BOSTON — Holding car washes, dances and yard sales, cooking tamales and tacos de asada, raffling off photos of parish icons and writing good, old-fashioned letters have all contributed to helping prepare U.S. pilgrims for this month’s World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.
Youth leaders around the U.S. are now finalizing their preparations, as anticipation grows for the big event in Brazil with Pope Francis.
World Youth Day officially runs from July 23-28, but many pilgrims will arrive earlier for a mission week held in Brazilian dioceses beginning July 14.
The theme of WYD Rio 2013 is "Go, and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19), and the event will mark the return of Pope Francis to his native South America, a development that will command much international attention.
The Holy Father is due to arrive July 22, with an official reception hosted by government officials, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
After a July 24 visit to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida and receiving the keys of the city of Rio de Janeiro later in the week, the Pope will hear confessions July 26 from five young people and have lunch with youth representing every continent.
The highlight of the Pope’s visit will be the traditional Prayer Vigil on the evening of July 27, followed by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the final Mass the next morning, where he will announce the next WYD host city.
Catholic News Service estimates that Rio is preparing to welcome 2 million pilgrims.
Eternal Word Television Network will broadcast live from Rio during the event.
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, around 9,330 U.S. participants will attend WYD Rio, compared to 29,000 in Madrid in 2011 and 15,000 in Sydney in 2008. U.S. participants are expected to be the third-largest group attending WYD Rio.
In interviews with youth-ministry leaders, high flight prices, safety concerns about Brazil and the recent WYD being only two years ago were cited as factors for the lower attendance.
Luke DelVecchio was 19 when he attended his first WYD in Rome in 2000. Now 32 and a married father, he will again be leading young pilgrims from the Boston area.
He said the consistent factor in every World Youth Day is the joyful attitude of participants — a joy they bring to the host city’s inhabitants.
"They don’t know this sort of tidal wave of joy is about to hit them," said DelVecchio.
More than 165 young people and leaders from the Boston Archdiocese will attend WYD. And Father Shawn Carey, the director of the Deaf Apostolate for the Archdiocese of Boston, will be co-leading a national group of about 20 deaf participants and leaders, along with hearing interpreters, to Rio.
Father Carey, who is also deaf, said it’s important for deaf people in the U.S. to witness other deaf Catholics from other countries, even though they do not share the same signing system.
"It’s just good to see that we have one faith, different languages. It’s a good experience — that’s very special; that’s unique," said Father Carey, signing to an interpreter.
Father Matt Williams, director of the Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults for the Boston Archdiocese, offered guiding words for WYD participants.
He said preparing for pilgrimage "first and foremost is to live the Eucharist intensely — to allow the Lord to take us in his loving hands, to allow him to speak his words of blessing into our hearts, to allow ourselves to be broken from sin and all that takes us away from him, so that we can be free to give ourselves as gift, as the Lord does."
Father Williams also recommended praying with the heart, regular confession, praying with sacred Scripture and fasting as methods to prepare.
Gabriela Federico, 29, of El Paso, Texas, tapped her grandmother — "the best Mexican cook I’ve ever known" — and aunts for tamale training as a method of WYD fundraising. One aunt helped her make about 50 dozen of the masa snacks, which Federico pitched on Facebook and delivered around El Paso, where she is a full-time missionary at Our Lady’s Youth Center.
Federico also sold pro-life T-shirts and held yard sales to raise about $2,500 for her airfare and accommodations. She will journey to Rio with two other WYD volunteers. Catholic News Service reports that about 4,500 international volunteers will assist at WYD, as well as 55,500 Brazilian volunteers.
"This is an experience of a lifetime, and I should go before I get any older," said Federico, who predicted the pilgrimage will help her to be "a better servant, be a better pro-life leader for El Paso."
And she expressed excitement about encountering Pope Francis’ character and Latino heritage: "He’s just brought a different aspect to the faith, because people love him so much, because he’s of the people."
At Church of the Ascension in a low-income Denver neighborhood, Rossana Castanon and 10 other pilgrims also sold tamales — along with other native Latino foods: tacos de asada, menudo, horchata, champurrado, tortas and carnitas — after Masses to help pay their way to Rio. They also held car washes, youth dances and an Applebee’s fundraiser.
Castanon, 25, is the urban parish’s director of religious education, and this will be the first time the church has sent people on a WYD pilgrimage. She hopes to bring the excitement of the Rio experience back to Colorado in order to spark another parish effort for the next WYD.
Father Daniel Schaicoski, the pastor of Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hamtramck, Minn., decided the timing was right this year to bring a group of 10 pilgrims to Rio — with one of the reasons being their pilgrimage will mark his return to his native Brazil.
He said the organizing process has "improved the life in the parish already," adding that the fundraising helped create "a missionary atmosphere."
Such fundraising efforts included offering kanapky — Ukrainian finger sandwiches made with a cheese and garlic spread and sausage — after Mass with coffee and a bake sale. Photographs of the church’s icons were also raffled.
Ben Frost is the youth and young adult director for the Diocese of Winona, Minn. He will be joining Father Schaicoski’s group.
"I’m excited to see millions of Catholics gathering as one family to meet the Holy Father and to see our Church alive," said Frost, who will be attending his fifth WYD.
Summed up Frost, "We have a very vibrant Church, a very vibrant faith; we come together to worship Jesus Christ, and that’s the most important thing."
Justin Bell writes from
the Boston area.