by the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro on the beach, the week-long festivities are in full swing now. This morning starts with the first of three catechetical sessions with various bishops. Every pilgrim is assigned to a location based on their language.

I’m here at the Modern Museum of Art, where Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York gave his talk on hope. Cardinal Dolan said that “hope is belief in a God who fulfills his promise.” And the cardinal’s message was received with a response I’d have expected at a concert!

In a few minutes, the cardinal will be celebrating mass with the pilgrims here before sending us off to various events that we can choose from. It is almost like one of those pick your own adventure books!…

July 23rd, 2013


When you are in a different country, you get to try food that you normally don’t get to experience. Even when you eat something you are familiar with, each place puts their own twist on it. Last night, we got to eat Brazilian pizza, which had toppings like eggs in addition to hams and veggies.

Here in this picture, Mark is trying the cashew juice. I wonder how many cashews it took just to get that one glass!…

July 23rd, 2013

Pope Francis is a hit at World Youth Day! Check out the swarm of people that surrounded his car on its journey through the streets of Rio yesterday. Somewhere in the crowds is Busted Halo’s dynamic duo — Mark and Jimmy — bringing you the latest from World Youth Day. Stay tuned for more from Rio! …

July 23rd, 2013


One of the first questions that we were asked after getting into Rio is: “Green, yellow, or blue?” It sounded like that question Neo was asked in the movie The Matrix, although with a little less implications. No, we weren’t being asked what color pill we would like to take, but we were being asked what color backpack we would like.

Every pilgrim at WYD is given a backpack full of goodies, from guidebooks about surviving the week to official T-shirts, hats, and even a water bottle. Seen here is the full content of the pilgrim kit. And this afternoon, World Youth Day 2013 kicks off! Can’t wait!…

July 21st, 2013


Mark and I are at Dulles International Airport, ready to head to Rio. We just had a chance to interview some pilgrims also headed to World Youth Day before boarding the flight. We also got to meet Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia! Here I am with a group of pilgrims and seminarians from Erie, Pennsylvania, holding a Busted Halo beach ball that we will handing out at WYD. And now, we’ve gotta run before we miss the flight!…

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