There are several interesting dimensions to WYD 2013 in Rio de Janeiro. One of them is the fact that WYD is returning to Latin America after twenty six years. This occasion reminds us of World Youth Day in the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires in 1987, the first international WYD. That was the start of a planetary pilgrimage of young Christians led by the Successor of Peter, a pilgrimage that continues today and has not ceased to amaze the world. It has brought so much joyful faith and missionary enthusiasm as well as love for the pope and the Church. Blessed John Paul II gazed out on the huge number of young people gathered in Buenos Aires in 1987 on the Avenida 9 de Julio, and he said: “I want to repeat to you something I said on the first day of my pontificate: you are the hope of the pope, you are the hope of the Church”.
Another interesting aspect of the Rio WYD is that it was prepared by Benedict XVI and will be led by the first Latin-American pope. Pope Francis accepted this task without any hesitation. The ways of the Lord are truly amazing.
The theme for WYD 2013 in Rio de Janeiro is: “Go and make disciples of all nations!” (cf Mt 28:19). This WYD is following the path being taken by the Church of our times as the Holy Spirit calls us to renew our missionary dynamism. This is also the course that was chosen by the Church in Latin America at the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in May 2007. Since then, they have been experiencing a renewed missionary awakening as part of their “continental mission”. At the universal Church level, World Youth Day in Rio is taking place in the Year of Faith called by Benedict XVI through the Motu Proprio Porta Fidei.
This is the ecclesial background for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. It is a gift to be received with joy and gratitude by the whole Church, and especially by the Church in Brazil. It should also be received with a strong sense of responsibility because expectations regarding this event are certainly very high.
The idea of initiating World Youth Day in the Church was undoubtedly one of the great prophetic options made by John Paul II. In this way he opened up a spiritual adventure that has involved millions of young people from every continent. Young people have been meeting with the Successor of Peter at these meetings for over twenty five years, and this has brought change to the lives of countless numbers of people. Young people have made so many discoveries. They have discovered Christ the Way, the Truth and the Life. They have discovered the Church as mother, teacher and companion on the path of existence. They have discovered that the Successor of Peter is a sure guide and a friend who can be trusted. So many vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life were confirmed there. There is no doubt that World Youth Day has helped the Church at the start of the third millennium to make visible again the features of youthfulness, enthusiasm and renewed courage.
Every time World Youth Day comes around, the question arises about the secret behind this surprising phenomenon that has shown the world a new aspect of the Church and of young people themselves. WYD is a gift that continues to amaze people within and outside the Church. It gives a picture of young people that is very different from the stereotyped image presented by the media. These are young people yearning for values and in search of the deeper meaning of life. They turn away from ideologies and false teachers that try to impose illusions of easily found happiness. These young people are looking for an answer to the deeper questions about life, and they look to Christ and the Church to find it. Over the past twenty five years, WYD has become a powerful instrument for evangelisation.
The 2013 WYD in Rio de Janeiro is opening up a new stage in this fascinating journey being made by the youth of the world in the footsteps of the Successor of Peter. Pope Francis immediately showed himself to be a father and friend to young people. Already in the first few months of his pontificate, he has shown that he has the gift of communication with youth through simple, direct language that reaches the heart and awakens our conscience. If we recall some of the things he has said to young people, we notice his great ability to communicate and converse with them. At the same time, he does not hold back from challenging them with high goals. We are certain that the words and personal testimony of this pope during WYD in Rio will give a clear message that will encourage young people to become true disciples and missionaries.
The structure of the programme in Rio is the same as that in previous WYDs. Of course, the culture and religious traditions in the host country are always different, and this creates a unique atmosphere each time. Young Brazilians will dominate at this event, and we are sure that they will be able to transmit the beauty of their religious traditions and their faith to all those who come from other parts of the world. Young people from the western world which has become so secularised, need to see the witness of youthful faith filled with enthusiasm, a characteristic of Latin American countries.