What Do World Youth Day, The New Evangelization, and You Have In Common?
by Martha Fernández-Sardina
This past August 21, some two million young people gathered for the closing Mass of World Youth Day XXVI in Madrid, Spain, in an open field drenched with rain the night before, after a mostly sleepless night of dancing and singing that followed a reverent yet storm-threatened Prayer Vigil led by an 84-year old Pope. Why do they gather?
WYD-Madrid proved again that these gatherings continue to attract millions from every continent who travel across the globe to spend 4-10 days with people they have never met; staying in homes, gyms, and convents of cities they have never visited; meeting and trading pins and bandanas with peers whose countries’ flags they can barely identify; to pray and share deep experiences with people whose languages they seldom, if ever, hear; and, of course, to be with the Pope who invites them to know Christ personally and make a lasting difference with their lives.
Why do they go to such lengths? Why do they invest the time, money, and energy? Why do they put up with the tiresome travel and sleepless nights, the long walks in the summer heat, and the hardships of “pilgrim living” for a little over a week? Why do they look forward to gathering with the Vicar of Christ and a couple of million strangers in what resembles a Pentecost morning festival of faith? To hear the Lord speak to them; to strengthen their faith; to give themselves a chance to “come and see” what the Lord has in mind for them. They come to be “rooted and built up in Christ, firm in the faith” – this year’s theme.
World Youth Day’s key role in the new evangelization is indisputable. From the various parish events and diocesan programs designed to prepare the youth and young adults for the worldwide event, to the very travel with which they experience the universality of the Catholic Church, participants share that this is a life-changing “Day.” Young and younger –many of whom had stopped going to Church regularly and had given into very worldly ways of thinking and behaving–speak of the power of the Word of God to give them a new perspective on life at their prayer and teaching encounters with the Pope and the bishops’ catechesis sessions, dispelling doubts and the confusion created by the increasingly pervasive secular and relativistic mindset of the world they are growing up in. They testify that God touches hearts, minds, and wills, as they thousands take advantage of the reconciliation festivals where hundreds of priests and bishops heard Confessions. They speak of being deeply moved by the “days in the dioceses” and the visits to local churches and museums, the service projects, cultural programs, exhibits, plays, concerts, and every opportunity to meet and greet people they will likely never see again, but can and do call rightly “brother”, “sister.” During these special days bonds are formed, the most important of which is the bond of faith with Christ and His Vicar.
Truly, WYD is an evangelistic event that awakens and rejuvenates the faith of millions worldwide! Not only among the pilgrims: it also touches the families, parishes, and dioceses that send them and receive them, and the lives of the chaperones, priests, and bishops who accompany them. It even seems to rejuvenate the faith –and certainly the hope– of the Pope!
WYD is reaching Catholics who might otherwise lose their faith as well as training them to reach their peers. WYD is teaching us all that not all is lost, that there is hope; that even the young can become convinced of the worthiness of the Gospel message when properly taught and modeled for them! WYD is modeling for us what the new evangelization is meant to be: “new in fervor, new in methods, and new in expressions” (Blessed John Paul II: Haiti, 1983), a new evangelization capable of engaging the committed and the less-committed, the practicing and the non-practicing, the young and the old, shepherds and sheep – through teaching and preaching, service and prayer, fellowship and dialogue, in a climate of unequivocal proclamation of the love of God in Christ.
So… what do World Youth Day, the New Evangelization, and you (and I) have in common? A desire to see our relatives, friends, and neighbors come to know the God who invites us to “come and see” what He has in store for us. We share a commitment to extending far and wide an invitation to the thousands who have stopped practicing the Catholic Faith of their childhood and youth. We are moved by a longing to see the whole world touched by He who is the Light of the World and the Savior of mankind.
The preparatory phases at home, as well as the actual World Youth Day experience abroad is equipping young Catholics to be effective evangelizers in the 21st century. They are stating loud and clear to an unbelieving or wavering world: The Faith of the Church is alive and well! And so are we, her future leaders! They are stating unambiguously: Jesus Christ and His Church are worth the investment of the best years of our life! And WYD planners and participants are inviting us to say with joy and conviction: Try it! You’ll like it!
World Youth Day 2011 has barely ended. Preparation for an effective new evangelization at WYD 2013 has just begun! Along with the millions who will prepare financially and spiritually for that summer festival of faith, you and I can and must do our part to ensure that this fruitful means, moment, and method of outreach continues to play its key role in the new evangelization of tomorrow’s world and Church leaders. Are you ready? Let us join our younger fellow evangelizers as they begin to tell the world –and we tell those within our circles of influences– that they too can “Always be joyful in the Lord!” (World Youth Day is scheduled for July 23-28, 2013 in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.)