.- After meeting with the Vatican, an organizer for World Youth Day 2013 said that fear for safety should not keep visitors from traveling to Rio de Janeiro this summer.
"I feel the city has changed a lot and there are no reasons people should have any fear in Rio," said Fr. Leandro Lenin Tavares, the catechesis director for this year's World Youth Day.
The priest and 15 Brazilian authorities – including military, federal, state and city authorities – spoke with the Pontifical Council for the Laity on security concerns of the event during a Jan. 9 to Jan. 25 Rome visit.
Authorities launched a security plan in the city four years ago, called "the pacifying plan," ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games and the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
"I offer Mass on Sundays at the dangerous neighborhood of Penha, which is in the middle of huge slums and has a lot of drug trafficking," Fr. Tavares told CNA.
"But since the plan started, the military and police ensure there are no guns taken into dangerous neighborhoods and now we have more tourists," said the Carioca, or Rio-native.
Fr. Taveres, who was ordained to the priesthood just 10 months ago and is the director of Seminário Propedêutico Rainha dos Apóstolos in Rio, was appointed as director of organizing the catechesis talks for Brazil’s World Youth Day in March 2011.
"World Youth Day is a moment of grace and I feel blessed that we can show the Church our way of evangelizing," said the priest, who worked in youth ministry before he entered the seminary.
He said he was moved after personally meeting Pope Benedict during a general audience.
"I kissed his ring and after my archbishop told him I was in charge of the WYD catechesis, Pope Benedict told me I was a very important person," said Fr. Tavares.
It is estimated that the number of people attending will double Madrid's World Youth Day with two million expected in Copacabana Beach and over 2.5 million in Guaratiba from July 23 to 28.
"We want this year to let others know about us, we want to be instruments of evangelization, and this is going to mark the beginning of new times," he stated.
Fr. Tavares' main job now is to organize 300 places where 21 bishops will talk on the Catholic faith in seven main languages.
The Pontifical Council for Laity, in charge of organizing World Youth Day, chose the bishops after they subscribed online where they were able to choose their preferred topic for each talk.
"Presenting the faith to young people, who live in a secular world, is a challenge," said Fr. Tavares.
"We need to be where they are, like on Facebook and new media, to speak their language, without reducing the truth," the 30 year-old priest said.
Although Rio de Janeiro is a secular city, Fr. Tavares noted that already he has witnessed many young people returning to the Church after the city was chosen for World Youth Day 2013.
There are currently 60,000 volunteers working to coordinate the World Youth Day efforts, with over 35,000 of them from the city.
Rio de Janeiro has 275 Catholic parishes, each of which will offer at least three Sunday Masses, while many will offer up to seven.