Virtual World Youth Day: Join with Pope Francis and young people in prayer Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

Even though most of us can’t be in Rio De Janeiro this week, we can still join Pope Francis and hundreds of thousands of young people in prayer as they gather for World Youth Day (WYD).

As a “friend” of WYD on Facebook, I’ve been receiving updates and countdowns to the big event for many months. I almost feel like I’m making the trip myself!

I would encourage interested persons to follow WYD on its Facebook Page (World Youth Day Rio 2013). Of course, the Catholic Herald’s own Facebook Page (Madison Catholic Herald) as well as our website ( and Twitter (@CHMadison) will be carrying coverage of WYD. Our website will include updates from Catholic News Service in English as well as in Spanish.

Prayers from retired Pope Benedict

Pope Francis and young people at WYD will also have some special prayers from retired Pope Benedict XVI, whom our current Holy Father visited recently. Pope Francis informed him about the final details for World Youth Day and asking him to pray for Pope Francis and for the pilgrims who will gather in Rio July 23 to 28.

Catholic News Service reported that during the visit, which lasted about 30 minutes on July 19, Pope Francis gave his predecessor a booklet with a detailed account of the trip itinerary, along with the times the events will be broadcast in Italy, “so that he can spiritually participate in the events and, if he’d like to, follow the broadcasts,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

Pope Francis also gave Pope Benedict one of the commemorative medals minted for the Brazil trip. On one side is a relief of Pope Francis in profile; on the reverse is a reproduction of the famous Rio statue of Christ with his arms outstretched and the words “Rio 2013 World Youth Day” — in Portuguese.

Benedict XVI assured Pope Francis of his prayers, recalling his intense and marvelous experiences at previous world gatherings with young people in Cologne, Sydney, and Madrid, Father Lombardi said.

Seeking Mary’s protection

Pope Francis also traveled to Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major to pray that Mary protect and care for everyone attending World Youth Day in Brazil and for all young people around the world, according to a Catholic News Service article. The pope spent more than 30 minutes in silent prayer in a side chapel before the basilica’s famous Marian icon “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people).

The pope made the impromptu July 20 trip “to ask the Virgin for her protection for the upcoming apostolic journey to Brazil, for the young people who will gather for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, and for all young people in the world,” said Father Lombardi.

This is the same icon the pope turned to in prayer the day after he was elected pope in March and visited during the Marian month of May to pray the Rosary. This time the pope laid a wreath of flowers near the icon and lit a candle with this year’s World Youth Day logo.

The basilica was open to the public and filled with visitors when the pope made his unannounced visit. With his characteristic warmth, Pope Francis spent another 30 minutes greeting people, asking them to accompany him on his trip “with prayers, with faith, and with penance.”

The pope said even those who will not be able to make the trip should be praying, listening, and asking the same questions participants will be asking Jesus: “Lord, what must I do with my life? What is my path?” He asked that people entrust these deep questions about life to Mary.

Let’s join Pope Francis in thought and prayer this week as we make our own virtual pilgrimage to World Youth Day. Let’s also pray for the safety of our Holy Father, our own pilgrims from the Diocese of Madison, and all those gathering in Brazil.