The international youth forum came into being in association with World Youth Day. It is a meeting of young people that is organised by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. It takes place over a period of several days, and bishops’ conferences and international youth associations and movements are invited to send two young delegates.
In addition, a small number of international guests are invited. These are people who work in youth ministry around the world. They attend the forum as observers and give their contribution as contemporary “witnesses”.
1st International Youth Forum, Buenos Aires, 1987
This first meeting studied the situation of youth at a world level. The participants worked in five groups and then communicated their conclusions to the general assembly. The experience was positive, although they felt the need for a wider discussion with greater representation (less than 40 countries were represented) and more time. However, the seed was sown.
2nd International Youth Forum, Santiago di Compostela, 1989
It took place in La Barcia school in Santiago di Compostela from 13 to 15 August. Over 200 delegates from 55 countries took part. These young people from all the continents brought their joys, sorrows, hopes and commitment from their home countries, and they shared in simplicity and fellowship and in a spirit of realism and celebration. They were the young Church committed to the transformation of the world and the building of a true civilisation of love. Each of the three days had a specific topic: “Young people in search of meaning and fullness of life”, “Christ meets young people today”, and “Proclaiming and witnessing to Christ today”.
3rd International Youth Forum, Chestochowa, 1991
“The spirit of the children of God, a spirit of freedom” was the theme of this Forum. There were 250 delegates from 74 countries, this time including Eastern European countries. Referring in particular to the youth from Eastern Europe, Cardinal Pironio asked: “Let us ask ourselves honestly, what freedom have these young people been seeking? Have they found it through their path of suffering and hope? What are the moral and spiritual values that young Christians from the officially free West can offer to these young people?”
4th International Youth Forum, Denver, 1993
“A glance of life at the world”, “Choose Christ, choose life” and “Together for life” were the themes for this Forum that was held at Regis University in Denver. What does it mean to be “born to new life in Jesus Christ”? For the young delegates it meant, “we strive to develop our personal gifts to the best of our ability so as to serve society better. We strive to serve in particular the weakest, the poorest, and the most vulnerable among us... We are convinced of one thing: in Christ we can change the world. But before we can change the world each one of us has to change his/her heart through humility”.
5th International Youth Forum, Manila, 1995
This Forum took place from 6 to 10 January in the Royal Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, the oldest university in Asia. 105 countries were represented, as well as a large number of international associations and movements. Asia is the largest and most populous continent and Christians are a minority, so “to be missionaries in the heart of society” means something very specific and demanding in this part of the world. Dialogue with other religions including Buddhism, Islam and traditional religions is part of life here. The delegates at the Forum responded to the pope’s request to young people by renewing their commitment to take Jesus’ message of salvation to the world.
6th International Youth Forum, Paris, 1997
This Forum was held from 14 to 18 August at l’Ècole Polytecnique in Palaiseau, twenty kilometres from Paris. It is a military school that was transformed for a few days into a school of peace, listening to each other and sharing among the peoples. For the first time there were young delegates representing the Orthodox and Protestant Churches. There were delegates from 130 countries and 40 associations and movements. The total number of 400 was a sign of the growing interest in the Forum. “You are a letter from Christ” was the theme. The young people said in their final message: “Each of us is a letter from Christ ... Every single one of us is responsible for working together to build the Kingdom of God in the world. We all have our part to play in this construction and our part cannot be played by someone else”.
7th International Youth Forum, Rome, 2000
“I say it to you all: let us walk in the footsteps of Christ!” This path that Pope John Paul II pointed to was the theme of this Forum which took place in the Jubilee year from 12 to 15 August. The subject of faith was at the centre of the discussions. It is a challenge for the third millennium, the key to true happiness and a source of life and conversion. The delegates said in their message to the youth of the world: “Faith is not an act of our own will. It is a gift from God acting in our lives, a gift that grows in sharing... Christ, who lives in us, is the force which enables us to be a living testimony to those afflicted by the moral ailments of the society of which we form part”. The Forum delegates were received by the President of Italy as representatives of the huge number of young pilgrims who had come to WYD from all over the world.
8th International Youth Forum, Rome, 2004
“Youth and university: witnessing to Christ in the university world” – this was the theme of the Forum that took place near Rome in Rocca di Papa from 31 March to 4 April. This Forum marked a change in practice. The theme was now directed to youth in a particular domain, and for this Forum the delegates were university students. Furthermore, the Forum was now separated from World Youth Day. In this way, it could receive greater attention from the Pontifical Council for the Laity and emphasis could be made to involve young people who were engaged in pastoral ministry.
9th International Youth Forum, Rome, 2007
“Witnessing to Christ in the world of work” was the theme of this Forum which was held in Rocca di Papa near Rome from 28 March to 1 April. Talks and discussions helped the young people to look at their relationship with the world of work. They noted the speed of change in an era of globalisation, and they discussed the issues and challenges. They focussed on the human dimension of work and its significance for young people, and then went on to talk about how to proclaim Jesus Christ in the workplace and to be witnesses to the gospel.