12 August 2021

Anniversaries of WYDs in Częstochowa and Madrid

This August marks milestone anniversaries for two World Youth Days: the 30th anniversary of WYD Częstochowa 1991 and the 10th anniversary of WYD Madrid 2011

World Youth Day in Częstochowa was held at the shrine of Our Lady of Jasna Góra, the “spiritual capital of Poland”, from 10 to 15 August 1991. This was the first WYD to be attended in large numbers by young people from the former Soviet Union. Its strong Marian message and the testimony of so many young Christians marked the lives of numerous participants, including a young Italian, now a priest and an official at our Dicastery, Rev. Giovanni Buontempo. He is responsible for relations with ecclesial movements and associations of the faithful. Here is his testimony:

I was 18 years old and had just finished high school. I had to make decisions about university and my future, and for some years I had been thinking apprehensively about my vocation. WYD in Częstochowa was the turning point in my life. It was a true pilgrimage of prayer and of encounter with the Lord, with Our Lady and with the faith being lived and embodied by so many people I met. It was the first international event that included all the young people from Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Their enthusiasm and joy were overwhelming. We spent several nights singing and dancing with them and telling each other about our experiences. When St John Paul II spoke of Europe finally breathing “with both lungs”, we understood perfectly what he meant. WYD 1991 was also a surprising encounter with the faith and generosity of the Polish people. The city was packed to the rafters. At that time the organisational apparatus of WYD was not yet as consolidated as it is today, but the Polish people made up for the inconveniences that arose.

I remember, for example, that on the night of the vigil, many families opened their homes in the apartment blocks so that we could use their bathroom, and they gave people food and drink. We were all struck by the Marian devotion of the young Poles. We were amazed to see them kneeling before the image of Our Lady with their prayers, songs and tears of joy. From them we learned to entrust ourselves to Mary and to have her at our side on our journey of faith. We understood where Pope Wojtyla's faith and love for Our Lady came from. The grace I received at the end of those unforgettable days was the strength to embrace the priestly vocation, overcoming all fears and reservations. Since then, Our Lady has always accompanied me in my life of faith and throughout my 23 years of priestly ministry. I will always be grateful to the Lord for the gift of WYD in Częstochowa.

WYD Madrid 2011 had as its theme: Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith (Col 2:7). It also brought together hundreds of thousands of young people in a European country, where they proclaimed their faith in the streets of a modern city and rediscovered the Christian footprints of the Old Continent. One of the organisers of this meeting was Santiago Pérez de Camino Gaisse who now also works in our Dicastery and deals with the advancement of the Laity:

WYD Madrid 2011 brought about a radical change in my life. I had been working in youth ministry in Madrid since 2003 and when I received a call from the director of youth ministry to work in the preparation of WYD, I immediately said yes, even though I knew that I was leaving a permanent job and, after WYD, I would be out of a job. It is one of those “leaps of faith” that events like this give you the strength and courage to take. You have to trust the Lord, because in generosity there is no winner and you are given back 100 per cent. I was in charge of managing visas and preparing the entry of pilgrims to Madrid. It involved contact with the ministry of foreign affairs, the police, customs, etc. This is one of the many jobs that are hidden in a WYD that make the event a great success. So many long days of work until late at night, so many emails and phone calls to answer... sometimes I felt unsure about whether I would be able to carry out such a task. But the Lord uses our smallness to work miracles, like the five loaves and two fishes.

I could see real miracles with my own eyes. During those days in Madrid there was an atmosphere of festivity and joy. Many shopkeepers and citizens confessed to you that the young people radiated a different kind of joy, one that did not disappear. Those testimonies gave rise to experiences of conversion, first among the young people and then also among the “Madrileños”. People’s lives were changed and many felt a healthy desire to lead their lives for God.

I still remember as if it were yesterday the moment of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament at Cuatro Vientos.... So many very different people were there praying in outward silence but with hymns of praise and prayers in their hearts. At the Park of Forgiveness, thousands of young people found that WYD was an opportunity to go to confession, and for some it was after years. I well remember the explosion of joy during the Pope's meeting with the volunteers, and the message from Pope Benedict who decided to stay with the young people after it was raining heavily. He said, “We have experienced an adventure together. Firm in your faith in Christ, you have withstood the rain! I thank you for the wonderful example you have given. Like tonight, with Christ you will always be able to face the trials of life. Do not forget that! Thank you all!”

In the end the Lord rewards. Unexpectedly I received an invitation to work for the Church and the Pope after WYD in the Dicastery for the Laity. I never thought that my life would change so much. But I also never thought that I would be so happy.