PHOTOS: A look back at 10 years of Pope Francis’ participation in World Youth Days

Pope Francis greets World Youth Day pilgrims in Panama. Pope Francis greets World Youth Day pilgrims in Panama. | Jonah McKeown/CNA

In the 10 years of his papacy, the Holy Father has exhorted young people at World Youth Days (WYD) to answer the Gospel call and accept Jesus into their hearts. 

Below are 10 times Pope Francis spoke to young people at the gathering and encouraged them to answer Jesus’ call to discipleship.

WYD 2013: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations!’

For Pope Francis’ first World Youth Day, he took a seven-day apostolic journey to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he addressed millions of attendees. The theme that year was “Go and make disciples of all nations!” from the Gospel of Matthew.

In his homily at the waterfront of Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis told the young people present to preach the Gospel to everyone.

“Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all; he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love,” the Holy Father said on July 28, 2013.

Pope Francis waves an Argentine flag during World Youth Day 2013. Alex Mazzullo/JMJ Rio 2013 via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
Pope Francis waves an Argentine flag during World Youth Day 2013. Alex Mazzullo/JMJ Rio 2013 via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
Pope Francis listens to confessions on July 26, 2013 during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. ANSA/OSSERVATORE ROMANO/POOL.
Pope Francis listens to confessions on July 26, 2013 during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. ANSA/OSSERVATORE ROMANO/POOL.

WYD 2014: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’

World Youth Day held local diocesan celebrations on Palm Sunday in 2014 and the theme was “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” words from the beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew.

In his message to young people that year, the Holy Father exhorted young people to “have the courage to be happy.”

Pope Francis said: “Young people who choose Christ are strong: They are fed by his word and they do not need to ‘stuff themselves’ with other things! Have the courage to swim against the tide. Have the courage to be truly happy! Say no to an ephemeral, superficial, and throwaway culture, a culture that assumes that you are incapable of taking on responsibility and facing the great challenges of life!”

WYD 2015: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’

In his 2015 message to young people for World Youth Day, which the Church celebrated in local dioceses, Pope Francis said that the “greatest good” in life is a relationship with God. The theme was “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” words from the Gospel of Matthew.

Pope Francis asked: “Where is your treasure? In what does your heart find its rest?”

“Our hearts can be attached to true or false treasures; they can find genuine rest or they can simply slumber, becoming lazy and lethargic. The greatest good we can have in life is our relationship with God,” he said.

Pope Francis with two World Youth Day volunteers looks over St. Peter's Square July 26, 2015. L'Osservatore Romano
Pope Francis with two World Youth Day volunteers looks over St. Peter's Square July 26, 2015. L'Osservatore Romano

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WYD 2016: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’

In his apostolic journey to Krakow, Poland, for World Youth Day 2016, Pope Francis’ theme was from the beatitudes again: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Hundreds of thousands of young people were in attendance.

In his homily for the July 31 Sunday Mass, Pope Francis encouraged young people to bring their sins to the sacrament of reconciliation.

Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Poland, July 2016. Marcin Kadziolka/Shutterstock.
Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Poland, July 2016. Marcin Kadziolka/Shutterstock.

“Dear young friends, don’t be ashamed to bring everything to the Lord in confession, especially your weaknesses, your struggles, and your sins. He will surprise you with his forgiveness and his peace,” Pope Francis said.

“Don’t let your soul grow numb, but aim for the goal of a beautiful love, which also demands sacrifice. Say a firm ‘no’ to the narcotic of success at any cost and the sedative of worrying only about yourself and your own comfort,” he said.

Pope Francis speaks to World Youth Day participants from the balcony of the bishop's palace in Krakow, July 27, 2016. Mariusz Cygan/World Youth Day Krakow 2016 via Flickr.
Pope Francis speaks to World Youth Day participants from the balcony of the bishop's palace in Krakow, July 27, 2016. Mariusz Cygan/World Youth Day Krakow 2016 via Flickr.

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Pope Francis at the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony in Krakow's Blonia Park, July 28, 2016. Jesus Huerta/World Youth Day Krakow 2016 via Flickr.
Pope Francis at the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony in Krakow's Blonia Park, July 28, 2016. Jesus Huerta/World Youth Day Krakow 2016 via Flickr.

WYD 2017: ‘The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name’

Catholics around the world celebrated in their dioceses for World Youth Day 2017. The theme was “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name,” Mary’s words from the Gospel of Luke.

In his message to young people, Pope Francis hailed the Blessed Virgin Mary’s magnificat as a “revolutionary prayer” that helps young people understand God’s mercy.

“Mary’s is a revolutionary prayer, the song of a faith-filled young woman conscious of her limits, yet confident in God’s mercy,” he said.

“She gives thanks to God for looking upon her lowliness and for the work of salvation that he has brought about for the people, the poor and the humble. Faith is at the heart of Mary’s entire story. Her song helps us to understand the mercy of the Lord as the driving force of history, the history of each of us and of all humanity,” he said.

WYD 2018: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God’

In Pope Francis’ message to young people for World Youth Day 2018, he encouraged them to face their fears. The theme that year was “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God,” words from the Gospel of Luke.

“Do not be afraid to face your fears honestly, to recognize them for what they are and to come to terms with them,” he said in the message for World Youth Day, which was celebrated on the diocesan level.

“In the sacred Scriptures the expression ‘do not be afraid’ is repeated 365 times with different variations, as if to tell us that the Lord wants us to be free from fear, every day of the year,” he said.

WYD 2019: ‘I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word’

Pope Francis embarked on an apostolic journey to Panama for World Youth Day in 2019.

There he spoke to hundreds of thousands of young people in a Jan. 26 vigil at Campo San Juan Pablo II in the Metro Park area and exhorted them to have no fear to “embrace life as it is.”

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at World Youth Day in Panama City, Jan. 24, 2019. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at World Youth Day in Panama City, Jan. 24, 2019. Vatican Media.

“To embrace life as it comes. It means embracing our country, our families, and our friends as they are, with all their weak points and their flaws. Embracing life is also seen in accepting things that are not perfect, pure, or ‘distilled,’ yet no less worthy of love,” he said.

“So, the first step is not to be afraid to welcome life as it comes, not to be afraid to embrace life as it is!” Pope Francis said.

The theme in 2019 was “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” Mary’s response at the Annunciation in the Gospel of Luke.

Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Panama Jan. 26, 2019. Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Panama Jan. 26, 2019. Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Pope Francis says Mass at Campo San Juan Pablo II for World Youth Day Panama Jan. 27, 2019. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Pope Francis says Mass at Campo San Juan Pablo II for World Youth Day Panama Jan. 27, 2019. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Pope Francis addresses young people during the World Youth Day vigil in Panama City, Jan. 26, 2019. Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Pope Francis addresses young people during the World Youth Day vigil in Panama City, Jan. 26, 2019. Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Pope Francis preaches at the Via Crucis during World Youth Day in Panama City, Jan. 25, 2019. Jonah McKeown/CNA.
Pope Francis preaches at the Via Crucis during World Youth Day in Panama City, Jan. 25, 2019. Jonah McKeown/CNA.
Pope Francis with teens at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day 2019 in Panama. Vatican Media
Pope Francis with teens at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day 2019 in Panama. Vatican Media

WYD 2020: ‘Young man, I say to you, arise!’

In 2020, the Church celebrated World Youth Day in local dioceses. The theme that year was from the Gospel of Luke’s seventh chapter: “Young man, I say to you, arise!”

In his message to young people that year, Pope Francis encouraged young people to be compassionate toward suffering people.

“May you always be attentive to the plea of those who are suffering and be moved by those who weep and die in today’s world,” he said.

“So many of your contemporaries are disadvantaged and victims of violence and persecution. Let their wounds become your own, and you will be bearers of hope in this world,” Pope Francis said.

WYD 2021: ‘Stand up. I appoint you as a witness of what you have seen’

World Youth Day 2021 was celebrated on the local level for dioceses around the world. The theme for 2021 was “Stand up. I appoint you as a witness of what you have seen,” the message that God spoke to St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles.

In his message to young people, Pope Francis pointed to the importance of humility.

“Such humility — the awareness of our limitations — is essential! Those who are convinced that they know everything about themselves, other persons, and even religious truths, will find it hard to encounter Christ,” he said.

“Saul, once blinded, lost his reference points. Alone in darkness, the only clear things were the light he saw and the voice he heard. How paradoxical! Only when we are blinded do we start to see!” Pope Francis said.

WYD 2022: ‘Mary arose and went with haste’

In 2022, Catholics around the world celebrated World Youth Day in their local dioceses. The theme for 2022 was “Mary arose and went with haste,” taken from the Gospel of Luke’s first chapter.

In his message to young people, Pope Francis explained Jesus’ saving love.

“You cannot save a person, you cannot save a situation, if you do not love it. Only that which is loved can be saved,” he said.

“For this reason we’re saved by Jesus, because he loves us and can’t go against his nature. We can do any number of things against him, yet he loves us and he saves us. Because only that which is loved can be saved,” he said.