Pope Francis will be in Brazil for the 28th World Youth Day (WYD) from 22 to 28 July 2013. It will be his first international trip as Pontiff. The Pope will visit the Shrine of Aparecida and a huge slum, and will also meet young prisoners. Expectations and enthusiasm are growing. More than two million youths are expected to attend the event.
Pope Francis announced the trip on Palm Sunday. “I too am setting out on a journey with you, starting today, in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We are already close to the next stage of this great pilgrimage of the Cross. I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world. Young people must say to the world: to follow Christ is good; to go with Christ is good; the message of Christ is good; emerging from ourselves, to the ends of the earth and of existence, to take Jesus there, is good! Three points, then: joy, Cross, young people.”
Pope Francis will be the first Latin American Pope to make his first trip abroad to a Latin American country. The Pope will arrive in Rio at 4 p.m. (local time) on Monday, 22 July. He will make a courtesy visit to President Dilma Rousseff at the Guanabara Palace and then rest at a private residence in the Sumarè region of Rio de Janeiro. On the following day the Pontiff will reach the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida by helicopter. It is Brazil’s spiritual centre. The dark-skinned Marian image symbolizes the closeness of the Virgin Mary to the poor and the oppressed. After the Shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico, the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida is the second most visited shrine in Latin America. It attracts more than seven million visitors each year. Pope Francis will return there after six years. He was there in 2007 to attend the fifth conference of Latin American bishops, also aimed at relaunching with fidelity and courage the mission of the Church in the new and challenging context of Latin America and of the whole world.
Pope Francis will also visit Rio’s St. Francis of Assisi Hospital. This facility has 500 beds for recovery from drug addiction and alcoholism – two plagues that are spreading among the Brazilian young, but not only among them.
The next day, 25 July, the Pope will bless the Olympic flags at the Rio City Palace. Over the next two years, Brazil will become the centre of the world’s attention. It will host the 2014 World Cup and the 31st edition of the Olympic Games in 2016. The country is making great economic efforts to get ready for these events. An estimated $11 billion have been invested in stadiums, roads, airports, and public transport only for the World Cup.
On the same day, Francis will visit the large slum in Varginha / Manguinhos, home to 50,000 people. Last year it was the theatre of several police raids. Here he will meet some parish priests and lay people. There are more than 600 “favelas” in Rio. Most are located in the northern and western parts of the city. In the southern area, there is what is considered by many the largest slum in Brazil and Latin America: Rocinha. 150,000 people live here, held hostage by drug trafficking and by gangs controlling entire neighbourhoods. Pope Francis is well aware of these problems. During his Episcopal ministry in Buenos Aires he repeatedly faced realities of violence and marginalisation.
In the late afternoon of the 25th, the Pope will participate in a welcoming ceremony held by youths at Copacabana, a coastline stretching more than four kilometres. According to the tradition of the past World Youth Day editions, on Friday 26 July, the Pope will hear the confessions of some young people. In the late morning, he will meet juvenile detainees at the St. Joaquim Palace of the Archbishops. Brazil currently ranks fourth in the world in terms of prison population. It now has 550,000 inmates.
In the afternoon, a Via Crucis will be held with youths along the Copacabana beachfront. It will be a typical Latin American Via Crucis. The 14 stations will remember the suffering of a people and its struggle for dignity.
On Saturday morning a Mass will be celebrated with the bishops, priests, religious, and seminarians in Rio de Janeiro’s St. Sebastian Cathedral. After that, Pope Francis will meet Brazil’s leaders at the Municipal Theatre. A lunch with Brazil’s cardinals will follow. In the evening, a prayer vigil will be held at the “Campus Fidei” at Guaratiba. Two million young people will gather with the Pontiff to pray and sing.
Sunday 28 July will be the last day of the Apostolic journey. The main event will be the Mass for the WYD, which the Pope will celebrate at the “Campus Fidei,” followed by the Angelus prayer. In the afternoon, the Pope will meet the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) and WYD volunteers. In the evening, the farewell ceremony will be at the International Airport of Rio de Janeiro. The Pontiff will then take off from Rio and head for Rome.