More than 4,000 young Catholics from Southern Africa took part in the second Mini World Youth Day hosted by the Archdiocese of Durban, December 6-10. The gathering, organized by the Department of Laity and Youth Ministry of the Southern Africa Conference of Catholic Bishops (SACBC) and the Durban Youth Ministry Cluster, brought together young people from South Africa, Botswana, and Swaziland. These countries constitute the SACBC region, but the event will also saw the participation of young people from as far as Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia, and Mozambique, making the event a contender for the largest-ever Catholic youth gathering on the African continent.
“In a very short time, families are going to start noticing differences in their kids,” Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, OFM, archbishop of Durban, told local media, adding that “they could not be near three-and-a-half thousand people, exchanging meetings, talking to each other, seeing different points of view…and not be affected by that.” The event took its theme from Pope Francis’ message for the 32nd World Youth Day: “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:49).
Modelled along the lines of the of the international World Youth Day events, the Mini World Youth Day featured an official welcome ceremony, an opening Mass, catechetical sessions, Stations of the Cross, and a youth cultural festival. Mpepuwa Mary Monnanyane, a pilgrim from the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, told CWR via email that the most uplifting experience for her was “seeing such a high number of young people gather to share their faith and getting an opportunity to experience what they’ve wished for for years but could not [realize] due to high costs associated with attending international World Youth Days.”
In an interview before the Mini WYD, Bishop José Luis Ponce de Leon, IMC of the Catholic Diocese of Manzini, in Swaziland, highlighted the significance of the Mini WYD for the young people and the Church in the region.
“The Mini World Youth Day will give young people an idea of the universality of the Church, since the majority do not know the church beyond their dioceses,” Bishop Ponce de Leon said. “We are a relatively small Church, between 5 and 8 percent of the population; coming together will certainly strengthen their joy of belonging.”
According to Ms. Monnanyane, the Mini WYD was an opportunity for the Church to embrace young people, and for the youth to renew their commitment to the Faith.
“I completely lost count how many times were we told that we are loved,” she said. “This is often not said and we withdraw because we think no one cares, but I learned that the Church and our leaders genuinely care.” She further reflected that “as a young person my responsibility starts with being a positive influence to other young people through the life that I live. These are often things that we take for granted, and [we] think that leadership is solely about holding a PPC [Parish Pastoral Council] position in the Church, but there are more influential roles that we need to play in the Church.”
Before the event, each diocese organized formation sessions for their young people. The Youth Chaplain of the Diocese of Manzini, Father Peterson Mwangi, IMC, shared that Swaziland “organized a one-day recollection, where the pilgrims were prepared spiritually for the MWYD event and also had the opportunity to listen to different speakers who had been to such events before. It was an opportunity to talk to them on how to behave themselves in South Africa for both days in parishes and also during the MWYD main event.”
Father Mwangi further explained that “finances were, of course, a challenge in a country heavily affected by HIV and AIDS, and that is why it was a great blessing to see the commitment of our young people trying their best to be present even with their limited financial resources.”
Ms. Monnanyane expressed her gratitude to the host families for the days in the parishes, explaining that “the turnout in number of households that agreed to host pilgrims during the days in the parishes, and being treated as part of the family, really demonstrated humanity in the Church and works of mercy. It was one of my biggest highlights!”
The Mini World Youth Day also served as a platform to prepare for the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, to be held in October 2018. Bishop Ponce de Leon said he hoped that the Mini World Youth Day was “another opportunity for the bishops to interact with different young people, reflecting together in this journey towards the Synod.”
Father Mwangi hopes that young people from Swaziland can take away from the Mini World Youth Day new ways of carrying out their parish activities, can increase their sense of belonging in the Church, and can help enrich Swaziland with a new spirit and enthusiasm.
Bishop Ponce de Leon shared similar hopes, saying that the Mini World Youth Day should have an impact on how young people lead their lives both within and without Church circles; his hopes were echoed by Cardinal Napier during the event.
In his homily at the closing Mass, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Peter Wells challenged the young people to be “brothers and sisters of the dawn,” and to “as Pope Francis has asked you to do, stir things up, [push] all of us to rethink, redo, and renew.”
In the 32-year history of World Youth Day, Africa is the only continent not to have hosted the event. According to Bishop Ponce de Leon, “South Africa has successfully hosted big international events (not only the Soccer World Cup!) and therefore is capable of hosting such an event. “
Ms. Monnanyane, who has attended World Youth Day events in Sydney (2008), Madrid (2011) and Rio (2013), supports the idea of a World Youth Day in Africa.
“I believe that we have the ability to host the WYD in the near future, maybe after one or two more Mini WYDs,” she said.
Bishop Ponce de Leon thinks that should South Africa be accorded the opportunity to host a World Youth Day, “it should go beyond the SACBC and be done in partnership with other bishops’ conferences in Southern Africa, as most of the neighboring countries have a higher percentage of Catholics than the three SACBC countries. We already see it in the number of young people coming from Zimbabwe, for example.”
In a region and continent that boasts a huge youthful population, young Catholics certainly have their work cut out in bringing the Good News to their peers and harvesting the spiritual fruits of the Mini World Youth Day, a project that will undoubtedly stretch into the long term.