When Pope Francis addressed the crowds in St. Peter's Square on Palm Sunday this year, he said:
"Dear friends, I too am setting out on a journey with you, starting today, in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We are already close to the next stage of this great pilgrimage of the Cross. I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well - prepare spiritually above all - in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world."
Pope Francis joins the great pilgrimage begun by his predecessors, Blessed John Paul II and Benedict! WYD Rio will be this summer's edition of that great event "invented" by Blessed John Paul II, continued by Pope Benedict XVI, and now blessed anew by Pope Francis. While the sprawling Brazilian city of Rio will host the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016, it is this summer of 2013 that will allow the South American continent to welcome the young people of the world and the Successor of Peter in ways that no sporting event can ever dream of accomplishing!
The theme of the Rio gathering, taken from Matthew 28:19, is: "Go and make disciples of all nations!" (cf. Mt 28:19). This is the great missionary mandate that Christ gave the whole Church, and today, two thousand years later, it remains as urgent as ever.
Next week's gathering in Rio takes place in the context of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Vatican II, the Year of Faith, the theme of the New Evangelization that pulsates throughout the whole church, and under the leadership and guidance of the new Successor of Peter, Pope Francis. It is a cause for great celebration and great joy.
At the end of the Second Vatican Council, whose fiftieth anniversary we are celebrating this year - the Servant of God Pope Paul VI consigned a message to the youth of the world. It began:
"It is to you, young men and women of the world, that the Council wishes to address its final message. For it is you who are to receive the torch from the hands of your elders and to live in the world at the period of the most massive transformations ever realized in its history. It is you who, taking up the best of the example and the teaching of your parents and your teachers, will shape the society of tomorrow. You will either be saved or perish with it."
It concluded with the words:
"Build with enthusiasm a better world than what we have today!" (Message to Young People, 8 December 1965).
At World Youth Days, the proclamation of the Gospel can only be the result of the joy that comes from meeting Christ and finding in him the rock on which our lives can be built. The event in Rio gathers us together as pilgrims in search of Jesus Christ, and sends us forth as disciples and missionaries. As Pope Benedict wrote so beautifully in his message for this World Youth Day,
"A disciple is a person attentive to Jesus' word (cf. Lk 10:39), someone who acknowledges that Jesus is the Teacher who has loved us so much that he gave his life for us. Each one of you, therefore, should let yourself be shaped by God's word every day. This will make you friends of the Lord Jesus and enable you to lead other young people to friendship with him."
From that discipleship and friendship, young people go forth as missionaries to share what they have seen and heard. Benedict wrote in that same message:
"Jesus sent his disciples forth on mission with this command: 'Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved' (Mk 16:15-16). To evangelize means to bring the Good News of salvation to others and to let them know that this Good News is a person: Jesus Christ."
Let us pray together for the young people of the world, especially those from Canada, the United States, Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, and Scotland who flock to Rio to join this great missionary pilgrimage! Let us pray for Pope Francis, who is their host, their shepherd and fellow pilgrim on this journey. Let us experience together a Church that is alive and young! Please stay tuned to Salt and Light Television Network in Canada that will bring you great events on television and on the live streaming feature of the S+L website (saltandlighttv.org/live
For further background information, please visit the special World Youth Day pages created by Salt and Light at wydcentral.org