Blessed John Paul II truly left a legacy for our Catholic youth when he instituted World Youth Day in 1985. This past week, millions from around the world joined together in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 13th International World Youth Day. And what could have been more powerful for our young people than to have worshipped with Pope Francis in his native Latin America?
World Youth Day is a week-long celebration open to all youth and centered on Jesus Christ. It is held each year on a diocesan basis and internationally every few years. The goal of World Youth Day is to share the hope, joy and love of young people from around the world who want to commit themselves to Christ. World Youth Day is a unique way for the faith-filled to grow closer to Christ through prayer and the sacraments, together with other young people who share common interests and goals.
This is a pivotal time for all of us in the Catholic Church, but most especially for our young people. Pope Francis, during his Palm Sunday Mass, acknowledged the importance that our youth play in the world and in our church. He proclaimed, “I joyfully look forward to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well, prepare spiritually above all — in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world.”
And what a sign this gathering in Rio has been. The anticipation of the Holy Father’s arrival was palpable. The crowds that gathered in the streets to meet him engulfed his motorcade as he departed from the airport in Rio. Later, 45,000-plus pilgrims joined him at Brazil’s Our Lady of Aparecida Shrine, where he entrusted World Youth Day to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary. He prayed that “she may help all of us, pastors of God’s people, parents and educators, to pass on to our young people the values that can help them build a nation and a world which are more just, united and fraternal.” At the opening Mass, more than 400,000 pilgrims braved the wind and rain to gather on the beach. Pope Francis also chose to visit the slums of Rio and walk through the streets greeting residents; this in a show of solidarity and love.
This World Youth Day celebration in Rio will be remembered for many things, including the visual images of the many countries represented and the large crowds that were present at the various events. But most of all, I think, it will be remembered as a call to action from our first Latin American pope to the people of Brazil and the world. Our youth are the future of the church and they are in need of our guidance and support. We live in very materialistic times, when young people are called to question many things, including their faith in Jesus Christ. I invite you as parents, educators and friends of youth to join me and all those in ministry to our youth, in helping them to chart that path to a deeper, more personal and lasting relationship with Jesus. Let our journey begin today in the life of a young person by living the Gospels in our own lives. God bless you all.