“We are looking forward to meeting the young people of the world!”
The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is already involved in this great event with a number of campaigns. To find out just how highly Brazil values the World Youth Day and just what events ACN is planning, we interviewed José Correa, the national director of ACN Brazil. He is speaking to André Stiefenhofer.
From 23 to 28 July, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will be playing host to the world’s youth. How do the Brazilians see this, given that just a year later they will also be hosting the football World Cup?
There is an enormous sense of expectation throughout the country. Both our first lady, President Dilma Rousseff, and the governor of Rio de Janeiro have declared that the World Youth Day is far more important than the football World Cup, both in terms of the visitor numbers and also in terms of the interest throughout the country. The main problem for young people in Brazil, however, is the same as that faced by many other young people around the world, namely the high travel costs. Brazil is an enormous country with some extremely poor regions. For many people, travelling to Rio is unaffordable.
What is ACN planning for the World Youth Day?
The Brazilian office of ACN has in fact already published a special edition of the youth catechism, YOUCAT, to help the young people of Brazil to deepen their personal faith in preparation for the World Youth Day. It has been distributed in every diocese and also via the major Catholic youth movements. The first edition of half a million copies was simply snatched out of our hands, so popular was it with the young people! And demand continues to be very strong. In fact now, thanks to the generosity of our many benefactors, we are in a position to distribute more copies of the YOUCAT. During the World Youth Day ACN will have a multimedia exhibition in the main square of the Rio city centre. It will be entitled “We are all missionaries” and will focus on the duty of every Christian to promote the Gospel throughout the world. This is something that is already being done through the projects of ACN for example.
At the same time our exhibition stand will be one of the principal centres for pastoral care, for confession and counselling. We will have more than 40 priests of various different nationalities on hand to help in our tents. In addition we have invited young people from several countries where Christians are oppressed to bear witness and to tell us how they live their faith under such difficult circumstances. We are expecting youth groups from China, Sudan, Jamaica and Peru. And ACN is helping to subsidise the travel costs of some groups of young people, for example from Iraq, Egypt and Haiti, who want to come to the World Youth Day with their parish priests or bishops but could not otherwise afford the journey. And we’re also planning a “flash mob” event for the Holy Father, with thousands of young people.
Many of these young people will be coming to Brazil for the first time. What is your advice to them?
The most important thing of all is to prepare spiritually for the journey, so that they can truly enjoy the event. The young people who come here will encounter a very lively faith, with very joyful and openhearted people. Some of them are very poor, but they are happy, because they truly hold God in their hearts. Naturally, I must also warn everyone who comes to Rio to be careful. In the evenings and at night time we still have security problems in the city, although things have got better in the meantime. There will also be increased police reinforcements during the World Youth Day. And at all events, anyone who has the time and an afford it should also make a few excursions into the surrounding area around Rio and visit other regions of Brazil – it is well worth it!
What, in your opinion, will be the high point of the World Youth Day?
Without question, Pope Francis! Undoubtedly he will surprise us all. Besides, the whole razzmatazz surrounding this World Youth Day will be something quite special, since Rio is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has a quite special mixture of things to offer –, from mountains, to ocean, to parks. Moreover, a very special “Brazilian ingredient” here will be our young Catholics with their joyful spirit, their enthusiasm and their music. We Brazilians are extremely musical, and so you can expect that there will be a great deal of singing and music making. In fact the Catholic music scene in Brazil even finds its way into the world’s hit parades. For example one singing priest, Marcelo Rossi, can often be found in the Top 10.
At the World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011 there were protests by atheists. How do non-Catholics in Brazil view the event?
So far I have not seen any one oppose the World Youth Day. The major Protestant churches have spoken out clearly in favour of it, and some of them will send their own youth groups to certain selected events. And Orthodox Christians too are solidly supportive and will take part. At most there might be problems with some of the new religious sects in the Rio slums. But so far everything is peaceful there. The present Pope is very popular among most Brazilians, including non-Catholics. And those who are against him have decided to be sensible and keep quiet.
The fact that the Brazilians love Pope Francis is not due solely to the fact that he comes from our neighbouring country of Argentina. His simplicity and his direct way of speaking to people are what makes him so popular. The Brazilian media have noticed that people are incredibly interested in everything this Pope says and does. This has led to an enormous increase in reporting from the Vatican ever since his election.