Join Mission Youth on their pilgrimage to WYD Madrid in August 2011.
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?
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!”
World 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 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?
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, 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
“I came that they might have life, and have it to the full” (cf. Jn 10:10)
Message of the Holy Father on the occasion of WYD 1993, Denver
Vatican city,15 August 1992 Dear Young People, 1. Following our meetings in Rome, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Compostela and Czestochowa, our pilgrimage through contemporary history continues. The next stop will be in Denver, in the heart of the United States, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado… read more
Cherry Creek State Park, Denver, 15 August 1993 Beloved Young People and Dear Friends in Christ,1. Today the Church finds herself, with Mary, on the threshold of the house of Zechariah in Ain–Karim. With new life stirring within her, the Virgin of Nazareth hastened there, immediately after the Fiat of the Annunciation, to be of help to her cousin Elizabeth…read more
Theme “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6)
Message of the Holy Father on the occasion of WYD 1989, Santiago de Compostela
Vatican city, 27 November 1988 Dear young people!I am happy to be with you once again in order to announce the celebration of the IV World Youth Day. In my dialogue with you, this Day has, indeed, a privileged place. It affords me the welcome opportunity of speaking to the young people… read more
“Monte del Gozo”, Spain, 20 August 1989 I cordially greet all those present!Inhabitants of numerous cities! Representatives of many peoples and nations! You have come here not just from Galicia, from the whole of Spain, from all over Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, but also from North America and Latin America, the Middle East, from Africa, Asia and Oceania… read more
Toronto played host to the 17th International World Youth Day, July 23 to 28, 2002. Along with several hundred thousand young people from 172 nations who descended upon the city came an elderly and infirm Pope who, defying all odds and stunning all critics, kicked off the week as he painstakingly walked down the steps of that Alitalia plane at Pearson International Airport on July 23 instead of using the special lift that had been prepared for him.
On that day at Pearson International Airport, Pope John Paul II spoke these words to government officials and the people of Canada:
“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 2002. The sheer numbers of people taking part in the Youth Day 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 in the heart of a modern city. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Canada told us that the worldwide television audience that night was more than one billion people in 160 countries of the world. 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 on the tarmac of a former military base.
Even the most cynical among us could not help but be impressed or 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, Pope John Paul II spoke these thought-provoking words to the young people gathered around him:
“The new millennium opened with two contrasting scenarios: 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 Saturday 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.
John Paul II’s pedagogy with young people
Pope John Paul II had a particular fascination for and effectiveness with young people. They came to him in record numbers during his Pontificate and history will show that the two largest recorded crowds in history were for WYD Masses and his funeral in 2005 that was attended by an overwhelming majority of young people.
In the midst of those great gatherings and the hundreds of audiences and meetings with young people, the Pontiff left us pedagogy, a way of meeting and accompanying the young along the journey. He did this by his example but also in explicit conversation with priests and bishops whom he encouraged to be more hopeful and more effective with young people. One of the hallmarks of the papal interaction with young people was John Paul II’s calling them “his young friends.” And he meant it. He enjoyed their company and loved spending time with them.
“Challenge” was one of John Paul II’s favorite terms. He challenged young people to be “brave,” “strong,” to “have courage.” He saw in the valor of so many of his own young contemporaries during the war and occupation the capacity of young people for this type of bravery, courage and heroism.
His parting words from the stage in Downsview Park in Toronto on Sunday July 28, 2002 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 Argentina, Spain, Poland, the USA, the Philippines, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia (2008) have brought so much new life to each of the countries where the great events took place. More than five years after the great event of Toronto 2002, we need to take stock of the gifts we received, and ask how the vision and hope of Pope John Paul II have impacted our own efforts in pastoral ministry with young people.
Lessons learned from World Youth Day 2002 in Canada
What have the joy, enthusiasm, exuberance and creativity of our World Youth Day experiences 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 in Toronto in 2002? 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 separation, fragmentation, loneliness, alienation, rampant globalization that exploits the poor.
We have witnessed, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warned in a homily before being elected pope in April 2005, “a dictatorship of relativism,” which is nothing more or less than 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 piety and devotion. Throughout Canada we are unlikely to forget the powerful images of the World Youth Day Cross on its historic, 43,000 km pilgrimage through more than 350 cities, towns and villages…from sea to sea to sea to sea.
The unforgettable 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 1,338 blessed and 482 saints. Young adults need heroes and heroines today, and the Pope gave us outstanding models of holiness and humanity each World Youth Day, especially ours in Canada. The saints and blesseds 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 sums 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 could be summed up with these words: endless patience; loving closeness and a call to be saints.
One very hopeful sign emerging through World Youth Days has been the Scripture themes assigned to each international event. 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 by the local churches throughout the entire world. It also gave way to Canada’s first national Catholic television network, Salt and Light Television, which I was asked to direct since its establishment in 2003.
During international World Youth Days, bishops and cardinals also attend the event as teachers and catechists. Each day during the World Youth Day week, thousands of young people gather around them to hear teachings or “catecheses,” reflections based on the Word of God, and in particular on the theme for the event. This novel invention has taken on a life of its own, and become an intrinsic part of the bi-annual international celebrations of faith and youth culture. Not only has this become a unique encounter between generations, but also a privilege to proclaim and preach the Word of God in an international setting, and a creative way to offer to young people concrete possibilities for living a biblically rooted life.
In Toronto, we also saw the unique gift of John Paul II as he related both to Canada and to the thousands of youth who had gathered. In his 1964 drama, “Radiation of Fatherhood,” John Paul II – then the young Polish Bishop Karol Wojtyla – suggested that becoming a father meant being “conquered by love,” which liberates us from the “terrible” and terribly false freedom of self-absorption. For millions of young people worldwide, the Pope was a paternal figure who made things “fully real” because his 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.
Through World Youth Days, 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. We need to give a reason for the hope we have to the people we meet day by day. That means we have to know our faith, and also be ready to explain it and, if necessary, defend it.
As we think further about his call to the transformation of Canadian culture and to deeply Christian roots, let me offer two words I see as key: boldness and solidarity. They come out of the strategy of the early Church as seen in Luke’s two volumes of the Gospel and Acts of the Apostles.
In Acts of the Apostles 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 released, the two returned to the community and the community uttered a remarkable prayer. It wasn’t about the actual harm inflicted on the believers but rather 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 has 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 Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, chapter 18, we see Paul facing hostility in Corinth and the Lord’s response to him 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, 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 honestly 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 world background of global 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. The memories of that blessed summer continue to inspire us. They give us courage, boldness, and solidarity to help future generations.
Theme “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you” (Jn 20: 21)
Message of the Holy Father on the occasion of WYD 1995, Manila
Vatican city, 21 November 1993 – Dear Young People,1. “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19). This is the greeting, rich in meaning, which the risen Lord extended to the disciples, so fearful and dismayed after his passionWith the same intense and deep feeling I now address you, as we prepare to celebrate the Ninth and Tenth World Youth Days… read more
Rizal Park, Manila, 15 January 1995 – Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,1. We are celebrating the Mass of the Santo Niño of Cebu, the Child Jesus whose birth at Bethlehem the Church has just commemorated at Christmas. Bethlehem signifies the beginning on earth of the mission which the Son received from the Father, With the same intense and deep feeling I now address you, as we prepare to celebrate ththe mission which is at the heart of our reflections during this Tenth World Youth Day… read more
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.”
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.
And 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 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
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?
In 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
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.
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