World Youth Day is a technicolor, all-you-can-see buffet. There are flags from all over the world and people of so many different ethnicities. It’s beautiful.
There’s just one color you don’t see: gray. It’s practically nonexistent in national flags, and World Youth Day attracts a young crowd.
Pope John Paul II initiated World Youth Day, with the first official gathering in 1986. Since then, the event has taken place every few years in different countries around the world.
World Youth “Day” is technically an entire week of events. There are liturgies, concerts, catechetical sessions, and opportunities to meet pilgrims from all over the world. The week concludes with a Mass celebrated by the pope.
Some WYDs are large, and then some are really large. The closing Mass at World Youth Day in the Philippines in 1995 drew five million people — a world record for a single religious event.
Young people serious about their faith often feel lonely if their friends or classmates do not share the same fervor. At World Youth Day, they see that they’re not alone. They can even make a million new Catholic friends.
The host countries have shaped the four World Youth Days I’ve attended in different ways, but the positive energy is always the same. People sing and dance and chant everywhere you go. It feels like a little taste of heaven (except for the long lines and portable toilets).
At the opening Mass for one World Youth Day, our group was so far from the ministers of Communion that receiving the Eucharist seemed impossible. One of the students in my group looked at me with puppy dog eyes and asked, “Can we receive Jesus?” We formed a 25-person train so we wouldn’t get split up and made our way toward the altar. The same student turned to her friend after receiving Communion and gave a high five. They had encountered Jesus — an experience that continued throughout the week. It’s what World Youth Day is really about.
Whether we are participating in World Youth Day or watching from afar, let us pray that we hunger to receive Jesus and experience the universality of our faith.
Fr. Michael A. Rossmann, SJ
Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (United States)