The World Youth Days have a lasting effect on the young people that participate from around the world. And the same is true for the host cities. In this special presentation for the ten year anniversary of WYD Toronto, former National Director and CEO of WYD Toronto, and current CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B. visits some of the memorable sites, recounts the event and shares his personal memories of Blessed John Paul II with host Sebastian Gomes.
How John Paul II was close to me in WYD 2002
We sow seeds, often unknowingly, which yield fruit and great meaning in the future. Sow generously, God gives the growth. This is the story of a little table that brought someone close to John Paul II.
In 2002, I was 16 years old and had just finished grade 10. That summer was to be my first time attending World Youth Day. My parents raised me Catholic and every Sunday we went diligently to mass. I remember often resisting going to mass, and just felt too bored by the whole experience of being Catholic. During those years of my life I had no interest in anything religious. Going to World Youth Day that summer was going to be more a trip to be with “friends” than an anticipated spiritual experience. I look back now, particularly with our celebration of World Youth Day Toronto’s 10th anniversary and recall to myself the seeds that were planted and the story that was to unexpectedly unfold.
My father is a carpenter, he works for a company that owns many apartment buildings throughout the Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph and Cambridge area. The daughter of the owner of the company is married to Scott, who was responsible for sound system in Downsview Park. Leading up to the week of World Youth Day the Cardinal in charge of the main stage made it known that custom “furniture” was necessary for the Holy Father’s visit. Scott got wind of this need and contacted Frank, my father’s boss. My dad, known to be a Polish man who practiced his faith was asked: “Would you like to build a special table and podium for John Paul II?” [Read more...]
Jesus made his own the call to holiness already addressed by God to the people of the old covenant: “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy (Lev 19:2)”. He repeated it continually by word and by the example of his life. Especially in the Sermon on the Mount he left to the Church a code of Christian holiness. The history of Christian holiness is the proof that by living in the spirit of the Beatitudes proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:3-12), Christ’s exhortation in the parable of the vine and the branches is realized: “Abide in me, and I in you…. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (Jn 15:4, 5). These words are verified in many ways in the lives of individual Christians, thereby showing, down the centuries, the manifold riches and beauty of the holiness of the Church.
Become the Saints of the New Millennium
Pope John Paul II spoke frequently to young people about the call to holiness and the vocation to be saints. Who can forget his message for World Youth Day 2000 in Rome? He wrote to his dear young friends throughout the world unforgettable words that became the rallying cry for the Jubilee’s greatest celebration: “Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity”.
Two years later for World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, John Paul II took up once again the theme of holiness and saints in The Way of the Cross on Good Friday in his Private Chapel (25 March 2005)his message to the young people of the world: “Just as salt gives flavor to food and light illumines the darkness, so too holiness gives full meaning to life and makes it reflect God’s glory. How many saints, especially young saints, can we count in the Church’s history! In their love for God their heroic virtues shone before the world, and so they became models of life which the Church has held up for imitation by all…. Through the intercession of this great host of witnesses, may God make you too, dear young people, the saints of the third millennium!”
At the concluding Mass of Canada’s World Youth Day at Downsview Park on Sunday, 28 July, 2002, Pope John Paul issued a stirring challenge that still resounds in North America, in particular, today: “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. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit, just as Kateri Tekakwitha did here in America and so many other young people have done”.
In announcing the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne – an event he would not live to see, Pope John Paul II sent a letter to the young people of the world: “Dear young people, the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. Many have gone before us along this path of Gospel heroism, and I urge you to turn often to them to pray for their intercession.”
Attending his first World Youth Day as pope, Benedict XVI built on the his predecessor’s repeated invitations to young people and at the great vigil of Cologne’s World Youth Day on August 20, 2005, Benedict cried out at Marienfeld:
“It is the great multitude of the saints – both known and unknown – in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; he has done this throughout history and he still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture-book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today.”
“The saints… are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.”
Friends of God
During his Pontificate, Pope 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. In a world that desperately seeks authentic heroes and heroines, John Paul II presented us with the real heroes and heroines of the faith who will never let us down.
Pope John Paul II reminded us that the heroes and heroines the world offers the world today are terribly flawed. They leave us so empty. The real “stars” of Pope John Paul II are the Saints and Blesseds who did not try to be regarded as heroes, or to shock or provoke. He taught us that the saints aren’t just people to turn to when something is lost or a situation seems hopeless; they are examples to follow in prayer and in efforts to reform and renew the church. If we befriend the blesseds and saints and imitate their lives, we too embark on the path of holiness.
We must honestly ask ourselves if the Holy Father’s important teaching on the Blesseds and Saints has become an integral part of our catechesis, Evangelization and formation of young people today. Have we have placed our pastoral work with young people under the heading of holiness? Have we invited them to truly desire to be saints?
When the throngs of people — so many of them the young men and women who were his spiritual sons and daughters — began chanting “Santo Subito” at the end of the Pope’s funeral mass on April 8, 2005, what were they really chanting? They were crying out that in Karol Wojtyla, they saw someone who lived with God and lived with us. He was a sinner who experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness. He looked at us, loved us, embraced us, healed us and gave us hope. He taught us not to be afraid. He showed us how to live, how to love, how to forgive and how to die. He taught us how to embrace the cross in the most excruciating moments of life, knowing that the cross was not God’s final answer.
If the Church proclaims Pope John Paul II blessed, it is because he lived with God, relying totally on God’s infinite, divine mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. Pope John Paul II gave flesh and blood to the Beatitudes throughout his entire lifetime. He let us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and showed us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth. A great part of the success of his message is due to the fact that he was surrounded by a tremendous cloud of witnesses who stood by him and strengthened him throughout his life. Is it any wonder, then, that millions of young people throughout the world loved him and took up his invitation to become the “saints of the new millennium?”
The Church is the “home of holiness” and holiness is our most accurate image, our authentic calling card, and our greatest gift to the world. It describes best who and what we are and strive to be. In the life of Karol Wojtyla, holiness was contagious. Pope John Paul II was not only “Holy Father” but a Father who was and is Holy. On 2 April, 2005, he died a public, global death that stopped the world for several days. On 8 April, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the world that the Holy Father was watching and blessing us ‘from the window of the Father’s House’”.
As we prepare for Sunday May 1, 2011, the Beatification of this great servant and priest, and a real hero for young people today, let us beg his intercession and blessing. May he intercede for us and give us the desire to become holy and to be saints.
Thomas Rosica, csb, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada; Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; served as National Director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002, Canada
By: Mark J. Matthews
Some people may ask – in our age of mass media, instant communication and virtual telepresence, what’s the point of going to World Youth Day? Can’t our youth just read what the Pope has to say to them on the Vatican website? Although the reasons may not be obvious, I’ve found that being present in-person is one of the most important things we can do, and far more is communicated in-person than most of us realize.
If I look to my professional life, I’ve found attending conferences to be extremely valuable. Times I’ve been unable to attend, I found myself saying: “I’ll read the proceedings later.” Though the presentations are video taped, and presenters are happy to answer questions via e-mail, the experience for me is drastically different; there is no way that I could absorb all that information as quickly as I could at a conference. What bothers me the most about this is that I don’t understand why!
I have a number of good friends who live far away, so I make point of calling them every few months to keep in touch. What I find interesting is that when I visit them in person we enter into conversations that we just normally wouldn’t on the phone. It’s not that we don’t trust each other, or are purposely holding anything back – there is a great amount of trust in these friendships, but it’s just not the same. Yet, I don’t understand why. I’m talking to the same person on the phone, so shouldn’t it be the same conversation?
There is much more going on when we are present in person. Pope John Paul II explored these ideas in his famous Theology of the Body (TOB). Many Catholics think of TOB as “the sex subject”, but TOB is so much more. TOB expounds on everything regarding the body, and these in-the-body conferences and friendships are no exception.
We have to be humble and accept that our minds are weak. Just because I say that I am going to discipline myself and learn the same material on-line, doesn’t mean that I will really do it. And being with a friend in person, just isn’t the same as talking to them on the phone. Something subconsciously within us doesn’t accept the full reality of the situation because it doesn’t engage all of our senses.
So is it any coincidence then that the pope that penned TOB, is also the same pope that founded World Youth Days? I don’t think so. JP II wisely realized the profound impact that bringing young people together in one physical location within the church can have.
My experience of World Youth Day was an incredible experience of the universality of the church. In 2000 it was held in the heart of the church – Rome. Seeing all the ancient buildings there, yet seeing how active they were occupied by the church, made me realize that church is alive, and has been thriving since it’s foundation over 2000 years ago. It was a time of incredible grace for me, cementing my faith in a very deep way.
Turning our experiences of faith into an experience of the senses is a very Catholic idea. We are beings of the flesh and properly engaging all our senses is a way to grow our faith; perhaps this is why Christ gave us the sacraments. Incarnating our faith in the world builds faith in our hearts. Seeking out Christ in a trip to WYD is a sign of truly seeking him out with our hearts. And after all, He sought us out first by pilgrimaging to us in Bethlehem.
Mark J. Matthews is an illustrator living in Los Angeles. His “Undercover Missionary” segments can be heard on Salt + Light Radio.
Let Blessed John Paul II help you understand the Rosary with this fine video clip that Salt and Light, sponsors of FFM, created for the FIRM IN THE FAITH WITH MARY Campaign.
My name is Gemma. I am currently in my second year of a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in History, at Australian Catholic University’s Melbourne Campus.
I am extremely excited at the prospect of attending my first World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, as well as the pre-pilgrimage “In the Footsteps of John Paul II”.
My decision to go to WYD Madrid came following my first pilgrimage to Rome in October 2010 for the Canonisation of Saint Mary MacKillop. It was during my stay in Rome that I came to appreciate, more, the gift of faith that I have been given and the unique and rich history of the Catholic Church. This inspired me to strive for a deeper understanding of my faith and I hope that my journey to Madrid will play an important part in achieving this goal.
To me World Youth Day Madrid will be, like those before it, a witness to the true Universality of the Catholic Church. It will prove to the world that the faith is alive and growing amongst the youth of the world. I recently attended a talk being given in Melbourne that discussed the “Catholic gift to Civilisation”. It explored the Church’s contributions to architecture, science, education and music, just a few which belong to a very long list, highlighting that the Catholic Church is indeed “a force for good” in the world today. The Church continues to contribute today and proof of this is the gift of WYD which Blessed John Paul II bestowed on the Catholic Youth which has the power to influence all those receptive to the Word of God.
Some might ask why one would travel such as long way to hear the Holy Father speak. For me WYD Madrid will be the time when the Holy Father will be specifically addressing us as young members of the Catholic Church about the Church’s teachings, encouraging us to remain strong, live the faith in our daily lives and be witnesses to the faith through our example. The message of the Holy Father is especially inspiring as he is speaking as Jesus Christ’s representative on earth and I don’t want to be the one to miss it!
In the lead up to this pilgrimage I have attended information sessions which have, not only provided practical information about our fantastic itinerary, packing, and learning the WYD hymn but also imparted good advice on the importance of being spiritually prepared in order to receive fully the graces that will flow forth during this time. I have also sought to learn more about the life of Blessed John Paul II in whose footsteps we will be humbly travelling.
I wish all my fellow pilgrims a wonderful and safe journey as we all strive to be “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith”.
~ Gemma Green
An excerpt of the book: Northern Lights: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Spiritual Writing by Canadians
By Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
In July 2002, Toronto hosted the 17th International World Youth Day. Several hundred thousand young people from 172 nations descended upon the city—and with them came the elderly and infirm Pope John Paul II. To kick off the event on July 23, the pope defied all odds and stunned all critics when he painstakingly walked down the steps of that Alitalia plane at Pearson International Airport instead of using the special lift prepared for him.
To the government officials gathered at the airport and to and the people of Canada, the pope spoke these words: “Canadians are heirs to an extraordinarily rich humanism, enriched even more by the blend of many different cultural elements… In a world of great social and ethical strains, and confusion about the very purpose of life, Canadians have an incomparable treasure to contribute – on condition that they preserve what is deep, and good, and valid in their own heritage.”
Toronto may have lost the Olympic bid two years earlier, but it struck gold with World Youth Day, which I was privileged to serve as director. The sheer numbers of people taking part in the four days of events astounded us. More than 350,000 people packed Exhibition Place on Thursday afternoon, July 25, for the opening ceremony with Pope John Paul II.
Then, the following evening, Toronto’s majestic University Avenue was transformed into the Via Dolorosa of Jerusalem as more than half a million people took part in the ancient Stations of the Cross. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Canada told us that the worldwide television audience that night was more than a billion people in 160 countries.
The deeply moving Saturday evening candlelight vigil at Downsview Park drew together more than 600,000 people, and the concluding Papal mass on Sunday, with its atmospheric theatrics, gathered 850,000 people at a former military base. Even the most cynical among us could not help but be impressed, even moved by the streams of young people who expressed their joy at being Christians in a complex and war-torn world.
On the tarmac that Saturday evening of the vigil, John Paul II spoke to the young people. “The new millennium opened with two contrasting scenarios,” he declared. “One, the sight of multitudes of pilgrims coming to Rome during the Great Jubilee to pass through the Holy Door which is Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer; and the other, the terrible terrorist attack on New York, an image that is a sort of icon of a world in which hostility and hatred seem to prevail. The question that arises is dramatic: On what foundations must we build the new historical era that is emerging from the great transformations of the 20th century? Is it enough to rely on the technological revolution now taking place, which seems to respond only to criteria of productivity and efficiency, without reference to the individual’s spiritual dimension or to any universally shared ethical values? Is it right to be content with provisional answers to the ultimate questions, and to abandon life to the impulses of instinct, to short-lived sensations or passing fads?”
The provocative images the Pope evoked that night remain engraved on people’s memories. Terrorism, along with ethnic and religious divisions, generates violence that seems to have no end. Economic insecurity raises collective anxieties. And against that backdrop, we heard our challenge – to recover the depth, beauty, and vastness of the church’s mission.
Pedagogy with young people
Pope John Paul II had a particular fascination for and effective ministry among young people. The two largest recorded crowds in history have been for World Youth Day masses. In the midst of those great gatherings and the hundreds of meetings with young people, the pontiff left us pedagogy, a way of meeting and accompanying the young along the journey. One of the hallmarks of his interaction with young people was John Paul II’s calling them “his young friends.” And he meant it. As we observed that summer in Toronto, he enjoyed the company of youth.
Challenge was one of John Paul II’s favorite terms. During World Youth Day, he challenged young people to be “brave,” “strong,” to “have courage.” He saw in the valor of so many of his own contemporaries during World War II the capacity of young people for this type of bravery, courage, and heroism.
His parting words from the Downsview Park stage still resound in my ears: “You are young, and the pope is old; 82 or 83 years of life is not the same as 22 or 23. But the pope still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations. Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope, the young are our hope. Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”
The experiences of World Youth Days in recent years have brought much new life to each of the countries where the great events have taken place. More than five years after the great event of Toronto 2002, we need to take stock of the gifts we received, asking how the vision and hope of John Paul II have impacted our own efforts in pastoral ministry with young people.
What we learned
What have the joy, exuberance, and creativity surrounding the 2002 World Youth Day taught us, and how have they transformed youth and young adult ministry in the Canadian church? Have we followed through with the commitments we made then? How have we initiated a “preferential option” for young people in the church today? How can we give the flavour of the gospel and the light of Christ to the world today?
One of the important goals of World Youth Day is to instill hope and vibrancy in the church—to differ with the cynicism, despair, and meaninglessness so prevalent in the world today. John Paul II knew well that our world today offers fragmentation, loneliness, alienation, and rampant globalization that exploits the poor.
In recent years we have witnessed a phenomenon that our current Pope Benedict once called “a dictatorship of relativism,”—the deconstruction of all objectivity in our perceptions of reality. We have witnessed the crisis of marriage and family life. We see the loss of respect for human life and human dignity. We see the serious crisis of fatherhood in our contemporary world.
The preparation for World Youth Day 2002 offered the Church in Canada some unique and profound moments to deepen our Christian devotion. Many Canadians are unlikely to forget the powerful images of the World Youth Day Cross on its historic, 43,000 kilometre pilgrimage through more than 350 cities, towns and villages – from sea to sea to sea to sea.
The presentation of the Stations of the Cross on Friday evening, July 26, 2002, was 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?
During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II proclaimed 482 saints. Young adults need heroes and heroines today, and the Pope gave us outstanding models of holiness and humanity at each World Youth Day, especially ours in Canada. The saints and blessed ones remind us that on the path to heaven, we are never finished; we are only and always on the way. When we think of holiness in these terms – as a kind of direction, rather than a destination – we have a sense that what unites us with the saints, our fellow travelers, is much deeper than all that sets us apart.
John Paul II summed up the whole mission as: “Meet Christ, become friends with him, announce to others the miracle of his love!”. His strategy and pedagogy with young people was endless patience; loving closeness and a call to be saints.
The theme of Canada’s 2002 World Youth Day was “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world” taken from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5. This theme served as a leitmotiv during the build-up to World Youth Day 2002, for the event itself, and in the follow-up in local churches throughout the world. It also inspired the establishement Canada’s first national Catholic television network, Salt and Light Television, which I was asked to direct in 2003.
During World Youth Days, bishops and cardinals serve as teachers and catechists. Thousands of young people gather around them to hear reflections based on the Word of God, and in particular on the theme of the event. This novel invention has taken on a life of its own, becoming an intrinsic part of the celebrations. Not only have the teaching sessions become a unique encounter between generations, but also an opportunity to proclaim and preach the Word of God across cultures, offering to young people concrete possibilities for living a biblically rooted life.
In Toronto, we saw another unique gift of John Paul II: fatherhood. In “Radiation of Fatherhood,” the 1964 drama he wrote when he was still Polish Bishop Karol Wojtyla, he suggested that becoming a father meant being “conquered by love,” which liberates us from the false freedom of self-absorption. For millions of young people worldwide, the pope’s spiritual fatherhood was a reflection of the fatherhood of God. I’m convinced that the young people responded to him so positively because in many cases he was the father they never had and the grandfather they never knew.
During the celebrations of 2002, John Paul II offered us powerful opportunities to become bearers of hope, agents of community, neighbors to those around us, and instruments of a moral globalization that must accompany all other globalization efforts. He challenged us to give a reason for the hope we have to the people we meet day by day – to know our faith, to be ready to explain it and, if necessary, defend it.
Boldness and solidarity
As we think further about his call to the transformation of Canadian culture and to deeply Christian roots, I offer two words that I see as key: boldness and solidarity. They come out of the strategy of the early Church as seen in Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts chapter 4, Peter and John were arrested and brought before the officials. They were interrogated, threatened, and ordered to speak no longer in the name of Jesus the Lord. Once they were released, their community uttered a remarkable prayer. It wasn’t about the actual harm inflicted on the believers but about the fact that the word of God was chained, threatened, and suffocated.
The community prayed for guidance. It wanted to understand the events in the light of faith, to discover the meaning of what had happened. When they had prayed, we read, the place in which they were gathered was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word with boldness.
Then in chapter 18 we see the apostle Paul facing hostility in Corinth. The Lord responds in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching the people the word of God. What a wonderful encouragement this is – that we not despair. We are not alone. God has many friends with whom we can develop prayerful networks of solidarity and friendship.
World Youth Day in Canada woke us up, infused us with joy, and reminded us of our gifts. It reminded us of the qualities of hospitality, tolerance, and peacemaking that have characterized this nation. It called us back to our deeply Christian origins and heritage. As we bask in the radiant memories of the summer of 2002, we can admit now that it was no panacea or quick fix to the problems facing us today. It was not a show, a rave party, a protest, or photo opportunity. It was an invitation. Against a global background of terror and fear, economic collapse in many countries, and ecclesial scandals, World Youth Day 2002 presented a bold, alternative vision of compelling beauty, hope, and joy. They give us courage and solidarity to help future generations.
Father Thomas Rosica was National Director of World Youth Day 2002 and currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network.
Allow me to begin this evening’s presentation with the words of Pope Paul VI addressed to the “Youth of the World” on December 8, 1965, at the close of the Second Vatican Council in Rome:
“The Church looks to you with confidence and with love. Rich with a long past ever living in her, and marching on toward human perfection in time and the ultimate destinies of history and of life, the Church is the real youth of the world. She possesses what constitutes the strength and the charm of youth, that is to say the ability to rejoice with what is beginning, to give oneself unreservedly, to renew one’s self and to set out again for new conquests. Look upon the Church and you will find in her the face of Christ, the genuine, humble and wise Hero, the prophet of truth and love, the companion and friend of youth. It is in the name of Christ that we salute you, that we exhort and bless you.”
Though first spoken in 1965, long before World Youth Days began, these words served as a leitmotif for Pope John Paul II as he would launch these great “laboratories” of faith twenty years later. Through these national and international gatherings, the Holy has made it very clear: young people are not only the future of the church, but they are also its present. The experiences of World Youth Days in Argentina, Spain, Poland, Denver, Manila, Paris, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia, and soon once again Spain have brought so much new life to each of the countries where the great events took place.
In July 2002, Toronto hosted the 17th International World Youth Day. Several hundred thousand young people from 172 nations descended upon the city—and with them came the elderly and infirm Pope John Paul II. Toronto may have lost the Olympic bid two years earlier, but it struck gold with World Youth Day, which I was privileged to serve as its national director and Chief Executive Officer. The sheer numbers of people taking part in the four days of events astounded us. More than 350,000 people packed Exhibition Place on Thursday afternoon, July 25, for the opening ceremony with Pope John Paul II.
The following evening, Toronto’s majestic University Avenue was transformed into the Via Dolorosa of Jerusalem as more than half a million people took part in the ancient Stations of the Cross. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Canada told us that the worldwide television audience numbered more than a billion people in 160 countries.
The spectacular Saturday evening candlelight vigil at Downsview Park drew together more than 600,000 people, and the concluding papal mass on Sunday, with its atmospheric special effects, gathered 850,000 people at a former military base in the city. Even the most cynical among us could not help but be impressed, even moved, by the streams of young people who expressed their joy at being Christians in a complex and war-torn world.
On the tarmac for the Saturday evening vigil, John Paul II spoke to the young people: “The new millennium opened with two contrasting scenarios,” he declared. “One, the sight of multitudes of pilgrims coming to Rome during the Great Jubilee to pass through the Holy Door which is Christ, our Savior and Redeemer; and the other, the terrible terrorist attack on New York, an image that is a sort of icon of a world in which hostility and hatred seem to prevail. The question that arises is dramatic: On what foundations must we build the new historical era that is emerging from the great transformations of the 20th century? Is it enough to rely on the technological revolution now taking place, which seems to respond only to criteria of productivity and efficiency, without reference to the individual’s spiritual dimension or to any universally shared ethical values? Is it right to be content with provisional answers to the ultimate questions, and to abandon life to the impulses of instinct, to short-lived sensations or passing fads?”
The provocative images the pope evoked that night remain engraved on people’s memories. In fact throughout the Pope’s messages delivered to us those blessed days, he touched upon all that had challenged us in our two-year preparation period. During the Angelus prayer at Downsview Park that Sunday, July 28, 2002, before a crowd of nearly 850,000 people and a worldwide television audience of millions, Pope John Paul II summed up beautifully the sentiments of millions of people who were touched in some way by World Youth Day 2002:
“As we prepare to return home, I say, in the words of Saint Augustine: “We have been happy together in the light we have shared. We have really enjoyed being together. We have really rejoiced. But as we leave one another, let us not leave Him.”
Canada needed World Youth Days to call us back to our deeply Christian origins and heritage. It is only when a nation and a society reclaim their original identity that they can ever hope to become authentically multicultural, tolerant, and open to others.
Through World Youth Days and reinvigorated youth and young adult pastoral ministry in the universal Church, Pope John Paul II unleashed something totally new, unthinkable back in 1984 when he launched this bold pastoral plan. But it is important to realize that Pope John Paul II did not invent World Youth Days. Rather, they were born in the heart of a young, polish priest by the name of Karol Wojtyla, who from the very beginning of his priestly ministry, made a special place for young people in his life. His example is clear to each of us if we hope to reach the young. Make a place for them in your heart and ministry from the very beginning.
The experiences of World Youth Days in recent years have brought much new life to each of the countries where the great events have taken place. One of the important goals of World Youth Day is to instill hope and vibrancy in the church—to differ with the cynicism, despair, and meaninglessness so prevalent in the world today. Pope John Paul II knew well that our world today offers fragmentation, loneliness, alienation, and rampant globalization that exploit the poor.
In preparing for World Youth Day in Canada, I read “Life After God” a collection of short stories published in 1994 by the Canadian author Douglas Coupland. The stories are set around a theme of a generation raised without religion. On the jacket of the book was this line: “You are the first generation to be raised without religion”. I copied one quote of that book and kept it on my desk throughout the preparation for World Youth Day 2002. Coupland wrote:
“Now — here is my secret; I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God — that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me to be kind as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love as I seem beyond being able to love.”
Those words were a daily reminder of the generation we were trying to reach and serve through World Youth Day 2002. What then, have the joy, exuberance, and creativity surrounding the 2002 World Youth Day taught us, and how have they transformed youth and young adult ministry in the Canadian church? How have we initiated a “preferential option” for young people in the church today? How can we give the flavor of the gospel and the light of Christ to the world today? I will attempt to answer these questions from our Canadian experience through a series of nine points I have formulated over the past nine years of “Life After World Youth Day 2002.”
1. Pope John Paul’s biblical theme for WYD 2002 was providential and highly appropriate for our Canadian society and a world steeped in mediocrity and darkness. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). Pope Benedict’s brilliant choice of “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8) for the Sydney experience of World Youth Day 2008 allowed the young people of the world to encounter or perhaps rediscover the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives and in the life of the Church.
During World Youth Days, bishops and cardinals serve as teachers and catechists. Thousands of young people gather around them to hear reflections from the Word of God flowing from the biblical theme of the event. This novel invention has taken on a life of its own, becoming an intrinsic part of the celebrations. How many times was this evoked at the last Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2008, that focused on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church!” The catechetical teaching sessions on Scripture have become not only a unique encounter between generations, but also an opportunity to proclaim and preach the Word of God across cultures, offering to young people concrete possibilities for living a biblically rooted life.
How do we build on the biblical themes of World Youth Days, deepen them, allow them to penetrate the heart of pastoral ministry with young people in our country? Does the bible play a significant part in our ministry with young people? What biblical stories and images animate our pastoral initiatives with young people? How often have we turned elsewhere to find “themes”, “ideas”, “fillers” for our work with young people, rather than drawing our deepest inspiration from biblical stories, biblical language, biblical themes that no consulting agency, pop-jargon or fleeting trends can offer?
2. World Youth Days offer deeply prayerful celebrations of the Eucharist, and opportunities to experience the Eucharistic Lord in moments of quiet prayer, adoration, and communal and individual worship. Liturgies of World Youth Day are prepared and planned with great diligence, care, precision and tremendous beauty. Through these moments young people are offered privileged moments of encounter with Jesus himself. These moments are enhanced by the careful selection of liturgical music that is not in competition with the world of theatre, spectacle and the surrounding din of noise and emptiness. And yet what do we do when the young people who have experienced such tremendous moments “come down from the mountain” and return to our parish communities?
3. During WYD 2002 in Toronto, over 100,000 young people celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It was the same in Syndey. It will continue in Madrid in August. 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?
4. World Youth Days offer the Church profound moments to experience and deepen our Christian piety and devotion. In Canada during 2001-2002, the historic, 43,000-km pilgrimage of the WYD Cross. I and many others were convinced that if, for some reason, the World Youth Day event itself would have to be cancelled because of the tragic aftermath of September 11, the pilgrimage of the Cross had already worked its miracles across our vast land and united the Church in ways that nothing was ever able to do previously.
The Stations of the Cross in both Toronto and Sydney were a spectacle for the world and offered a provocative witness of the Christian story in the heart of two modern cities. One year after World Youth Day 2002 had ended, the ever colorful, rather comical, Jewish mayor of the huge city of Toronto called a press conference to announce that he would no longer seek political office after 43 years of public service. At that memorable gathering before hoards of journalists, Mayor Lastman had on either side of him at the podium his rabbi and myself. In his farewell speech to the crowd that day, he said: “The crowning moment of my political career was on a Friday night last July, on the main boulevard of downtown Toronto, during the Jesus parade. (He never quite got the wording right for the “Stations of the Cross.) The Mayor then told the assembly: “That was the night that God claimed the city for his own.”
How will we continue these traditions of bold, public piety and devotion in our parish communities and youth activities? Will we go against the grain and acknowledge the need for solid, biblically rooted Christian piety and devotion in the lives of young people today? Will we share those moments with the culture and society around us?
5. During 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. Pope Benedict XVI spoke to that great assembly of over one million young people gathered in prayer at Marienfeld: “The saints…are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.”
Is the teaching of the Blesseds and Saints an integral part of our catechesis, Evangelization, formation of young people? In a world that desperately seeks authentic heroes and heroines, how often do we present the Blesseds and Saints as the real role models for young people today?
6. One of the significant contributions of World Youth Day 2002 to the universal Church and to young people throughout the world was the highly successful Vocations Pavilion at Exhibition Place. The security personnel informed us that 50-55,000 young people visited the pavilion each day for the week of World Youth Day 2002. Sydney built on that tradition through an excellent Vocation Centre at World Youth Day 2008. The phenomenon of World Youth Days has become a powerful seedbed for vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life, and lay ecclesial ministries. Whether it is because those who have already sensed a call choose to attend World Youth Days out of their strong faith life, or because World Youth Day awakens young adults for the first time to the special call of God, World Youth Days can be a moment of life-changing discernment.
The World Youth Day Vocation Harvest is underway throughout the world. It is not an instantaneous process, as we well know. Nevertheless seeds when are sown generously at each World Youth Day, there will be results in time… God’s time. We must sow with patience, generosity, hope and love. Others will water. The Lord will reap the harvest.
I have received many letters, testimonies, and witnesses from young people who speak convincingly that their vocations were born at large vigil ceremonies with John Paul II, during the Sacrament of Reconciliation at World Youth Days and in the midst of catechesis sessions. A whole new generation of young people identifies the World Youth Day experiences to be critical in their discernment process. In working with Catholic young adults, we have the responsibility and obligation to raise the subject of priestly, religious, and lay ministry vocations with openness, conviction, pastoral sensitivity and common sense.
How have our vocational strategies addressed these important questions flowing from the international experiences of World Youth Days? How often do we raise vocational questions with young people who have returned from World Youth Days?
7. I would like to refer to this point as “overcoming the crisis of ideologies” that has plagued my generation and several other generations. Excessive tensions arising from church politics, gender issues, liturgical practices, language, false interpretations of the Second Vatican Council – all of these influence today’s candidates for ordained ministry, religious life, and pastoral involvement in the Church. The grumblings, discontent, cynicism, fatigue, unfair labeling and pigeonholing of others, the lack of charity and hope of my generation and older generations rise to fever pitch, and keep us blinded to a new generation of young people who might be much more serious about Church, God and discipleship of Jesus than we are! Many of my generation do not wish to admit this fact. Young people today are discerning seekers. Many of them are freed from the labeling of my generation and many of them simply desire to be Catholic. Have we heard them? Are we helping or hindering them in their quest?
8. Pope John Paul II impressed upon the new generation the dignity and sacredness of human life, from the earliest moments to the final moments. Life is an extraordinary adventure, a God-given gift to be cherished, treasured, and protected. Is it any surprise that so many hundreds of thousands of young people consider themselves to be explicitly pro-life, while their parents are so whimsical and non-committal to the issues of life and death? In John Paul II’s “Culture of Life” we must make room for the stranger and the homeless. We must comfort and care for the sick and dying. We must look after the aged and the abandoned. We must welcome the immigrant. We must defend innocent children waiting to be born.
9. Pope John Paul II taught us that the adventure of orthodoxy, the beauty of marriage, the sacredness of family life, the challenge of fidelity and integrity, authenticity and solidarity — are what attracts young people today. Young people don’t want to live on the surface. In a world that constantly panders to the young, a challenging Church, which combines the truth with charity and pastoral care, is a very attractive proposition. How many times did John Paul II speak to young people at various World Youth Days throughout the world, reminding them that the family is the privileged place for the humanization of the person and of society, and that the future of the world and of the Church passes through it?
World Youth Day does not belong to one Pope
In remarks at the concluding Mass thanking Pope Benedict XVI, Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell said that World Youth Day acts as an antidote to images of Catholicism as in decline or wracked by controversy. “It shows the church as it really is, alive with evangelical energy.” Australian Cardinal, George Pell concluded his address to Pope Benedict XVI at Randwick Race Course with these prophetic and affirming 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.” I was very moved when I heard those words that morning at Randwick Race Course.
We may choose to speak of our World Youth Days as something in the past – that brightened the shadows and monotony of our lives at one shining moment in history. Some may wish to call those golden days “Camelot” moments. That is one way to consider the WYD – fading memories of extraordinary, triumphal moments in Church history.
There is, however, another way: the Gospel way. The Gospel story is not about “Camelot” but about “Magnificat”, 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. This way is not only nourished by memories, however good and beautiful they may be. The resurrection of Jesus is not a memory of a distant, past event, but it is Good News that continues to be fulfilled today – here and now. The Christian story is neither folklore nor nostalgia – a trip down triumphal church lane.
As we continue to bask in the glorious light of each of the WYD events, we must be honest and admit that World Youth Days offer no panacea or quick fix to the problems and challenges of our times, or the challenges facing the Church today as we reach out to younger generations. Instead, World Youth Days offer a new framework and new lenses through which we look at the Church and the world, and build our common future. One thing is clear: no one could go away from any World Youth Day thinking that it is possible to compartmentalize the faith or reduce it to a few rules and regulations and Sunday observances.
I began with inspiring and evocative words of Pope Paul VI addressed to the young people of the world at the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Allow me to conclude with words of another great Church leader, the American Cardinal James Francis Stafford, who served as President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and as such oversaw the World Youth Days in Paris, Rome and Toronto. I cannot help but recall Cardinal Stafford’s stirring words spoken to the throngs of young people gathered in St. Peter’s Square and its vicinity at the opening ceremonies of the rather apocalyptic Jubilee World Youth Day on August 15, 2000. Addressing a visibly moved and aging Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Stafford said:
“Holy Father! These young people come as pilgrims from 157 nations. …They all have come to the eternal City at your invitation. They wish to be with you, their Holy Father and the successor of St. Peter, and to hear you proclaim afresh to them: “Dear young people! Do not be afraid! Jesus is risen! We are one body in Christ!”
Not too long ago, it was an ominous portent when thousands of young people moved across national borders. Citizens trembled in fear. They closed and barricaded their doors. For those hosts of young men signified armies of war, instruments of destruction, plague and darkness.
At your initiative, Holy Father, these young men and women of Europe and of the world have formed a different kind of army. …Holy Father, you have seen clearly that these young people are the generation of the Second Vatican Council. They are “on pilgrimage from the Lord” (LG 6). They reflect the beauty envisioned by you and the Fathers of the Council. That beauty, still incomplete but ever orientated towards fullness, is found in the weaving of the various paradoxes of freedom and obedience, of faith and culture, of eros – passionate joy of living – and asceticism.
Holy Father, as you walked in the 1960′s to the 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.”
There could be no more fitting words to summarize the heart and depth of these extraordinary instruments of the New Evangelization that are now known as World Youth Days. Madrid’s World Youth Day has a very special patron this summer. What a great joy it will be in Madrid this August, when the Blessed founder of these events will joyously watch over the young people of the world and extend his arms in blessing over them from the window of the Father’s House!
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B; April 6, 2011
Knights of Columbus Museum; New Haven, Connecticut
“In this Cross, we see our Redemption, we see the victory of love over hate. We are all embraced in His Cross. We are all embraced by His saving Love. This is our faith; this is the hope we all have.” Pope John Paul II
A video by HM Television
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 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.