Vatican asks dioceses to promote local World Youth Day celebrations

World Youth Day in Krakow Poland July 2016 Credit Jeff Bruno 12 CNA World Youth Day in Krakow, July 2016. | Jeff Bruno.

The Vatican released pastoral guidelines Tuesday for local World Youth Day celebrations with the aim of encouraging Church leaders to “give more importance to the diocesan celebration of WYD.”

In addition to the massive World Youth Day gatherings typically held every three years, the Catholic Church also sponsors local youth day events for which the pope sends a message each year.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, and Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, the dicastery’s secretary, signed the guidelines published May 18 with Pope Francis’ approval.

“Some young people cannot take part in the international WYDs because of their studies, work or financial difficulties. It would therefore be good for each particular Church to offer them the possibility, even if at a local level, of a personal experience of a ‘festival of faith’ that can be a powerful occasion for witnessing, communion and prayer similar to the international events,” the pastoral guidelines said.

Pope Francis announced last November that these local youth celebrations should take place on the Solemnity of Christ the King starting in 2021. They had formerly been held on Palm Sunday.

The guidelines said: “The key proclamation that must be addressed to young people and that must be at the center of every diocesan/eparchial WYD celebrated on the day of Christ the King is therefore: receive Christ! Welcome him as King into your lives! He is a King who came to save.”

The text outlined six “cornerstones that must be at the heart of every WYD,” whether diocesan, regional, or international. These include making the event a joyful festival of faith, an experience of ecclesial communion, an opportunity for discernment, and an experience of pilgrimage.

Young people themselves should play an active role in organizing these local youth day celebrations, according to the guidelines.

“In this way, the diocesan/eparchial event can be a very good opportunity to motivate and welcome all those young people who may be looking for their place in the Church and who have not yet found it,” the document said.

Fr. Awi Mello spoke at a Vatican press conference May 18 to promote the diocesan youth days.

“These meetings, born of the prophetic intuition of St. John Paul II, have been recognized by most as a source of grace for many young people, for youth ministry and for the entire Church. How many conversions, how many vocations are born during WYD,” the Brazilian priest said.

“We firmly believe that the international WYD and its local counterpart are mutually enriching. The international dimension broadens the horizons of young people and opens them to universal brotherhood. The local WYD, because of its geographical and physical proximity, can more easily generate a commitment in young people that will change the face of the society in which they live and increase their sense of belonging,” he added.

Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, speaks at a Vatican press conference, May 18, 2021. / Gianluca Teseo/CNA.
Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, speaks at a Vatican press conference, May 18, 2021. / Gianluca Teseo/CNA.

The next World Youth Day is scheduled to take place in Lisbon, Portugal, in August 2023. Bishop Américo Manuel Alves Aguiar, who is overseeing preparations for the event, told CNA that the youth gathering will be “an opportunity to renew the hope in the post-pandemic period.”

St. John Paul II first started World Youth Day in 1985. At the time, he explained: “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.”

On the feast of Christ the King in 1984, the Polish pope said: “On this feast day [...] the Church proclaims the Kingdom of Christ, already present, but still growing in all its mystery towards its full manifestation. You, young people, are indispensable bearers of the dynamics of the Kingdom of God, the hope of the Church and the world.”

The last international World Youth Day took place in Panama in January 2019, drawing an estimated 700,000 young Catholics. At some past World Youth Days attendance has reached into the millions.

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“To invest in young people is to invest in the future of the Church. It is about encouraging vocations, and it effectively means the initiation of remote preparation for the families of tomorrow,” the pastoral guidelines said.

“It is, therefore, a vital task for every local Church and not simply one more activity.”

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