Today (Sunday, July 21), I will be traveling with 32 other young adults, mainly from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for World Youth Day 2013 – along with several hundred thousand Catholics from around the world, including our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Held every two or three years, World Youth Day is an international gathering that aims to energize Catholic young people in their faith and exhibit the truly universal nature of our Church. The last World Youth Day was held in Madrid, Spain, in 2011, and before then has been held in Sydney, Cologne, Toronto, Rome, Paris, Manila, Denver, Czestochowa, Santiago de Compostela, and Buenos Aires. This is my first time attending this international celebration.
Many people have asked – what exactly do you do during World Youth Day? Well, to begin with, the name is a bit of a misnomer – it is actually a full week of activities, not just a day. From what I have gathered (since I have not personally attended before), there are three main types of gatherings – 1) Catechesis, 2) the Youth Festival, and 3) Main Events. For three days during the week (Wednesday through Friday), pilgrims gather in smaller groups according to language and meet in the mornings for catechesis with a bishop – an opportunity for bishops to act in their primary roles as teachers of the faith and for the pilgrims to grow in knowledge of what it means to be Catholic. The catechesis sessions also include Mass and the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then, in the afternoons, the events of the youth festival are held throughout the city – a variety of events including music, church tours, movies, theater, cultural events, and a vocations fair. Finally, the Main Events are held primarily in the evenings – a large opening Mass with all of the pilgrims, the Papal Welcoming Ceremony, and the Stations of the Cross. World Youth Day comes to a culmination over the weekend, as everyone makes a walking pilgrimage to a large field outside the city where there is an all-night Vigil Saturday night, followed by the closing Mass on Sunday morning with the Pope – in Rio, they are expecting as many as three million people for the closing Mass! I know that most of the people in our group – and all pilgrims from around the world – are especially excited about being in the presence of Pope Francis on his first international trip and return to his home continent, praying with him and listening to his words to the young Church.
Along the way, another major component to World Youth Day is the opportunity to meet and interact with young Catholics from around the world – both fellow pilgrims and locals. While we are in Rio, our group will be hosted by a parish in the Recreio neighborhood west of the city. There will also be set times to gather with other pilgrims from the United States – particularly on Wednesday evening during a national gathering at the Vivo Rio center. Many of the Main Events will be taking place on Copacabana Beach, right in the middle of the city, with the final Vigil and Mass at a field in Guaratiba, west of Rio. Add in some time to just explore the city and Brazilian culture, and it should be quite a week! And over everything stands the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer on the hill of Corcovado, watching over the city and her people.
If you would like to follow us on our pilgrimage to World Youth Day, I invite you to visit the official Archdiocese of Indianapolis Pilgrimage Blog. I also hope to be able to post updates to this blog as well. And to find out all the details about World Youth Day, you can visit the official WYD 2013 site. Pray for us – and all pilgrims – along the way, and feel free to pass on any prayer intentions that you would like us to remember during our time in Rio.