VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for World Youth Day — his first papal overseas visit — will include an address in a shanty town, meeting with juvenile prisoners and praying at the country’s national shrine, the Vatican confirmed today.
But contrary to the advice reportedly given by Brazilian organizers, a stop in his native Argentina is not on the itinerary, increasing the probability of vast numbers of people traveling to Brazil for the eight-day visit.
Up to 4 million people are expected to turn out to see the Church’s first Latin-American pope during his July 22-29 trip, presenting considerable logistical challenges for the authorities. Organizers plan on staging a pop concert shortly after WYD to stem the large flow of people leaving the Church event.
The Holy Father faces an intense few days in Brazil. His first engagement is to fly by helicopter to the national shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, where he will celebrate Mass. On his return to Rio, he will meet with staff and patients at a local hospital, receive the keys to the city of Rio, bless Olympic flags (Rio is the host city of the 2016 Olympic Games), and visit the Varginha favela (shanty town or barrio), just north of Rio.
As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he used to regularly drop in on neighboring shanty towns and minister to the communities there. But he won’t be the first pope to visit a favela. According to Catholic News Service, Blessed John Paul II visited the Vidigal favela south of Rio in 1980 and left his gold cross-shaped ring with the local community; he urged them to sell it so they could use the money to improve their living conditions.
Pope Francis is also due to meet briefly with some juvenile detainees in the residence of Rio’s archbishop, mirroring his decision to wash the feet of young prisoners in Rome on Holy Thursday.
Other engagements include lunch with a group of young people, praying the Stations of the Cross with young people along the Copacabana beachfront and a prayer vigil with young people.
On his final day, July 28, the Holy Father will celebrate a large open-air Mass — the highlight event of World Youth Day.
During his visit, he’ll also be meeting bishops and Church officials from Brazil and Latin America.
Before he was elected, Pope Francis was not an avid traveler. His didn’t make his first visit abroad until 1970, when he traveled to Colombia at the age of 34, and he once described himself as a “homebody,” preferring to stay in his beloved Buenos Aires.
The Vatican has said no other papal visits are planned for this year.
Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, also wasn’t expected to travel widely because of his age at election (78), but, in the end, he matched his predecessor John Paul II in frequency of visits, with 25 overseas visits during his eight-year pontificate.
It remains to be seen if Pope Francis, elected at 76, catches the papal travel bug as his immediate predecessor did.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.