MUMBAI – Seen from afar, a World Youth Day may appear one massive event, but up close it’s always a tapestry of scores of individual experiences, composed both of what participants find when they get to the site and what they bring with them.
In late July in Krakow, Poland, one thread in the tapestry that will be World Youth Day 2016, the thirteenth edition of what amounts to the World Cup of the Catholic Church, will be composed of a small delegation from the diocese of Vasai in India, a suburban area outside the country’s financial capital in Mumbai.
The diocese is led by Archbishop Felix Machado, who carries the personal title of “archbishop” in part as a tribute to his almost decade-long run of Vatican service as the undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Last Wednesday, Machado held a special Mass in the bishop’s residence in Vasai at 7:30 a.m. for the twelve young Catholics from Vasai who were heading off to Krakow, accompanied by the diocese’s youth director.
Afterwards, Machado sat down with his young pilgrims over tea and stepped them though how he sees the significance of the event.
“I said to them during the homily that they are going to Krakow not as isolated individuals, but living members of the Church, local and universal,” Machado told Crux. “I reminded them that they were not going for tourism but to take part in this important appointment which has taken place for the last 31 years.”
Though World Youth Days are typically staged every two or three years, this one is clearly unique because of its profile as an homage to St. John Paul II, who launched the WYD tradition and who led the Krakow archdiocese for fourteen years prior to being elected to the papacy in 1978.
“St. John Paul II was a man of vision, but also one who lived the mercy of God,” Machado said he told his youth.
“During this year of mercy, our Holy Father has chosen the theme of mercy and I said to the youth that the whole program of the WYD will be filled with this theme,” he said. “I said to them that they are already living this Year of Mercy very intensely in their parishes and in the diocese.”
Machado encouraged his pilgrims to make the most of their experience.
“They’re challenged to mix with other youth from around the world, and therefore they should really mingle with others, share what we live at home and enrich themselves with what other youth are living in their respective dioceses,” he said.
Machado also insisted that the WYD experience isn’t restricted just to those who will be physically present in Krakow.
“Youth in Vasai in every parish will participate in the WYD by organizing special prayers and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,” he said. “Our Youth Organization has already prepared a DVD to guide every parish so that … youth here in Vasai will also actively take part in the ‘spirit’ of WYD,” he said.
In keeping with India’s reputation as a high-tech pacesetter, Machado is also turning to social media to make sure that if Vasai youth can’t get to Krakow, Krakow gets to them.
“I have given a special message that will go on Whats App to every youth in the diocese,” he said, adding that Vasai has made a point of collecting the address of every youth in the diocese as part of a thousand-page survey providing detailed information about the families of young people.
Machado himself won’t be in Krakow, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be part of WYD.
“I will take part in the parish Blessed Sacrament vigils at night, which are organized to coincide with the Krakow one,” he said. “A Holy Mass will be celebrated as a conclusion since [for us] it will be Saturday-Sunday night.”
“I’m delighted with the enthusiasm of youth and also their families,” Machado said.
As his bottom line, Machado insisted that World Youth Day is for everyone, not just the upwards of a million people expected to turn out for the final events when Pope Francis gets to town.
“I wish to give a clear message to my faithful that the WYD is not an isolated event in the life of the Church but is meant for everyone to participate, whether by going to Krakow or celebrating it from wherever we are,” he said.