Late last year, as Pope Francis concluded Mass for the handing over of the World Youth Day (WYD) cross between Panama and Portugal, he paused and made an unexpected announcement.
Delegations of young people from both countries were assembled for the significant ceremony in which the symbols of WYD are transferred between nations. The ritual, for those present and watching online, confirmed that WYD would not be an unfortunate casualty of the current COVID-19 crisis. Young people and their supporters around the world were assured that Pope Francis sees a future full of hope; one where preparations must continue “in haste” towards one of the universal Church’s greatest successes – World Youth Day. All of this, despite earlier disappointment that understandably WYD would be delayed by a year and that young people would gather in 2023.
However, this confidence in Lisbon’s ability to host the next WYD was followed by a discreet surprise. It was no big deal to many, but for those of us involved in ministry, formation, accompaniment and mission with young people at a diocesan level, it was incredibly significant.
“Thirty-five years after the establishment of WYD, after listening to various opinions and consulting the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, which is responsible for youth ministry, I have decided, beginning next year, to transfer the diocesan celebration of WYD from Palm Sunday to Christ the King Sunday.” – Pope Francis, Remarks at the Conclusion of Holy Mass, Christ the King 2020
A move away from Palm Sunday for the local celebration of WYD finally gives youth ministers across the country a chance to celebrate and highlight young people’s contribution to the life of the Church without needing to balance it precariously alongside our spiritual preparation for Holy Week.
Most importantly, the announcement of this new date means the Church can more intentionally integrate a comprehensive engagement with, immersion in and celebration of young people as highlighted in the General Synod on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment.
“During the Synod, there was frequent reference to World Youth Day and the many related events that take place on a continental, national and diocesan level … These moments of encounter and sharing are widely appreciated, because they offer the possibility of journeying together as if on pilgrimage, of experiencing fraternity with all, of sharing the faith joyfully and growing closer to the Church. For many young people these moments have been an experience of transformation, in which they have experienced the beauty of the Lord’s face and have made important life choices. The best fruits of these experiences are gathered in daily life. It therefore becomes important to plan and to experience these gatherings as significant stages of a broader virtuous process.” – Final Document of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment, 2018
Here in the Diocese of Parramatta, we continue to explore and implement the many challenges presented to us by Pope Francis’ post-synodal exhortation, Christus Vivit. We strive to develop new ways of building leadership in young people through our system of schools and into parish life, their vocation and beyond.
This new date in November re-enforces our celebration remains focused on the mystery of Jesus Christ, whom many young pilgrims meet for the first time or grow more deeply in relationship with during an international WYD. Further, it now connects with local periods of transition for young people which can be remarkably powerful for super-charging a change in their spiritual lives.
In November, many students are being voted into positions of leadership, finishing final school exams or even graduating. Youth groups and classrooms are preparing their journey towards the beginning of Advent or may be deep in pilgrimage preparations towards an Australian Catholic Youth Festival. And finally, as youth ministers, we are already in discernment and planning for ministry with young people in the new year.
This new local World Youth Day can become an occasion to celebrate the leadership of young people. We can bring together and commission senior student leaders and, at the same time, link Church and mission as we thank parish youth group leaders for their 12-month ministry.
Even more importantly, we should invite parishes to consider how young people with all the gifts, talents and love they possess for their faith could be invited and accompanied into other ministries of the Church through an intergenerational strategy.
Local World Youth Day could become a chance to encourage young people into a life of leadership and service but also thank and re-position others for what’s next – both within and beyond the margins of the life of the Church.
James Camden is the Director of Catholic Youth Parramatta.
This article first appeared in the February 2021 edition of The Bridge, the newsletter of the National Centre for Evangelisation. Reproduced with permission.