Pilgrims not tourists, Harvest prepares for World Youth Day Brazil.

By Beth Doherty

Brazil’s most well-known tourist attraction is the huge Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro on top of Mount Corcovado. A striking symbol of the world’s most populous Catholic country, its situation and placement has a message to convey.

Mount Corcovado where the statue is placed is characterised by a rich side with mansions and palm trees, and a poor side which is a hill-side slum, heavily populated by Brazil’s poorest living in dilapidated houses.

In the 1990s, photojournalist Mev Puleo attributed traveling on an air-conditioned tour bus to see the statue as a catalyst for her conversion. She peered out the window and was suddenly starkly aware of the sheer inequality she saw before her. As a committed Catholic, she couldn’t reconcile this inequality with her faith.

“Suddenly, the chair was too soft, the air conditioning was too pleasant, and the scenery too breathtaking. Her eyes glanced upward to see Jesus standing with his arms stretched wide in the gap between comfort and fear. She feared that though Jesus had been lifted above both sides, it seemed that he had only become a convenient way to avoid looking at the needs of the poor from the comfort of affluence. So, Mev made a decision that day: she decided to change the world”. (http://thefaithlab.info/?page_id=36)

The Christ statue is very much representative of Brazil, and indeed the Catholic Church. It is a symbol of the Church wishing to reach out her arms to all, rich or poor, to unite themselves with Christ.

Fortunately as Australia looks to the next WYD 2013, conditions of security and safety seem to be well and truly covered by the authorities. One Australian Bishop who has just returned from the Rio remarked of feeling quite safe during his time and that the city is “very attractive” and “full of life”.

For the fifth consecutive WYD, Harvest pilgrimages has been selected by the Australian Bishops as the Official Tour provider for World Youth Day Brazil and preparations have commenced for what might be the largest Australian contingent to leave our shores for a single event. Harvests has been working for 21 years now and offer invaluable expertise in planning and preparing groups for a pilgrimage adventure they will never forget.
Brazil’s World Youth Day (which will take place from 23-28 July 2013) will be one of the largest projects they have ever undertaken and will no doubt, bring challenges not seen by European, American and Australian World Youth Days. Perhaps the experience would only be rivalled by Manila’s World Youth Day which saw over four million pilgrims attend the final Mass.

This said, it will likely be a true, deep and conversional type of pilgrimage for those who attend. The Catholic Culture of the country of Brazil and its South American neighbours will give it a powerful authenticity also. It will be instructive, challenging, and perhaps just what young Australian Catholics need.

Managing Director of Harvest Pilgrimages Philip Ryall is committed to giving pilgrims an authentic Christian experience as they travel to World Youth Days and preparations were underway before pilgrims even left Madrid last year.

The catch phrase “pilgrims not tourists” is frequently used, and says much about the vision that Harvest has for passing on the faith.

“South America holds a unique appeal that will draw our youth into a deeper encounter with the people, faith and cultural realities that they experience. Whether it is rebuilding a church in a poor area of Lima, praying at the Jesuit missions of Posadas or witnessing God’s creation at the Iguasu Falls, all roads will lead to the one sacred highpoint in Rio where the Holy Father will join with hundreds of thousands of youth from every tribe and nation”, he said.

Pilgrims should not expect first-class air travel, but they should expect to be moved beyond their wildest dreams. They shouldn’t expect luxury sleeping quarters, but should expect to be warmed by the love of Christ made manifest around them.

“For us, it is not just about being a tour operator – in fact, logistics are only a very small part of what we do. We provide pilgrimage journeys that integrate the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of faith”, said Philip.

Those interested in attending World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro should be in contact with Harvest through their website at http://www.wydtours.com/