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World Youth Day Reaches Rio Favelas

By Matthew Elliott, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As the five official days of 2013 World Youth Day (WYD) arrived in Rio this week, behind the festivities and media coverage, outreach programs are focused on favela community residents and the socially excluded. The organizers are seeking to focus on inclusion, as part of the agenda, as a way to put into practice the new Pope Francis’ call for a ‘church for the poor’.

The community of Varginha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News.
The community of Varginha, represented by José da Costa de Oliveira, is looking forward to Pope Francis’ visit, photo by Vanor Correia/Imprensa RJ.

The WYD committee has been working closely with the Vicariate for Social Charity to establish a program devoted to young people addicted to drugs known as the ‘Citizenship Passport’. This will involve a touring project of buses equipped with technologies to help promote the inclusion of young, vulnerable people into society.

Maria Sa, coordinator of the Underage Pastoral and WYD committee member explains, “In the bus, there will be IT technicians, social workers, psychologists and educators. It will be inaugurate at the fair [event in partnership with the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro] as part of the social legacy of World Youth Day.”

The project will have three phases according to WYD. They concern the accommodation of drug addicts and the prevention of involvement of others with drugs, the creation of an experiences exchange between religious institutions and civil society and the development of a triage center.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis will add his blessing to the project during a visit to the Hospital of St. Francis of Assisi in Tijuca, where he will inaugurate a new psychiatric wing dedicated to the treatment of crack addicts. According to Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope intended the visit to symbolize “all those working with the poor, the marginalized and those struggling with addiction.”

On Thursday, July 25th the Pope will be visiting one of the poorest parts of Rio, the Varginha favela in Zona Norte (North Zone). Varginha was selected from more than 700 parishes that were presented to the Vatican by the Archbishop’s ministry of favelas.

Varginha, the Favela Pope Francis will visit, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News.
Varginha, the Favela Pope Francis will visit for World Youth Day, photo by Matthew Elliott.

The Archbishop explained that the process of selection was complex, but it was important to the Pope to include the favelas in his trip to Brazil. They chose a favela that had not been visited before, “It would be good if he could go to all the favelas. What is being done awakens in people the desire to improve their life,” Arbishop Orani explained.

The streets have been cleared for hanging posters and excitement awaits Thursday’s events. Iara de Mello, a local resident and cook, will be working when the Pope arrives but is delighted for her community, “Before it was a dump, a terrible place, but now it is clean, we are very humbled that we were chosen, it is an amazing thing for us, but after he leaves… only God knows.”

The most pervasive and direct involvement of favela community residents this week will unsurprisingly be in facilitating the event itself. Of the 60,000 volunteers, 45,000 are locally recruited from a selected variety of Rio dioceses to ensure a broad representation across the city.

According to WYD volunteer Leonardo Silva, “the key involvement of the favelas has been in the supply of both volunteers and in the opening of residents’ homes to pilgrims from across the world.” The Franciscan order at Nossa Senhora de Boa Viagem in Rocinha, for example, is welcoming over hundred travelers into the community.

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