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SAN JUAN, RGV – July 25-31 marks a very special week across the globe. World Youth Day is an annual weeklong international Catholic event where the focus is religion and the youth.

The official event will take place in Kraków, Poland, with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, in attendance.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores
Bishop Daniel E. Flores

Pope Francis will also have a strong presence in a smaller-scale youth day celebration in the Rio Grande Valley. The Diocese of Brownsville, with the help of St. Anne’s Catholic Church, in Pueblo de Palmas, Peñitas, will hold their own version of the international event on July 26 called the “World Youth Encounter” for local children and teens. The event will be set in Peñitas and will include a video message before the five o’clock mass from Pope Francis to the youth of the area.

“They’ll have a chance to hear what the Holy Father has to say to us, his word per se and also to kind of help us in preparation to celebrate the greatness of Christ amongst us. It will be a joyful day and it will be a day where we have much to ponder as the Holy Father expresses this warm and affectionate care for the local church and the diocese of the Rio Grande,” said Bishop of Brownsville Daniel Flores, at a news conference at the San Juan Basilica on Tuesday.

Another special activity that will take place throughout the day will be the sharing of the story of José Luis Sánchez del Río, “El Niño Mártir de Michoacán,” to the youth gathered that day. Jose Sanchez del Rio is famously known for being put to death at the age of 14 because he refused to renounce his Catholic faith during the persecution of the Mexican church. The Diocese of Brownsville managed to request a first relic of his for the veneration from the diocese of San Juan, Michoacán.

“So we’ll have a relic that we will have there for veneration and also the opportunity to share with the young people the remarkable story of this young man who gave up the ultimate witness of his love for Christ and his love to the church,” Bishop Flores said.

The Rev. Michael Montoya, of St. Anne Catholic Church, said the event started as a small project dedicated to bringing Poland to the Valley with the use of technology. Today, he said, with the help of the people of Peñitas, the project has grown and more local churches are getting involved.

One example of the growth and connections that this local event has established is the usage of links to other dioceses around the world who are also celebrating this event. Places like the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and countries from Latin America will be given a chance to participate in the gathering with the use of technology.

“The message that we have is that the church reaches the most remote parts of the world and that the mercy of God has no borders, no limits and so it reaches even the poorest of the poor,” Rev. Montoya said.

Montoya said excitement is mounting in Peñitas.

“There are a lot of things that are falling into their proper places without us even thinking. July 26, which is the opening of the World Youth Day in Poland, is also the Feast of St. Anne,” Rev. Montoya said.

The event will be held in St. Anne’s Parish of Peñitas on Tuesday, July 26 from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The cost to attend the celebration is $10 and will feature four levels of “encounter.” Encounter of young people in the diocese; encounter of young people with the world’s youth; encounter of the young people with the saints (history and tradition), and encounter of the young people with the Lord Jesus Christ, according to St. Anne Church. “This event will be packed with daylong activities connecting the youth with Christ.”

“I myself want to encourage the young people not to lose hope, but to have a faith in the power of Christ, to give mystery to the church is something that brings us life and mercy,” Bishop Flores added.