we learned that World Youth Days are a meeting of the hierarchical Church with the Lay Church and it happens under the Cross. The first two informal gatherings took place on the eve of Palm Sunday in 1984 and 1985. St. John Paul II made World Youth Days official in 1986: They take place on Palm Sunday and are to be celebrated locally in dioceses around the world. But they also take place at an international level every two or three years. How did that happen?
In 1987, Pope John Paul II was going to be in Buenos Aires, Argentina and he invited youth to meet him there. This gathering lasted a couple of days and provided an opportunity for the youth to learn more about their Faith and encounter the Church. This is what the Catechesis Sessions are for. We all know priests. They are the face of the Church to the world. But, how many of us know Bishops? Bishops are supposed to be the shepherds of the Church, but frequently, these servants, are relegated to the role of administrators. Catechesis Sessions are led by Bishops and give them the opportunity to be Shepherds and give the youth the opportunity to actively participate as “sheep.” During WYD 2002, 250 Bishops came from around the world and there were 387 Catechesis Sessions in 17 different languages. And these sessions were packed with youth. Attendance was incredible! Young people want to know about the Church and about the Faith. They want to learn the Catechism and participate in Church. For WYD 2016 in Krakow, there will be 27 English-language Catechesis sites. The largest will be at the Mercy Centre (at the Tauron Krakow Arena) and will host 15,000 pilgrims.
In 1989, JPII invited young people to make a pilgrimage with him to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. In the Basilica of Santiago rest the supposed remains of the Apostle James the great, the brother of the Apostle John. Hundreds of thousands of people make a pilgrimage every year on the Camino de Santiago (the road of St. James), from France and the north of Spain.
What is a pilgrimage? A trip, a journey… What is the difference between a tourist and a pilgrim? The tourist arrives with an empty suitcase, but returns home with a heavy one full of stuff. A pilgrim returns home with a much lighter load. The tourist may go through a lot of places, but pilgrims lets the places go through them.
WYD is a pilgrimage – a journey, but not a journey full of comforts and nice hotels. It is a journey done on foot, where you sleep on the floor. In Toronto, on the Saturday morning, everyone walked, from different places, towards Downsview Park – a walk that helped all of us enter into the mystery of what it means to be a pilgrim. The fact that for WYD most participants stay in schools and parishes and sleep on the floor is not just to save money. It’s because it’s a pilgrimage. And that’s why we go: as pilgrims, to meet the Church, under the Cross.
In 1991 we were invited to another pilgrimage. This time it was to the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Czestochowa, Poland, a place that JPII loved. This WYD was extraordinary because of the recent fall of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe. A few years before, such a gathering would not have been possible in an Eastern European nation. And JPII was instrumental in helping bring an end to communism. But the “east” represents much more. Most of us don’t know that as well as the Roman Rite (which most of us belong to), in the Catholic Church, there are 23 Eastern Rites. These include the Ukrainian, the Maronite, Melkite, and Syrian Rite, among others. They are all Catholic. They are all in Communion with Rome. In Toronto, for the first time, all the Rites of the Church participated completely in the planning of the event.
In order to bring together these Rites, we need reconciliation, since reconciliation is an integral part of our Faith. Of course, it is also an integral part of WYDs. During WYD 2002, more than 100,000 youth celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation in "Duc In Altum" (set out into the deep", Luke 5:4), Park, with hundreds of priests in dozens of languages. Who says that young people don’t go to Confession! Since Madrid 2011, the Pope himself has been listening to Confessions at WYD. It is expected that Pope Francis will hear the Confessions of several young people in Krakow.
Czestochowa is also a Marian Shrine: Our Lady of Jasna Góra. It's important to recall that Mary is our Mother. She is the Mother of all Saints – she is our advocate. At the foot of the cross, Jesus said to his beloved disciple John: “here is your mother... take her into your home.” Jesus asks us all to bring Mary home with us, because just as Christ came to the world through this woman, the world can also get to Christ, through His Mother, Mary.
In Czestochowa, the young people presented the Holy Father with an Icon of Mary. Icons are part of the Eastern Catholic tradition and since 1991 every WYD has included an Icon of Mary. In Toronto, the Icon was of the Presentation of the Wise Men: the Mother, the Son and those from other lands and cultures who have come to adore him, which was the theme of the following WYD, in 2005 in Cologne, Germany. In 2003, during the 18th WYD on Palm Sunday (I was there!) JPII made it official and entrusted to the youth an Icon of Our Lady, Salus Populi Romanix. He said, “From now on it will accompany the World Youth Days, together with the Cross. Behold, your Mother! It will be a sign of Mary’s motherly presence close to young people who are called, like the Apostle John, to welcome her into their lives.”
And so we have World Youth Days: Meetings with the Holy Father, with the Church, under the Cross, in pilgrimage with Mary and in the spirit of reconciliation.
let's continue by looking at what it means to celebrate our Faith.
Photo Credit: 3 million pilgrims pack Copacabana beach for the World Youth Day closing Mass in Rio de Janeiro July 28, 2013. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org