World Youth Day

My starting point is number 141 of the Instrumentum Laboris. It speaks of World Youth Day as a real form of initial proclamation on a global scale.

The institution of World Youth Day was one of the prophetic options made by Blessed John Paul II that had a profound influence on the life of the Church and that of the whole world. The pope explained the reasons for his decision back in 1985. He said that “all young people should feel that the Church cares for them. That is why the whole Church all over the world, united with the Successor of Peter, must engage ever more with youth, connecting with their anxieties and cares, their eagerness and hopes. We must reach out and respond to their expectations by communicating the certainty that is Christ, the Truth that is Christ, the love that is Christ, and to do so through proper instruction – the necessary and contemporary way of evangelisation”.1 The pope was aware that the world of youth was extremely important mission territory for the Church at the threshold of the third millennium. The history of WYD – that has now spanned over thirty years – has definitely confirmed John Paul II’s providential intuition. It is thanks to WYD that the youthful face of the Church can be seen, full of the joy of faith and missionary zeal. World Youth Day has been seen to be an extraordinarily effective instrument for the evangelisation of the younger generations. It continues to amaze pastors and the youth themselves. Over the past few decades a new generation of young people has been born that is often called “the WYD generation”.

The key person in WYD is the pope, the successor of Peter, a witness and teacher of the faith, a catechist par excellence. Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, when speaking about World Youth Day in Paris in 1997, referred to the special relationship that young people have with the Holy Father: “When they say that they love him, this is also their way of taking their place in the Church. This cry of theirs establishes a relationship with the institution that is very different from the one they express to their parents or the one that appears in surveys [...] By loving the pope, it is then in him and through him that young people love the Church, and this is what they want deep down in their hearts. John Paul II gives them the opportunity to express this and experience it. His presence is the catalyser and guarantor”.2


The WYD people are a people on a journey. This global pilgrimage of young Christians in the footsteps of the Successor of Peter continues to amaze the world. There have been so many conversions and so many lives have changed direction. So many important discoveries have been made by young people. They have discovered Christ – the Way, the Truth and the Life. They have discovered the Church to be a mother and teacher and to be a “company of friends” (Benedict XVI) that gives support to the journey of existence. They have discovered that the Successor of Peter is a sure guide and a friend to be trusted. WYD has become a “laboratory of faith” for so many young people. This is how Pope John Paul II liked to describe it. It is a place where the kind of spirituality found is not inconsistent with being young. WYD has also become a place where vocational decisions are considered and made – those to the priesthood, consecrated life or Christian marriage.

Pope Benedict XVI said that World Youth Day is a “remedy against faith fatigue”, and “a new, more youthful form of Christianity”. It is “new evangelization put into practice”, a great sign of hope for the Church and the entire world.3 We must not, of course, consider WYD to be an isolated event. It has to be well prepared, and it must be followed up in the normal youth ministry in the dioceses and parishes. In other words, it must always be a “new beginning” in the pastoral engagement of the Church towards the younger generations.

We remember with gratitude World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011 where we witnessed the wonderful testimony of faith of over two million young people. Now young people are preparing to head for Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in 2013. In the carioca city, Christ the Redeemer of Corcovado is an expression of the deeper meaning of WYD which is the centrality of Christ. Christ is there with arms open wide to welcome them, an unconditional invitation to the youth of the world. This is how the great youthful adventure of faith continues.

1 John Paul II, Address to the College of Cardinals, the Curia and the Roman Prelature, 20 December 1985.

2 “L’eco della XII Giornata Mondiale della Gioventù”. An interview with Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris, in L’Osservatore Romano, 1 October 1997, pp. 6-7.

3 Cf Benedict XVI, Address on the occasion of Christmas greetings to the College of Cardinals and the Curia, 22 December 2011.

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