Fiesta of the young Church

Fr Marek Luczak

‘We have the best team in the world,’ said Bishop Xavier Novell Gomá, the youngest bishop in Spain, responsible for the organisation of the XXVI World Youth Day, ‘additionally, we have the best captain and coach. That’s why we are going to win the match. We should only change the mentality of failure into the mentality of success.’
The words of John Paul II directed to young people, ‘You are the hope of the Church’ did not only pass into history but also marked the pastoral path for the future. The evidence is the meetings with young people from all over the world with the Pope. On 16 August 2011, the XXVI World Youth Day began in Madrid and its motto is ‘Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith.’

‘Three legs of the stool’

All began in the international meeting of young people in Rome on Palm Sunday 1984, on the occasion of the Jubilee Year of the Redemption. Then over 300,000 young people from all over the world came to meet the Pope. John Paul II gave them the Jubilee Cross of the Holy Year, which has travelled around the world as the Youth Cross since then. At the same time the United Nations proclaimed the year 1985 as the International Day of Youth. The Pope again invited young people to Rome on Palm Sunday, 31 March 1985. He also published the letter his ‘Apostolic Letter to the Youth of the World,’ in which he encouraged them to discover their vocations and seek stable values despite the problems of youth. Since then young people from all over the world have gathered regularly to express their enthusiastically experienced faith. This year the Holy Father invited young Catholics to Madrid where on 16-21 August the true feast of youth takes place. In the opinion of Archbishop of Madrid Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela the thing is not only about joy. ‘The World Youth Days give chances to restore our lives in a fundamental way. You should only let Christ light your lives,’ he said.
For many years the same enthusiasm has accompanied young people but the circumstances become increasingly more modern. The youngest Spanish bishop Xavier Novell Gomá – the author of ‘A Letter to the Young’ – gave an on-line interview in the headquarters of the World Youth Day in Madrid. He answered questions asked by young people from all over the world. ‘In spiritual life three elements are most important like the three legs of the stool. Firstly, prayer, secondly, confession and thirdly, the Eucharist,’ he tried to convince young people. In his opinion the key to understand life is the Gospel. ‘One can find all things in it, everything that concerns your life and what is most important in it.’ Bishop Novell Gomá encouraged them to ‘leave’ their lives for a few days, be alone and penetrate their inner beings. As he said that even ordinary curiosity or the desire to share enthusiasm could be the motifs.

Faith gives strength

Many years have passed since the first meetings of young Catholics. One can try to answer the question concerning the fruits of these meetings. ‘At first sight the fruits of the World Youth Days are seen in numerous vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life and marriage that have occurred during these events,’ said Cardinal Rouco Varela. ‘In the long term it turns out that they are part of the contemporary community: they give energy to face crises and strengthen people on the way of peace,’ he stated.
What kind of young people participate in the WYD? It is one of the questions the Demoscopy Research Centre tried to answer, conducting surveys among 1,800 young people in five continents who regularly followed the news connected with the World Youth Days. Most respondents were under 30 years of age. Nine out of ten thought that the WYD was ‘experience changing their entire lives.’ At the same time one out of four already participated in the WYD. The participants think that faith in Christ gives strength to forgive others (85%), to show solidarity and help those in need (80%) and to make them mature and be better people (79%) as well as help accept suffering and be happy (75%) and have pure intentions (67%).

Around the Invisible and silence

The success of John Paul II’s initiative should be attributed to him to a large extent. Today other people help promote the Word Youth Day. The known French writer Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, the author of the book ‘Oscar et la dame rose,’ confessed that he was jealous of the WYD. In his interview for the Catholic television KTO Schmitt (51) said that he was too old to participate in that event and when he had been young he had not gone because he had been a non-believer. He thinks that it is extraordinary that young people do not gather to celebrate some idol or listen to some concert but they gather around ‘the Invisible and silence.’ In his opinion it is the essence of the meeting but one cannot ‘see and hear this reality since it is in the heart’ of each participant. Asked about the message to contemporary young people Schmitt noticed that he had a request to them, ‘Do not be like us. Be optimistic, trusting, create the world in which one wants to live,’ the French author appealed. In his opinion sharing one’s faith is extremely important since it is sharing values and what is most important, what organises our lives. At the same time, it is sharing humility since ‘to believe is not to know’ but to hope, fulfil your ideals, welcome your neighbour, help and love him.
The royal couple also promoted the World Youth Day in Madrid. At the special meeting with the hierarchy of the Church and the organisers of the WYD the representatives of the royal family spoke about the ‘generation of hope.’ Several months earlier they had expressed joy that the next World Youth Day was going to be held in Spain. Benedict XVI might have attributed a special meaning to the venue of the WYD in 2011. Since evaluating his choice the political context must be taken into account. For many years the left-wing governments have struggled against the Church in the Iberian Peninsula and Prime Minister Zapatero has even become a symbol of the struggle against Christianity. That’s why the organisational costs of the WYD in Madrid, estimated to be over 50 million euro, are to be 20% smaller than the costs in Sydney, Australia. Most of the costs (ca. 70%) will be covered by the participants themselves. As it has been announced the Spanish tax-payers will not spend even one eurocent on the meeting whereas the Spanish economy can gain 100 million euro. The matter is important because Spain has been experiencing a serious crisis.
‘The choice of Spain was not by chance. Its aim was to show the spiritual richness written in the history of this country, the history of the Church and the culture of the West,’ said the Archbishop of Madrid. ‘It is the sign left by the patrons of the World Youth Days: St Ignatius Loyola, St Teresa of Avila, St Rose of Lima, St Francis Xavier,’ he stressed, expressing hope that Madrid would change during the World Youth Day because it would be both an event of the universal Church and a great meeting for the local community and the city that would receive pilgrims.
In the long history of the World Youth Day the meetings were held, for example in Buenos Aires, Argentina (1987), Czestochowa, Poland (1991), Denver, the USA (1993) or Manila, the Philippines (1995), which gathered the biggest number of participants. It is estimated that ca. four million people took part in the Mass celebrated by John Paul II there.
As Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and organiser of the WYD for many years, told the Catholic Information Agency that the capital of Spain had been chosen as the venue for the next WYD because currently Europe should find its Christian roots. In the opinion of the hierarch every World Youth Day ‘is an extraordinary experience of the Church – friend of young people whom she serves and whose problems she knows. It is an experience of the universal Church, a specific experience that embraces the whole planet, the experience of the young Church, full of enthusiasm and missionary zeal. It is an epiphany of the Christian faith,’ Cardinal Rylko said.

"Niedziela" 34/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: