“All young people must feel that they are cared for by the Church. Therefore, may the entire Church on a worldwide level, in union with the Successor of Peter, be more and more committed to young people, to their concerns and worries and to their aspirations and hopes, so as to meet their expectations by communicating the certainty that is Christ, the Truth that is Christ, the love that is Christ...” (John Paul II, to the College of Cardinals and Members of the Roman Curia for Christmas, 20 December 1985).
My first experience of World Youth Day (WYD) was not in a distant country surrounded by throngs of other young people waiting to see the Pope. Instead, I first experienced WYD in my home parish in Minnesota, USA.
Once a year, our parish joined with parishes across the country to recognise the gifts of youth and to celebrate their contribution to the Church as leaders and animators of Christ’s mission. It was an opportunity to highlight the various works of youth ministry, and to remind young people that they are cherished and valued by the community. It would be years before I realised there was also an international pilgrimage that takes place every two or three years in various parts of the world!
Earlier this year the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, the office in charge of WYD, released Pastoral Guidelines for the Celebration of World Youth Day in the Particular Churches. The guidelines are meant to make WYD accessible to more young people, and help local churches (e.g. national, diocesan/eparchial, parish) to hold WYD celebrations.
Unlike me, most people are likely to think of the international events when they think of WYD, rather than the annual celebration in their home diocese or parish. It would be easy to feel overwhelmed by the idea of trying to celebrate WYD if you were trying to replicate a gathering with the Pope! However, the WYD guidelines point to something much more “grassroots” and reflective of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit: they are about mission.
Cornerstones for WYD
The WYD guidelines offer a set of cornerstones, or principles, from the international events that can be applied to the local celebrations. Rather than programmatic elements, the cornerstones inspire ways to reach out to young people, engage in listening and empower young people to participate in the life and mission of the Church as leaders and cherished members.
“The whole Church, including the universal and the particular and each of its members, must feel responsible for young people and be willing to allow ourselves to be challenged by their questions, their desires and their difficulties. The celebration of these Youth Days at a local level is therefore extremely useful in keeping the Church mindful of the importance of walking with young people, and of welcoming them and listening to them with patience while proclaiming the Word of God to them with affection and power,” (WYD Local Guidelines, p7).
We must ask ourselves: how might our local Church develop a culture of encounter where young people can meet Christ, grow into an understanding of their own vocation and participation in Christ’s mission through the Church, and respond in love to the needs of the world? How might we as the Church best respond to the needs of young people?
A missionary Church for young people
The local celebration of WYD has the potential to be an annual practice in synodality and missionary discipleship. More than churchy buzzwords, they call us to think intentionally about how we might be Church with young people.
Parishes or dioceses might take the opportunity at WYD every year to host listening and dialogue forums with various groups of young people. Maybe there can be opportunities to dialogue with young people of different faith traditions in the spirit of Fratelli Tutti. Communities may want to use WYD as an occasion to recognise young leaders in the parishes, schools, communities and organisations in dioceses. Others may want to look at ways of engaging young people in acts of service and missionary activity in the community – to be “protagonists of the revolution of charity and service”, (Christus Vivit, 174).
In whatever local churches choose to do, WYD planning should involve young people and be an authentic response to the giftedness of young people, their leadership, passion and prophetic witness.
“Motivated by this spirit, we can move towards a participatory and co-responsible Church, one capable of appreciating its own rich variety, gratefully accepting the contributions of the lay faithful, including young people and women, consecrated persons, as well as groups, associations and movements. No one should be excluded or exclude themselves” (Christus Vivit, 206).
* Pope Francis’ Message for the 36th World Youth Day which will be held on November 21 (Solemnity of Christ the King) at the local level, was published on September 14. The document is available at: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/youth.index.html
Images: WYD local celebrations event held in Adelaide in 2019. Photos courtesy Archdiocese of Adelaide.
Words: Peter Bierer
Peter Bierer has been the coordinator of the Catholic Office for Youth and Young Adults in the Archdiocese of Adelaide since 2016 and is the executive officer for the Australian Network of Diocesan Youth Ministry Coordinators. Prior to living in Australia, Peter worked in youth ministry in the USA in parish, university and national ministry roles. Peter has a Masters degree in Pastoral Ministry from the School of Theology and Seminary at St John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. Peter is married to Lauren and they have four beautiful children.