My road to Rio has been a long one, paved with ambition, excitement, fear, doubt and, of course, prayer. It wasn’t until two weeks ago that I actually finalized my flight and hotel reservations, and here I am with the opportunity and the honor of covering World Youth Day 2013 for the Register.

I’m Chris Kudialis, a 22-year-old recent graduate of the University of Michigan, and a second-time participant at World Youth Day. In August 2011, I chronicled the events of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Madrid, Spain, for the Spanish magazine Mundo Cristiano. My articles on sports and faith have also been published in the Los Angeles Times and Raleigh (N.C,) News & Observer.

WYD 2013 began, for me, in São Paulo, a metropolis 280 miles west of Rio de Janeiro. I arrived in São Paulo the morning of July 17 to visit Brazilian friends I met during WYD 2011 in Madrid, and was inspired to see fellow pilgrims and volunteers also taking advantage of the chance to explore Brazil’s most populated and historic city before heading over to Rio de Janeiro.

I spent most of my four days here checking out historic churches in the area, and trying to find pilgrims from as many different countries as possible. In trips to Igreja de Nossa Sehora do Brazil (known for being Brazil’s most sought-after Church for weddings), Catedral da Sé (“See” Cathedral), and Mosteiro de São Bento (St. Benedict Monastery), I came across nearly 2,000 pilgrims from around the world, representing countries like South Africa, Perú and Lebanon.

Not too surprisingly, more than half of the 150 or so American pilgrims I met in São Paulo were of Latino or Hispanic descent. Considering most were either first or second generation Americans, almost all spoke fluent Spanish, and those of Brazilian descent also spoke Portuguese. One group from Houston, Texas included 40 Latin-American members of the Neochatechuminal Way. Though all group members were U.S. citizens, the group spoke only Spanish amongst itself and included youth and adults of Venezuelan, Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban descent.

In Río, I’m most looking forward to the contrast between the predominantly European participants of WYD 2011 in Madrid and what should be a strong crowd from North America and South America crowd in Rio. Having lived in Spain for a year and being exposed to an increasingly atheistic and anti-Catholic culture, I expect the local and national reception of WYD 2013 in Rio de Janeiro to be more universally celebrated without the degree of controversy that surrounded Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Madrid. I’m also excited to see how Catholic youth take advantage of the opportunity to help those most in need in Rio’s favelas (shanty towns), and hope to find courageous examples of mission work being done there.

Besides looking for mission work, I’ll be spending most of the week speaking with volunteers and pilgrims, searching for profound stories of faith and learning how people from different countries overcame varying degrees of adversity, like mine, to make their trip to WYD 2013 a reality.