The 13th global World Youth Day celebration kicking off July 23 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will feature several firsts and local Catholics will be there to experience some of them.
It’s the first celebrated by Pope Francis who became Christ’s vicar on Earth four months ago. All 12 pilgrims, including two faculty members traveling from Brophy College Preparatory, are World Youth Day rookies too. So are the 10 traveling from Holy Trinity Newman Center in Flagstaff. It’s their chaplain’s second one as a priest.
This also marks the first global celebration where Catholic youth — teenagers and young adults ages 14 to 32 — can take advantage of Mission Week. The re-named Days in the Diocese celebration will be held July 16-20 throughout Brazil. It’s a sort of orientation period to introduce the host country to pilgrims expected from some 150 countries. Parish-centered activities include Mass, prayer moments, social activities, fellowship, artistic presentations and visits to historical sites.
The pilgrims from Brophy — among three Jesuit high schools in their traveling group — plan to start their Catholic history lesson in nearby Paraguay to witness the site of Jesuit Reductions from the 17th and 18th centuries.
“It seemed appropriate to visit some of the sites where evangelization of the New World began,” Marc Valadao said, noting Jesuits initiated much of it.
Valadao, a Brophy teacher and Jesuit seminarian, said reflecting on the evangelical mission of the Church today pairs well with World Youth Day’s theme, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Their final days in Brazil will be at Guaratiba, the site of an estate once run by 16th century Jesuits. That’s where Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pontiff, will celebrate Mass with the youth.
Official World Youth Day festivities are July 23-28. Rio expects to draw 2 million pilgrims eager to meet like-minded Catholics, immerse themselves in daily catechesis, perhaps discover their vocation to married or religious life and pray with the pope.
“I love seeing students encounter the Church in a bigger way,” said Fr. Matt Lowry, chaplain from the Newman Center in Flagstaff.
Per World Youth Day custom, the “Catholic Jacks” are bringing pins bearing their group name and a local image such as the Grand Canyon to trade with fellow pilgrims. He said the hope is to connect online. Follow their journey on Facebook.
Further bonds form in the Eucharist, he said. Fr. Lowry remembers celebrating Mass with two priests from China during World Youth Day in Madrid two years ago. A third priest couldn’t make it. He had been arrested for being Catholic.
“Religious persecution is real, yet these people are living their faith joyfully,” Fr. Lowry said.
The group will travel with the Diocese of San Bernadino, Calif. and plans to visit relics of St. Rose and St. Martin de Porres, others who boldly lived their faith.
Anica Milligan, 21, is praying for spiritual growth and “something extraordinary” out of the pilgrimage. It was a gift for her and her two sisters before they part ways for studies and careers. Her “fashionista” sister is coordinating outfits. Milligan, an anthropology major, will be visiting Machu Pichu like her godfather did a few years ago and a Brazil native is sending a list of foods and drinks to try.
Milligan will eat in good company. This is the first World Youth Day where pilgrims will receive a meal card valid at area restaurants instead of pre-packaged meals. The U.S. has the third highest pilgrim count (some 9,400) behind Brazil and Argentina.