World Youth Days demonstrate the pastoral genius of John Paul II and the vitality of the Church

Columbia Magazine, April 2011 Throughout his pontificate, Pope John Paul II enjoyed an incredible popularity with young Catholics. One of the great reasons for this was the emphasis he placed on World Youth Days, an initiative that he began in 1985. Through these national and international gatherings, John Paul II made it very clear: Young people are not only the future of the Church, but are also its present.

In the face of the cynicism, despair and meaninglessness so prevalent in the world today, the new evangelization at the heart of John Paul II’s teaching is about instilling hope and vibrancy in the Church. The pope knew well that the world is often characterized by separation, fragmentation and loneliness. Through the gift of World Youth Days, he offered powerful opportunities to become bearers of hope, agents of community and instruments of a moral globalization.
The beatification of Pope John Paul II invites us to take stock of the gifts we received from him and to examine how his vision and hope have impacted our own efforts in pastoral ministry with young adults.

Forming a Generation

Among the central elements of World Youth Days are worship, sacred Scripture, catechesis, the sacraments, the cross, the saints, pilgrimage, service and vocations. Each of these components contribute greatly to, and must find a place in, an effective pastoral ministry with young people.

The preparation for World Youth Days offers the Church some profound moments to deepen Christian piety and devotion. Throughout Canada, we are unlikely to forget the powerful images of the World Youth Day Cross during its historic pilgrimage in 2002. With the assistance of the Knights of Columbus, the cross traveled through more than 350 cities, towns and villages from sea to sea. Eventually, during World Youth Day in Toronto, the magnificent presentation of the Stations of the Cross was a profound witness of the Christian story in the heart of a modern city.
Young adults need heroes and heroines today, and Pope John Paul II gave us outstanding models of holiness and humanity. During his pontificate, he canonized 482 saints and proclaimed another 1,338 blessed. How fitting that one of the principal patrons of World Youth Day in Madrid in August 2011 will be Blessed John Paul II.
Many young priests and religious have said “yes” to their vocations because of the personal witness of John Paul II, who online casino nederland urged them to “Be not afraid!” Many young men and women have discovered meaning in his theology of the body and have entered into marriage with deep faith and conviction. And many ordinary people have done extraordinary things because of his influence, his teaching and even his gestures.
The extraordinary impact that John Paul II had on younger generations has happily continued with his successor. In remarks at the concluding Mass of World Youth Day 2008, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney thanked Pope Benedict XVI with these words: “Your Holiness, the World Youth Days were the invention of Pope John Paul the Great. The World Youth Day in Cologne was already announced before your election. You decided to continue the World Youth Days and to hold this one in Sydney. We are profoundly grateful for this decision, indicating that the World Youth Days do not belong to one pope, or even one generation, but are now an ordinary part of the life of the Church. The John Paul II generation — young and old alike — is proud to be faithful sons and daughters of Pope Benedict.”

A Youthful Church

A person may choose to speak of his or her World Youth Day experience as something in the past that brightened the shadows and monotony of life at one shining moment in history. There is, however, another perspective. The Gospel story is not about “Camelot” moments but about “Magnificat” moments, constantly inviting Christians to take up Mary’s hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the ways that Almighty God breaks through human history — here and now. In other words, the Christian life is not nourished simply by memories, however good and beautiful they may be. The resurrection of Jesus is not a memory of a distant event in the past, but is the Good News that continues to be fulfilled.

We must be honest and admit that World Youth Days offer no panacea or quick fix to the problems of our times, nor to the challenges facing the Church today as we reach out to younger generations. Instead, these events offer a new lens through which we look at the Church and the world, and build our common future. One thing is clear: No one could come away from Toronto, Cologne or Sydney thinking that it is possible to compartmentalize their faith or reduce it to a few rules and regulations and Sunday observances.
I cannot help but recall Cardinal James Francis Stafford’s stirring words spoken to the throngs of young people gathered in and around St. Peter’s Square at the opening ceremonies of the Jubilee World Youth Day on August 15, 2000. Addressing a visibly moved and aging Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Stafford said, “Holy Father, as you walked in the 1960s to the [Second Vatican] Council’s sessions to express again the mystery of the always youthful Church, you experienced the embrace of these great colonnades many times. Today we all pray that your happiness may be full. For these youthful multitudes, now embraced by the arms of St. Peter also, are living witnesses to the Council’s hope and to yours.”
In this way, the cardinal beautifully expressed the mission and purpose of World Youth Days, which are a snapshot of the joy, hope and unity to which the Church is called. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his inaugural homily in 2005, “[T]he Church is alive. And the Church is young. She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way towards the future.” World Youth Days are a reminder of this truth.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, a member of Toronto Council 1388, was the national director and C.E.O. of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. He has been the C.E.O. of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation since 2003.

WYD TV: Relive all WYDs right here!

Are you nostalgic about previous World Youth Days? Did you meet your wife in Denver 1993? Did you come back to the Church in Compostela in 89? Or did you best online casino begin to consider a vocation to the Religious Life in Rome in 2000? Was Sydney 2008 a game changer for you? No matter, relive all WYDs here, WYD TV! Only at, your home for everything and anything WYD!


Abba Ojcze – Czestochowa 1991

Abba Ojcze, Abba, Father, Theme Song for WYD 1991, in Czestochowa, Poland.

Becoming the People of the Beatitudes

Pope John Paul II enjoyed amazing popularity among young Catholics throughout his 26-year pontificate. The strongest symbol of the importance he accorded to this connection is, without doubt, World Youth Days. It’s not remarkable that the Pope saw his youthful friends as a metaphor of renewal and hope; what is remarkable is that young people also see and understand themselves this way.

Through these gatherings, John Paul II made it clear: young people are not only the future of the Church, they are also its present. WYD 2002 was for the Canadian Church a privileged moment of re-commitment to the deeply Christian values that are at the heart of Canada. These values, now often ignored or hidden, reveal who we really are: Gospel agents of salt and light in the world today.

The experience of World Youth Days in Argentina, Spain, Poland, Denver, Manila, Paris, Rome, Toronto, Cologne, and this week in Sydney brought much new life to each of the countries where the great events took place. As we celebrate the event in Sydney, we need to take stock of the gifts we have received and ask how the vision and hope of John Paul II have influenced our own efforts in pastoral ministry with young people and young adults in each country. What have the joy, enthusiasm, exuberance and creativity of our World Youth Day experiences taught us? How have they transformed Youth and Young Adult Ministry in each host diocese and country? Have we initiated a ‘preferential option’ for young people in the Church today?wyd08logo.gif

The principal elements of World Youth Days contribute greatly to an effective pastoral ministry with young people and with young adults. These elements—Christ, Sacred Scripture, catechesis, the sacraments (especially Reconciliation and Eucharist), piety, devotion, the World Youth Day Cross, the saints, together with the moments of pilgrimage, the Youth Festival, social service projects, vocations—must find a central place in our pastoral efforts with young people.

The New Evangelization at the heart of John Paul II’s teaching is about instilling hope and vibrancy in the Church—to combat the cynicism, despair and meaninglessness prevalent in the world today. John Paul II knew well that the world struggles with separation, fragmentation, loneliness, alienation, and rampant globalization that exploits the poor. Through the gift of World Youth Days, John Paul II offered us powerful opportunities to become bearers of hope, agents of community, neighbours to those around us, and instruments of a moral globalization that must accompany all our international efforts.

During his Angelus address at the conclusion of the 17th World Youth Day in Toronto, the Holy Father said: “This World Youth Day must mark a re-awakening of pastoral attention to the young in Canada. May the enthusiasm of this moment be the spark that is needed to launch a new era of powerful witness to the gospel!… My wish for all of you who are here is that the commitments you have made during these days of faith and celebration will bring forth abundant fruits of dedication and witness. May you always treasure the memory of Toronto!”

03-cross-toronto-to-cologne-2003.jpgWorld Youth Days are celebrations of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Faith. At the welcoming ceremony of World Youth Day 2002, Pope John Paul II said: “With your gaze set firmly on him [Jesus], you will discover the path of forgiveness and reconciliation in a world often laid waste by violence and terror.” The person of Jesus Christ must be at online casino the heart of our efforts with young adults. In order to be authentic believers, we must have a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. How is Christ at the heart of our efforts with young people? What is distinctive and unique about being Catholic?

The principal elements of World Youth Days—Christ, Sacred Scripture, catechesis, the sacraments (especially Reconciliation and Eucharist), piety, devotion, the World Youth Day Cross, the saints, together with the moments of pilgrimage, the Youth Festival, social service projects, vocations—must find a central place in our pastoral efforts with young people.

Pope John Paul’s biblical theme for WYD 2002 was most appropriate for our society and world that are often steeped in mediocrity and darkness. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). What biblical stories and images animate our pastoral ministry with young people?

During WYD 2002 in Toronto, over 100,000 young people celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through this sacrament Christ lets us meet him and brings out the best in us. In our pastoral work with young people, do we present this sacrament as a privileged encounter with Christ who heals, forgives and liberates us?

World Youth Days offer the Church profound moments to deepen our Christian piety and devotion. In Canada during 2001-2002, the historic, 43,000-km pilgrimage of the WYD Cross and the magnificent presentation of the Stations of the Cross were a provocative, profound witness of the Christian story in the heart of a modern city. How have we continued this tradition in our parish communities and youth activities? Do we acknowledge the need for solid, biblically rooted Christian piety and devotion in the lives of young people today?

wyd-jpii-cologne.jpgDuring his pontificate, John Paul II proclaimed 1,338 blesseds and 482 saints. Young adults need heroes and heroines today, and the Pope gave us outstanding models of holiness and humanity. Nine young blesseds and saints were patrons of WYD 2002, several more were patrons for WYD 2005, and now John Paul II himself is among the 10 patrons for WYD 2008 in Sydney. How often do we present these holy men and women as the real role models for young people today?

Have we taken to heart Pope John Paul II’s invitation to young people to consider lives of consecrated service in the Church today? “think of the vast majority of dedicated and generous priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good! There are many priests, seminarians and consecrated persons here today; be close to them and support them! And if, in the depths of your hearts, you feel the same call to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the cross! At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent.”

How many people are no longer afraid because they saw in John Paul II one who was not afraid? How many young seminarians and religious have spoken their ‘yes’ because of him? How many young men and women have discovered meaning in John Paul II’s theology of the body and have entered into marriage with deep faith and conviction? How many ordinary people have done extraordinary things because of his influence, his teaching and his gestures?

Let us give thanks to God for Pope John Paul II who believed in young people. We are now shepherded by Pope Benedict XVI, someone who is deeply committed to bringing young people to Christ. On the morning after his election, Benedict XVI spoke at the end of a Mass: “I think in particular of young people. […] With you, dear young people, future and hope of the Church and of humanity, I will continue to dialogue, listening to your expectations in an attempt to help you to encounter ever more profoundly the living Christ, who is eternally young.” In a homily a few days later, he said: “I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ—and you will find true life.”

Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
Former National Director, World Youth Day 2002
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network

Why WYD? Part 5 of 6: Saints

In the year 2000 WYD returned to Rome for the Year of the Jubilee. On the Holy Father’s message to the youth of the world on the occasion of this World Youth Day, Pope John Paul II wrote “Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium.” We are created to be saints, JPII told us we can be, and to help us understand this, every WYD has Patron Saint. One of the Patron Saints for WYD2000 was Pier Giorgio Frassati. This is very exciting because Pier Giorgio was not a priest or a monk. Pier Giorgio was a regular young lay man, someone to whom I can relate.

When we think of Saints, normally we think of “holy” and religious Europeans who lived hundreds of years ago – people who levitated, or who had the stigmata; people like Saint Francis of Assisi. But there is little in common between St. Francis and me.

But Pier Giorgio lived from 1901 to 1924. His sister just died last year. He was a young man, went to university, fell in love – but he lived a good life and did a lot of good, in particular by helping the poor and marginalised, from whom he contracted the tuberculosis that killed him at age 24.

WYD Toronto’s Patron Saints and Blesseds were mostly young people from different countries, and most of them lived in the 20th century: Agnes of Rome, Andrew of Phu Yen, Pedro Calungsod, Saint Josephine Bakhita, St. Therese, St. Gianna Molla, Marcel Calo, Francisco Castelló y Aleu, Kateri Tekakwitha and again Pier Giorgio. Young Saints who the youth of today can imitate. I would suggest that you go and research the lives of these great people of the Church. For us, there are no greater models for life.

And this is the reason why we need Saints: we all need models to imitate. John Paul II knew this very well. It is no coincidence that more people were canonised and beatified during his 26 years of Pontificate than of all the other Popes put together.

And that brings us to 2002. It’s important to mention that a new aspect was introduced to WYD in Toronto in 2002: the service project. Why gather all these young people together, calling them to live as the saints that they are, and not give them an opportunity to serve – to serve the poorest of the poor, the marginalised and those left out? We had service projects with Habitat for Humanity, with the Canadian Organisation for Development and Peace, and with many local service agencies. After all, don’t we, as Catholics have a preferential option for the poor and are called to act with justice and charity? These service projects were repeated in Cologne and in Sidney.

And this is the most important aspect of WYD. The Pope invites us to go to WYD, but this is not an invitation to a party or just a celebration. The invitation is to go on a walk, under the Cross, together with Mary and the Saints, towards Jesus – in order to meet with the Church and to learn about our beliefs – and to go in a spirit of reconciliation, pilgrimage, worship and service. It’s an invitation to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. It’s an invitation to live as Saints.

But it’s not an invitation to be something that we cannot be. John Paul II said to us, “do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium”. That means we can be. But it’s not an invitation to be saints if we feel like it, or if we’re in the mood. We are created to be saints. The invitation is to say yes to that for which we are created. For many (and for me too) this is very hard to realize – it’s something that scares us. But JPII kept telling us, and Pope Benedict has reminded us: “Do not be afraid.”

Why WYD? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Why WYD? Part 6 of 6: From Disciples to Apostles

In 2005 World Youth Day went back to Europe, to Cologne, Germany. This was Pope Benedict’s first World Youth Day. By now, WYDs are an establishment. For me Toronto was very much the WYD that brought it all together. The service component was the key ingredient, but something was missing.

In Toronto we also added something else. Traditionally the Saturday night Vigil was a celebration, a rally, an opportunity for the young people to be with the Holy Father. In Toronto we kept this idea, but made the core of the celebration Evening Prayer. I don’t know about you, but before this, I had never even heard of Evening Prayer. There is so much about our Faith that we don’t know. How many of us don’t know about these “prayers of the Church?” Why are these prayers not taught in Catholic Schools? But I digress…

In Cologne, they kept the Vigil as Evening Prayer, but added Adoration. Of course, this made sense because the theme for that WYD was “We have come to worship him” (Mt 2:2). But it also makes sense because that is the real reason why we gather: to adore. That’s why we go and do service: to adore. Worship is the reason why we respond to the call to being Saints.

wyd08pilgrimsAnd of course, Sydney 2008 was in many ways the WYD of WYDs. All these components came together beautifully. We travelled as pilgrims, together with Mary and the Saints, under the Cross, in a spirit of reconciliation and service to meet with the Holy Father, the institutional Church, to learn about our Faith, to connect with and celebrate best online casino our Faith and to worship. For Sydney, we literally went to “ends of the earth,” to the farthest reaches of the planet, to the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit to do so. And we are able to do so, be Saints because of the Holy Spirit.

Being a saint is not hard. Being a saint doesn’t mean that you don’t make mistakes or that you don’t sin. Being a saint simply means following Jesus, trying to get to heaven and helping others make it to heaven. Jesus already told us how to do that: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to those who are thirsty, visit the sick and those in prison. And pray. This is something that you and I can do very easily. And if we do, or try to live this way, we will realise that we are no longer just disciples who merely follow Jesus, but apostles whom Jesus sends.

This is what happens at WYD – one arrives as a disciple and having a personal encounter with Christ, we return home sent, as apostles – to share the experience with our families, our friends and all those whom we encounter on a daily basis.

But the good news is that we don’t have to go to a WYD to have a personal encounter with Christ. You didn’t need to go to Sydney in order to “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” and be Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8) . You don’t need to go to Madrid in 2011 to be “rooted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf Col 2:7). This is something that all of us can do right here at home.

You may not be able to go to WYD, but are you willing to let Jesus call you to be an apostle?

Are you willing to live as a saint?

Do not be afraid!

Photos WYD08/Getty Images

Why WYD? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Why WYD? Part 4 of 6: Proclaim it from the Rooftops


In 1993 WYDs came to North America: Denver, Colorado, U.S.A. By now WYD is a week-long event, with three Catechesis days, incorporating all aspects of pilgrimage and reconciliation, particularly between the Church and the Native People of North America, and the Way of the Cross.

The Way of the Cross was popular in the first centuries of the Church, when people would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem in order to visit the different places of the passion of Christ. In the 15th century, Turks invaded the Holy Land preventing people from making pilgrimages to Jerusalem. And so, people started to pray the “Via Crucis” where they were. Throughout time, Catholic popular culture developed 14 “stations” representing the various stages of the passion of Christ.

In Denver, WYD pilgrims were gathered in a stadium while a group of actors moved from Station to Station, bringing them to life and helping the participants enter into the mystery of the Passion.

In Toronto we closed one of the city’s main avenues, University Avenue and “took over” the city in order to recreate these final moments of the life of Christ.

This is another important part of WYDs: it’s not to stick all the Catholics in one place where no one can see them, to “ghetto-ize” them, but to “make the avenues of the city resound with the joy and love of Christ.” In Toronto, Christ was condemned in front of City Hall, and took up his cross in front of the city’s courthouse. He fell for the first time in front of the U.S. Embassy and consoled the women of Jerusalem in front of Toronto General Hospital. He was crucified and died in front of the Provincial Parliament Buildings and was buried in front of the Royal Ontario Museum. Some 300,000 young pilgrims filled Toronto streets and hundreds of thousands others, watched on secular national television (and millions worldwide) while a group of actors moved from station to station. Hundreds of thousands prayed this beautiful Catholic devotion in the middle of a completely secular city. Who says that young people are not interested in Catholic traditions?

wyd-jpiivigilwavinghandsIn 1995 WYD travelled to the South Pacific to the Philippine Islands. The Closing Mass was the largest gathering of Catholics in history, perhaps followed in size only by the funeral of Pope John Paul II. It is interesting to note that it’s never the Papal Welcome Ceremony or the Saturday night Vigil, the most “fun” events, that attract the most people. It’s always the Closing Mass. Young people want to go to Mass. The youth want to celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist. That is why every WYD begins with a Mass and concludes with a Mass. Every Catechesis Session ends with a Mass. The Eucharist is the reason why Catholics gather.

In 2005, in Cologne, Germany, the Saturday Night Vigil was adapted to include a time of Exposition, Adoration and Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. This was appropriate for that year’s event since the theme was “we have come to adore Him”. This is another reason why we gather for WYDs: to adore Him and we do so in His Real Presence. It’s clear to see that all those things that make us Catholic are the very core components of every WYD.

In 1997, in Paris, France, WYD introduced the Youth Festival. This is one component of WYD that allows young people to be co-producers of the event. In Paris, most of the Youth Festival events were organised by Lay Movements and Associations, and Religious Communities. In Toronto, many of the events were organised by individuals. There were events hosted by Eastern Rite communities, by Aboriginal People and for the disabled. There were more than 900 Youth Festival events: music, dance, theatre, cultural and religious gatherings, prayer meetings, discussion groups and a film festival. WYD is a celebration and the Youth Festival exemplifies this.

So what do we have so far? A pilgrimage together, under the cross, towards Christ, to meet with the Holy Father and the Church, with each other, to learn about, connect with and celebrate our Faith and we do so in a spirit of reconciliation and worship, along with Mary.

Photos WYD08/Getty Images

Why WYD? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Why WYD? Part 3 of 6: Pilgrims Together

In 1987, Pope John Paul II invited youth to meet him in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This gathering lasted a couple of days and provided an opportunity for the youth to learn more about their Faith and encounter the Church. This is what the Catechesis Sessions are for. We all know priests. They are the face of the Church to the world. But, how many of us know Bishops? Bishops are supposed to be the shepherds of the Church, but frequently, these servants, are relegated to the role of administrators. The Catechesis Sessions give the Bishops the opportunity to be Shepherds and give the youth the opportunity to actively participate as “sheep.” During WYD 2002, 250 Bishops came from around the world and there were 387 Catechesis Sessions in 17 different languages. And these sessions were packed with youth. Attendance was incredible! Young people want to know about the Church and about the Faith. They want to learn the Catechism and participate in Church.

In 1989, JPII invited young people to make a pilgrimage with him to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. In the Basilica of Santiago rest the supposed remains of the Apostle James. Hundreds of thousands of people make a pilgrimage every year on the Camino de Santiago (the road of St. James), from France and the north of Spain.

What is a pilgrimage? A trip, a journey… What is the difference between a tourist and a pilgrim? The tourist arrives with an empty suitcase, but returns home with a heavy one full of stuff. A pilgrim returns home with a much lighter load. The tourist may go through a lot of places, but pilgrims lets the places go through them.

WYD is a pilgrimage – a journey, but not a journey full of comforts and nice hotels. It is a journey done on foot, where you sleep on the floor… in Toronto, on the Saturday morning, everyone walked, from different places, towards Downsview Park – a walk that helped all of us enter into the mystery of what it means to be a pilgrim. The fact that for WYD most participants stay in schools and parishes and sleep on the floor is not just to save money. It’s because it’s a pilgrimage. And that’s why we go: as pilgrims, to meet the Church, under the Cross.

In 1991 we were invited to another pilgrimage. This time it was to the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Czestochowa, Poland, a place that JPII loved. This WYD was extraordinary because of the recent fall of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe. A few years before, such a gathering would not have been possible in an Eastern European nation. And JPII was instrumental in helping bring an end to communism. But the “east” represents much more. Most of us don’t know that as well as the Roman Rite (which most of us belong to), in the Catholic Church, there are 17 Eastern Rites. These include the Ukrainian, the Maronite, Melkite, and Syrian Rite, among others. They are all Catholic. They are all part of the same Faith. In Toronto, for the first time, all the Rites of the Church participated completely in the planning of the event.

In order to bring together these Rites, we need reconciliation, since reconciliation is an integral part of our Faith. Of course, it is also an integral part of WYDs. During WYD 2002, more than 100,000 youth celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation in “Duc In Altum” (set out into the deep”, Luke 5:4), Park, with hundreds of priests in dozens of languages. Who says that young people don’t go to Confession!

Czestochowa is also a Marian Shrine: Our Lady of Jasna Góra. It’s important to recall that Mary is our Mother. She is the Mother of all Saints – she is our advocate. At the foot of the cross, Jesus said to his beloved disciple John: “here is your mother… take her into your home.” Jesus asks us all to bring Mary home with us, because just as Christ came to the world through this woman, the world can also get to Christ, through His Mother, Mary.

In Czestochowa, the Young people presented the Holy Father with an Icon of Mary. Icons are part of the Eastern Catholic tradition and since 1991 every WYD has included an Icon of Mary. In Toronto, the Icon was of the presentation of the Wise Men: the Mother, the Son and those from other lands and cultures who have come to adore him, which was the theme of the following WYD, in 2005 in Cologne, Germany.

And so we have World Youth Days: Meetings with the Holy Father, with the Church, under the Cross, in pilgrimage with Mary, in the spirit of reconciliation.

Photos WYD08/Getty Images

Why WYD? Part 1, Part 2

WYD 1991 – Czestochowa, Poland

World Youth Day 1995 ManilaTheme “You have received a spirit of sonship” (Rom 8:15)

Message of the Holy Father on the occasion of WYD 1991, Czestochowa
Vatican City, 15 August 1990 – Dear young people!1. The World Youth Days mark important stages in the life of the Church, as she seeks to intensify her commitment to evangelization in today’s world, looking towards the year 2000. By proposing every year for your meditation certain essential truths of the Gospel teaching… read more

Why WYD? Part 2 of 6: The Beginning

John Paul II’s inspiration to have these World Youth Days was like finding gold. Everything began with the Second Vatican Council. It was then that, thanks to the influence of some Cardinals, such as the one from Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, that the hierarchical Church made a move to include more of the Laity.

During the pontificate of Paul VI, the Church was trying to figure out how to make this whole youth thing make sense. Someone suggested inviting youth to Rome for an “encounter.”
There is a rumour that John Paul II, after being elected Pope, was on retreat near Assisi during a youth gathering called “Giovanni Verso Assisi,” “Youth Towards Assisi”. I was in Assisi for this same gathering in 2001 – there were some 3000 young people from all over Italy. It was like a mini-WYD. They say that this original gathering gave JPII an idea.

As it turns out, in 1984, the Holy Year of Redemption, JPII invited youth from around the world to come to Rome, to St. Peter’s Square, for Palm Sunday. Skeptics predicted that perhaps some three kids would show up and publicly proclaim their faith. On the contrary, some 300,000 came! On this occasion, John Paul II gave the youth of the world a simple wooden cross – the cross that has become a symbol, the Olympic torch, for World Youth Days. This cross is the first aspect of the why of WYD.

For one year before each WYD, the Cross travels around the host country visiting schools, jails, malls, old-age homes, discos… those places which most need the Cross.

Here in Canada, the Cross went from east coast to west coast, to north coast, travelling by car, truck, bus, plane, boat, sailboat, canoe, snowmobile and helicopter, and went into the most remote communities in the country — even those places where there are no roads. The WYD Cross brought the country together in ways that nothing else had before. For the last 40 days of the Cross’ journey, it was brought on foot, from Montrèal to Toronto. While it traveled through towns and villages, groups of young people, adults and children would join on the pilgrimage – they would take turns carrying it – praying with it. The Cross is one of the reasons for WYD. But not so much the Cross that reminds us of the suffering and passion. Instead, the Cross without which there is no redemption, no salvation and no resurrection!

1985 was declared the International Year of Youth by the United Nations. John Paul II thought that it would be appropriate to once again invite the youth back to Rome. This time many more came. Why? What did that old man have that attracted the youth so much? John Paul II was the only living person who could gather so many people in one place – not one Rock Star has been able to gather so many people at one time. In Toronto 800,000 people came to celebrate the Closing Mass with the Holy Father. That day, Downsview Park became the 7th largest city in Canada. For WYD 2000 in Rome, during the Year of the Jubilee, 2 million people attended the Closing Mass. In the Philippines in 1995, 5 million people were with JPII for the WYD Final Mass! And we all know that the population of Rome doubled in size, to 6 million, for a final farewell to this great Pope.

Many of us can remember the young crowds cheering, “John Paul II, we love you”. Often he would respond, “John Paul II, he loves you.” John Paul II used to say that he loved young people. I think it was much more. JPII understood that the youth are not the Church of tomorrow: they are the Church of today. When he met them, he encountered the Church of today. At the same time, the youth, when meeting with the Pope, with any Pope, meet with the hierarchical Church and can connect with the tradition and structure of the Church. That’s another reason why young people come to WYD: to meet with the Pope and with the Church. The motto of World Youth Days since its beginning has been The Pope and Young People Together. So at WYDs we have a meeting of the Lay Church with the Hierarchical Church, under the Cross.

Part 1