Ever since World Youth Day was established by John Paul II in 1985, it has taken place globally at a local level every year on Palm Sunday, and every two or three years a major international gathering is held in one particular place where young people converge to celebrate their “Day” together with the Pope. An event of such dimensions requires much thought and a huge amount of preparation by very many people. Key moments in this process include two international preparatory meetings, the first held in Rome and the second in the next host city. Every effort is made to encourage the participation of WYD organisers from as many bishops’ conferences as possible from around the world and the major international Catholic youth organisations. The International Meeting on WYD Rio 2013 – Krakow 2016, held in Sassone di Ciampino outside Rome from 10 to 13 April 2014, was our first meeting after WYD in Rio 2013. It was attended by around 300 delegates from 92 countries and 45 international youth organisations.
The theme on the first day of the Meeting was “WYD 2013 in Rio, a celebration of faith and fellowship”. Members of the Rio WYD Organising Committee spoke of their gratitude to God that the event had gone so well in spite of the obstacles that had to be surmounted. The archbishop of Rio, Cardinal Orani Tempesta, said that they had seen God in action and that their efforts were almost nothing compared to all that God has done. Delegates spoke about their groups’ experiences in Rio, and the Rio Committee responded with explanations where necessary. One of the special blessings groups found in Brazil was the warm welcome and hospitality they received from the Brazilian people. The delegates at the Meeting renewed their gratitude for this on behalf of the young pilgrims.
As the WYD experience encompasses more than those six days spent in the host city, time was also given at the Meeting for a report on the journey of the WYD Cross and Icon of Our Lady around Brazil during the two years leading up to WYD, and to the pre-WYD experience of days spent in the dioceses of the host country, known as ‘Mission Week’ on this occasion. The bishop who spoke on behalf of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference, Most Rev. Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, and the president of the Bishops’ Commission for Youth Ministry, Most Rev. Eduardo Pinheiro da Silva, were very happy with the way those events involved large numbers of people in the dioceses of Brazil. The attention of the Brazilian Church was directed towards young people, and young people found their voices as missionaries for Jesus Christ.
A panel of delegates from different countries spoke about the impact of their pilgrims’ participation in WYD 2013. The speakers were from Indonesia, the United States, Lebanon, Belgium and Mozambique. They spoke of how pilgrims generally were inspired by Pope Francis’ appeal to them to go out and proclaim Christ, and never to forget the poor. They were also impressed by the example given by the Brazilian people in this regard when they visited the dioceses. One speaker told the delegates about the heroic efforts made by some youth to attend the event in Rio. They agreed that youth ministry leaders are encouraged by WYD to organise gatherings at national or diocesan level that can provide a platform for WYD pilgrims to share their experiences with other young people.
The difficulties in reaching out to other youth varies from country to country. The poverty in some places makes it hard for many youth to participate. In other countries the problem is geographical distance, in some it is the lack of interest or trust in the Church by young people. On the other hand, sometimes the fact of being a minority religion encourages young people to join these gatherings. It was also noted that huge numbers of young people took part in WYD via social media, a trend that is likely to grow.
The delegates at the Meeting actively took part in the open discussion. It could be seen that major concerns for some groups may not be noticed at all by others. Some might encounter a language barrier while others always find a way of communicating, some might find difficulty in the lack of wifi while others have no phones, and some expect a high standard of catechesis while others are grateful if they can understand it in a language that is not theirs. The delegates understood that a change of venue had been necessary for the Vigil and Final Mass in Rio due to the wet conditions at the scheduled site in Guaratiba, and therefore they were kind in their observations about difficulties encountered at Copacabana. However, they had plenty of suggestions for the organisers of future WYDs.
The session concluded with a preview of the social movie “Bota Fé” which is a compilation of footage taken by pilgrims at WYD in Rio. This was followed by Mass celebrated in Portuguese and presided by Cardinal Tempesta.
On Friday 11 April, the focus of the Meeting was Krakow 2016. The archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, spoke of what WYD would mean for the city of John Paul II, the founder of World Youth Day. The Church there is inviting the youth of the world to help them to give impetus to the task of reactivating the parishes and reaching out to young people who do not move in church circles. Bishop Henryk Tomasik spoke on behalf of the Polish Bishops’ Conference when he told the delegates that all of Poland aims to be a Campus Misericordiae for the pilgrims who come to their country in 2016. Members of the Krakow Organising Committee presented the structures and plans that are being put in place in order to prepare for the event. They were stimulated by the questions and observations of the delegates, most of whom have experience of past WYDs and are familiar with recurrent issues. This was followed by Mass presided by Cardinal Dziwisz in Italian. The day concluded with entertainment out in the grounds provided by around one hundred young people from Poland dressed in traditional costumes. They performed some of their local dances and invited the delegates to join them. They did so willingly, and a pleasant evening was had by all.
Saturday 12 April was devoted to youth ministry. It started with Mass presided by Cardinal Rylko in French. The session began with a keynote lecture by Bishop Josef Clemens that dealt with the commitment of the Church to young people that could be noted during the recent pontificates. Bishop Clemens referred to the speeches and writings of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis concerning youth or addressed to them, and he gave an account of the origins and history of World Youth Day. He concluded that the three popes followed a similar thread with different emphases. John Paul II reminded youth that they were the hope of the Church, Benedict XVI pointed to the need for education in the faith in order to see its beauty, and Pope Francis emphasises the missionary call for everyone, and particularly for the younger generations, to go forth without fear to joyfully proclaim the Gospel.
A panel of speakers were asked to talk about experiences in the field working with young people in different ways with the title “Church, where are you? Young people’s expectations”. They were Rev. Daniel Ange, the founder of the Jeunesse Lumière school of prayer and evangelisation; Chiara Amirante, founder of the Nuovi Orizzonti Community who work with the outcasts of society including people dealing with addictions of various kinds; and Dr. Bernhard Meuser who is a co-author of Youcat, the young people’s catechism. Several delegates contributed to this theme of “Church, where are you?” by speaking of the needs in Syria, in prisons, etc. They wanted to know how Youcat could be distributed at a lower cost, and how the Church could lead the way for young people in making this a better world.
In the afternoon, a panel of five delegates told us how youth ministry is responding in the local Churches. The speakers were from Australia, El Salvador, the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences. Some places emphasise involving young people in the planning, others give special emphasis to social outreach. In war torn countries, reconciliation is a very important part of youth ministry. In the Western World, there are many good things happening in youth ministry that do not make headlines in the media.
Cardinal Rylko closed the Meeting by summing up the main points of the three day conference. He noted that the Rio organisers had spoken of the importance of the Cross and of the great number of young people who had touched it while it was in Brazil. Regarding Krakow 2016, he said that it is always fascinating to see a new WYD being born. Each WYD is greeted with joy, expectation and very much hope. When speaking of the day devoted to youth ministry, he said that WYD serves as an opportunity for spiritual “refuelling” in the Church’s commitment to youth. It should give youth ministry new ideas and renewed courage in presenting young people with challenges. Cardinal Rylko said that those three days were like a spiritual retreat that would encourage all of us to work even harder in our youth ministry. He said that Pope Francis has much to say about youth ministry, and he strongly recommended the encyclical Evangelii Gaudium as a guide.
In the evening there was adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel. On Sunday, the delegates went to Saint Peter’s Square for Palm Sunday Mass and for the diocesan celebration of WYD 2014 with the Pope and the young people of Rome.