U.S. dioceses concoct ways to celebrate WYD

When Pope Francis flies back to his native continent later this month, the iconic outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Mountain will welcome him to World Youth Day 2013 (WYD) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“While Pope Francis is indeed coming ‘home’ to South America at WYD, he has truly become pastor of Catholics in every country,” said Paul Jarzembowski, coordinator of youth and young adult ministries for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Our hope is that the Holy Father will make a crowded landscape of 2.5 million people seem like a close-knit family gathering, with the pope as our pastor and father figure.”

WYD is a global celebration for teens and young adults typically (but not always) celebrated every three years in a different country. The multicultural event, which debuted in 1986 and was made popular by the charismatic and perpetually young-at-heart Blessed Pope John Paul II, brings youths into a melting pot of traditions, languages and backgrounds.

The events in Rio span six days (July 23-28), and include a plethora of catechetical, social and spiritual activities to cultivate the mind, heart and soul. Such activities include multiple Masses with Pope Francis, workshops on the Faith and numerous festive gatherings. Pre-events on both the local and regional levels, as well as in Rio, are scheduled. Veterans of WYD know that plenty of flags, dancing and good music is on the menu, too.

Logistical difficulties

Dioceses across the United States typically coordinate trips to WYD, but some common denominators have dioceses struggling to send the amount of pilgrims they’ve had in the past.

Starting in the Midwest, two factors are cost and scheduling conflicts. Mark Graveline, director of youth outreach at the Diocese of Saginaw, Mich., says a combination of rising travel costs and the diocese’s 75th anniversary celebration in August kept them from coordinating a group this year.

“It would have been difficult to pull off those two things together,” Graveline said.

However, he noted that for Michigan dioceses, a popular option for youths who cannot travel to Rio is to participate in a regional event in the Archdiocese of Chicago. A list of their events, which are similar in scope to the actual WYD, can be found at www.catechesis-chicago.org.

In the past, the diocese sent 75 pilgrims each to Madrid in 2011 and to Sydney, Australia, in 2008.

Pilgrimage of the heart

Heading to the East Coast and the District of Columbia, Rio plans suffered a setback after the travel agency managing the trip for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., declared bankruptcy.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances, the archdiocese’s Office of Young Adult Ministry is planning to celebrate WYD with their global peers via a Rio-in-D.C. event at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America.

“The local WYD delegation being canceled was disappointing,” said Jonathan Lewis, coordinator of evangelization and young adult initiatives. “But in a challenging way, (it) offers each of us the opportunity to enter into the experience of pilgrimage in a different way and allows all young adults in the D.C. area to make a pilgrimage of the heart.”

The event will take place July 27. The day includes a live-feed of the vigil with Pope Francis, adoration and confession, talk and reflections by local Catholic leaders and a candlelit Mass in a grotto, followed by food and entertainment. More information can be found at adw.org/rio.

Growing enthusiasm

Much farther south, the Archdiocese of San Antonio is combining both the local and international in its plans.

Joan Martinez, youth ministry director at the archdiocese, said she’s taking 40 pilgrims, including Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, with her to Rio, even though the participation is only half the usual amount. She said the numbers have decreased because, in her experience, the cost is $1,000 more than WYDs in Europe. But increased costs have not dampened the archdiocese’s enthusiasm.

“Pilgrims traveling to Rio, in addition to much meeting and fundraising on the parish level, have been meeting and preparing spiritually for pilgrimage with the archdiocesan group,” said Martinez. “There was a retreat for pilgrims last weekend where we actually walked around a local park with our luggage, praying the Rosary along the journey, keeping in mind the reason for this trip. In fact, we specifically call ourselves pilgrims, not tourists.”

Locally, the archdiocesan offices of youth ministry, campus/young adult ministry, and vocations planned an event July 27-28, so pilgrims can be in solidarity with those in Rio during the vigil and closing Mass, said Martinez. More information can be found at wydsa.com.

Global event

Can’t go to Rio or even to a regional event? No worries.

World Youth Day

“World Youth Day is bigger than the gathering taking place this summer in Brazil,” said Jarzembowski. “Especially in our digital world, WYD is something that can be experienced by all young people — whether that be in person with hundreds of thousands of others in Rio de Janeiro or back home in the United States through social media.”

Martinez agrees that WYD is bigger than just what’s happening in Rio.

“For those who are celebrating locally, I pray they, too, meet Christ in the youth and adults gathered for the same purpose — to hear the Word of God and be able to integrate it into their lives,” she said. 

Mariann Hughes writes from Maryland.