Ruminations About World Youth Day 2013

Every two to three years since the inauguration year of 1986, the world’s Catholic youth, the future of the Roman Catholic Church, come out in full force for the sacred celebration known as World Youth Day.   Well before Pope Francis was elected, the Vatican announced that World Youth Day 2013 would take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  This is all the more fitting and special not only because Brazil houses the largest Catholic population in the world, but because our “Papa Francesco” (Pope Francis) holds the title as first pope from the Americans, more specifically Latin America, as he hails from nearby Argentina.  With the hand of God so clearly on this event, it’s no wonder that people are so excited!

So, what’s it all about?  An outside glance of the massive crowds of young people flooding city streets for an international World Youth Day would spark a bystander’s curiosity. Some might cringe at the thought of those words, wondering what delinquency is in store.  But to witness this gathering would end those fears.  As someone described it, the vibe at a World Youth Day feels like a rock concert.  The happenstance observer would witness not frustration and malice, but smiles and joy, singing and dancing young people, culture upon culture and nation upon nation, proudly holding their flags high (or wearing them), greeting one another in peace, trading their tokens, humbly realizing how small they are in a world of people, and strengthened to witness so many who share their convictions.

Blessed Pope John Paul II, the founder of the World Youth Day tradition remarked that “when, back in 1985, I wanted to start the World Youth Days… I imagined a powerful moment in which the young people of the world could meet Christ, who is eternally young, and could learn from him how to be bearers of the Gospel to other young people. This evening, together with you, I praise God and give thanks to him for the gift bestowed on the Church through the World Youth Days. Millions of young people have taken part, and as a result have become better and more committed Christian witnesses.”

Fitting right in with John Paul’s intent, the theme of this year’s celebration is “Go and Make Disciples of All Nations.”  The agenda includes morning catechism classes, religious celebrations and a final celebration of Mass with the pope that is expected to attract more than 1 million attendees.  Also slated to occur is the international premiere of the film The Blood & the Rose, which provides a unique history of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known in this instance as Our Lady of Guadalupe, that occurred in 16th-century Mexico.   Approximately 500,000 attended the opening Mass on Copacabana Beach Tuesday night, despite some unsavory weather conditions.  All the gatherings of the week are designed to instruct and inspire the young pilgrims gathered in Rio to become models of Christ…to be the bright sources of hope amid societies that embrace darkness and foment hopelessness.

Ponder the following words by John Paul II:

We need saints without veil or cassock.
We need saints who wear jeans and sneakers.
We need saints who go to the movies, listen to music and hang out with friends.
We need saints who put God in first place, but who let go of their power.
We need saints who have time everyday to pray and who know how to date in purity and chastity, or who consecrate their chastity.
We need modern saints, Saints of the 21st century with a spirituality that is part of our time.
We need saints committed to the poor and the necessary social changes.
We need saints who live in the world and who are sanctified in the world, who are not afraid to live in the world.
We need saints who drink Coke and eat hot dogs, who wear jeans, who are Internet-savvy, who listen to CDs.
We need saints who passionately love the Eucharist and who are not ashamed to drink a soda or eat pizza on weekends with friends.
We need saints who like movies, the theater, music, dance, sports.
We need saints who are social, open, normal, friendly, happy and who are good companions.
We need saints who are in the world and know how to taste the pure and nice things of the world but who aren’t of the world.

It is sacred celebrations like World Youth Day that reinvigorate the young people to become what John Paul II affirmed we are all called to be: saints.  Yes, saints – the one thing our ailing society desperately yearns for.  Too often, the young are discounted and tossed aside as too immature, irresponsible, immoral, etc., to effect any positive transformations in the culture.  Many times this judgment is accurate because all too many members of Generation Y give their compatriots this soiled reputation.  But we cannot wring our hands and give up on the young of today – that would accomplish nothing but a continuance of the status quo that promises to accomplish anything but a modern-day Eden.  As Kofi Annan once said, “….A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.”  The Catholic Church understands this – that is why the World Youth Day tradition was birthed.  The leaders saw it necessary to energize and strengthen Catholic youth to become strong, moral, fearless Christlike leaders who will take up their crosses and light the fire of Christ’s love in the Church, the culture, and anything and anyone else they encounter along their life’s journey.  Will the rest of society follow suit…before it’s too late?  Heaven only knows we don’t need more leaders from the lot of amoral, spineless ones filling the ranks today.  The only way a culture can accommodate true peace and justice for all is through the grace of God.  Achieving it can only occur if this desire is implanted within the hearts of the youth, the leaders of tomorrow.  So, in the words of Patrick Coffin, “Be a saint…what else is there?”


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