LEE COUNTY, Fla.- A group of 52 Catholic youth and adult chaperones from Southwest Florida are in Rio de Janeiro as part of an international pilgrimmage known as World Youth Day. It's the largest group from Florida making the trip.
World Youth Day is an international gathering celebrated every three years and is expected to draw an estimated two million people from around the globe from July 23-July 28.
On Tuesday, those from the local group were among hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered on Rio's Copacabana Beach for a Mass in honor of Pope Francis.
"The mass with thousands of people there on the beach was really amazing. It was a sight to see. Seeing like every single race, every single ethnicity that you could think of out in the world was just like really amazing," Hector Mireles, 16 of Immokalee said.
The theme of this year's festival is to take a "call to mission."
Marisa Curbelo, 18 of Cape Coral will begin classes at Florida Gulf Coast University two weeks after the trip.
"I know personally that I'm going to be so much stronger in my faith than before I was when I left for this trip," she said.
The group will see Pope Francis for the first time Thursday at his first official appearance on Copacabana Beach.
"This means so much to me. It's really hard to describe, because when you travel outside of the country to share the same beliefs with someone that you've never met before or that you can't even talk to, but you can see it in their eyes. It's a feeling that no one can understand until you actually go through it, " Curbelo said.
The students have worked to raise the money for the trip for the last two years. While on their journey, they'll attend daily Mass; take part in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; as well as participate in sessions designed to deepen their understanding of the Catholic Faith. The group returns to Southwest Florida on July 31st.
The group is blogging about their experiences. To keep up with them on their journey, click here.