Hundreds in DC celebrate World Youth Day locally

Hundreds of people in Washington DC spent the night in prayer and adoration alongside World Youth Day pilgrims in Rio de Janeiro July 27 2013 Credit Addie Mena CNA CNA 7 28 13 D.C.-area residents pray at a local World Youth Day-inspired event. | Adelaide Mena / CNA

Over 500 local pilgrims flocked to the Franciscan Monastery in Washington D.C. on Saturday to join in prayer and show solidarity with the millions of World Youth Day pilgrims in Rio de Janeiro.

"The beauty of the Universal Church is that you can feel close  to the Bishop of Rome, not because he is the Church, but because he represents a Church that is universal but also local. You can't separate those two realities," said Jonathan Lewis, Young Adult Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Washington, who put on the July 27 event.

"What happens when you enter into the local Church is that you encounter the Universal. That's what happened at Rio in D.C.," he told CNA.

"Rio in D.C." coincided with World Youth Day's closing vigil in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Participants prayed the Divine Office alongside pilgrims in Brazil. They watched Pope Francis' accompanying reflections via a live stream set up to display at the Franciscan Monastery.

The event also included opportunities for confession, Eucharistic adoration, and a candlelight vigil Mass in the monastery's grotto.

The Brazilian Catholic community in Washington, D.C. also helped to bring the atmosphere of Rio de Janeiro to the capital of the United States. Lewis explained that Brazilian-American volunteers "spent days cooking" a traditional Brazilian meal of rice, beans, empanadas, tropical deserts and other foods for the patrons. Dancers offered Samba dance lessons after the Mass for young adults.

"There were many moments that were surprising replicas of the World Youth Day experience," Lewis said, noting that Rio in D.C. experienced a doubling of its turnout and rainstorms as other recent World Youth Day events have. He said the event was blessed by the "incredible diversity" of its participants.

Lewis said the event aimed to "bring Rio to DC" and allow young adults to "enter into World Youth Day and make a pilgrimage of the heart." They did this through catechesis, the sacraments, reflection, rich symbolism, the presence of the Eucharist. They also experienced closeness with Pope Francis  "in a small way" through watching him lead Night Prayer.

A first-class relic of Blessed Pope John Paul II was present at the event. The piece of the soon-to-be-canonized Pope's cassock had been soaked with blood from the May 13, 1981 assassination attempt on his life. Fr. Gregory Gresko,  chaplain of the Pope John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C., brought the relic.

Bl. Pope John Paul II initiated World Youth Day in 1986. He was named a patron for World Youth Day 2013.

Young adults from around the area came to the local World Youth Day event. Some said that the event enabled them to be united with the Universal Church around the world.

Stephen Castellano, 22, told CNA that participating in an event simultaneous with World Youth Day in Rio enabled him "really to participate in the New Evangelization" and  "encounter Christ more deeply for myself and be part of the broader movement around the world."

"It really felt like I was there," he remarked.

Juliette Rakotomala and Nicolasa Chavez, both 21, said logistical and financial barriers prevented them from flying to Brazil for World Youth Day this year. However, being able to participate in the "inspirational" D.C. event and being able to see the Pope made the both the concept of World Youth Day and their faith "more real"

"I feel that we're living the message," Chavez said, speaking of the young adults gathered at "Rio in D.C."

Rakotomala added that the World Youth Day event "really motivated me to do whatever I'm doing to live out my faith and make the world a better place."

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