Everything was going according to plan for World Youth Day, as far as the Vatican was concerned, as hundreds of thousands of young people gathered in Rio de Janeiro for this year’s premier Catholic youth celebration.

Speaking to the Register July 12, Father Eric Jacquinet, director of the youth section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, said "preparations are going well" and that "many groups" had arrived in Rio for "Days in the Diocese" — or what this year is being called "Mission Week" — prior to the official start of WYD.

A series of activities, planned and organized by individual dioceses, began July 19, ahead of the full World Youth Day program, which ran July 23-28 in the presence of Pope Francis.

As well as working with WYD organizers on the ground, the Pontifical Council sent 10 officials to the event, alongside a number of cardinals from Rome. Cardinal Stanislaw Ryłko, president of the Pontifical Council, arrived a week early, bringing with him relics of Blessed Pope John Paul II.

The cardinal delivered the relics of the World Youth Day founder during a Mass celebrated on July 7 at a shrine in the north of the city.

In his homily, he remembered the words of an Italian journalist who once said John Paul II is a pope "who does not die."

"It is true," the Polish cardinal said. "This Pope continues to live in people’s hearts. This is proven by the multitude of pilgrims who every day go to the altar containing his remains in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican." He also entrusted the WYD in Rio to John Paul II’s intercession, to produce "much fruit for the spiritual life of many young people coming from 180 countries."

He further pointed out that Pope John Paul II is in good company in this "special mission" because among the patrons of the international gathering of young people were other models of holiness, such as Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam and Brazilian St. Antônio Galvão de Santana.

A vial of Blessed John Paul II’s blood was sent to World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011. This year, the relic will remain in Rio for a period after World Youth Day so that as many of the faithful in the city as possible will be able to venerate it for themselves and, in the words of Archbishop Orani João Tempesta of Rio, "feel the presence of the blessed."

Blessed John Paul II was no stranger to Brazil, with four visits to the world’s most populous Catholic nation in 1980, 1982, 1991 and 1997.

As with previous World Youth Days, the Pontifical Council promoted an exhibition. This year’s exhibit, entitled In the Footsteps of Christ, focused on famous paintings and sculptures from Italy and the Vatican from between the 15th and 19th centuries. They are said to be all "original works, never seen before in a Latin-American country."

These exhibitions are held as a sign of gratitude to the local Church, civil authorities and all those who have been involved in welcoming young people from all over the world — and to emphasize the relationship between art and faith.

Cardinal Ryłko said such artistic displays are a "visual catechesis," and he noted that young people are impressed by the expressive capabilities and ingenuity of the great artists, who are important witnesses of the faith.

"But what they value most," he added, "is the great role the Church has had in being able to protect, preserve and cherish such an artistic and religious heritage, which everyone can see, also in our times."

In addition to these initiatives, 250 bishops offered catechesis during Mission Week. Father Jacquinet said the pontifical council worked to ensure as many bishops attended as possible.

"We also follow all the organization on the ground," he said. "Most of that is really being done in Rio."

The Pope’s program included a visit to a favela (shanty town), an encounter with young prisoners and a visit to Brazil’s national shrine (see related story on page B1). He also led the World Youth Day Via Crucis on Copacabana beach and celebrated a large open-air Mass for pilgrims the following day.

At the end of the event’s second and final Mass on July 28, the Holy Father was — as has become customary — to announce the venue and date for the next World Youth Day. Among the cities being considered to host the event are Krakow, Poland; Seoul, South Korea; and London.

Edward Pentin filed this report from Washington.