In a few weeks, I will be heading for Madrid to participate in the latest edition of the World Youth Day where I have been invited to be one of the bishop-catechists. This remarkable event, which was hosted in Canada in 2002, has become a mainstay in the world calendar of Catholicism.
It all started in 1985, a year designated by the United Nations as International Youth Year. To mark the occasion, Pope John-Paul II decided to invite young Catholics to join him in Rome for a few days of prayer, reflection and action. To the great surprise of many observers, close to 300,000 young adults answered his call.
Since then, every year, the Pope sends a message to all young Catholics inviting them to reflect on a particular aspect of the Gospel. And every couple of years, he invites them to gather with him in a particular city to celebrate their faith in Jesus-Christ. Since 1985, World Youth Day has been hosted by Buenos Aires, Compostella, Czestochowa, Denver, Manilla, Paris, Rome, Toronto, Cologne and Sydney. Now it is headed back to Spain, to the capital of Madrid.
The event will take place from August 16 to 21, though many young people will come to Spain in the preceding days to participate in the “days in the diocese”, a preparatory time hosted by the other dioceses of the country. World Youth Day will actually begin with a celebration of Mass in the evening of Tuesday, August 15, presided by Cardinal Rouco Varela, archbishop of Madrid.
During the following three days, participants will spread out in the morning to various venues in the city to participate in activities according to their language groups. Typically, these activities include a formal teaching by a bishop-catechist (I will be doing mine in French), witnessing by other youth, hymn singing, prayer and confession for those who so desire. Morning activities culminate in the celebration of daily Mass led by the bishop-catechist.
The rest of the day is less structured. Participants choose from a wide menu of activities: plays, talks, discussions, concerts, art exhibits or simply meeting other youth from across the world. English-speaking pilgrims will be invited to the Madrid Sports Centre where a team (including yours truly) will be present to welcome them and involve them in various activities.
The Pope will arrive on Thursday, August 17 to be welcomed in a wonderful celebration that evening. He will preside at a public Way of the Cross on Friday evening, in which is re-enacted the Passion of Jesus. And he will lead a prayer vigil on Saturday evening at the Cuatro Vientos Aerodrome, where over a million youth are expected to gather and spend the night.
Finally, the Pope will preside at Mass on Sunday morning at the same site, from which the gathered youth will disperse to head back home. Having participated in two of these events, I can say that very few return home unchanged. Let us pray for the success of this great gathering and for an outpouring of Christ’s Spirit on all those preparing to attend.