In 1985, Blessed Pope John Paul II promulgated a papal letter entitled “Dilecti Amici.” Unlike his other letters, which he addressed to the bishops of the Church, he intended this letter for college-aged students and others in their 20s and 30s. The letter entitled in English “Dear Young Friends” inaugurated the pope’s signature pastoral outreach to the Church’s youth.
On a bi-annual schedule, Catholics in their 20s and 30s are invited to an encounter with the pope, which takes place in a world capital. These events are known as international World Youth Days. Blessed Pope John Paul II hosted World Youth Days in Italy, Argentina, Spain, Poland, the United States, the Philippines, France, and Canada. And, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI presided over events in his native Germany, Australia, and Spain.
The first such event occurred in 1986 in Rome. Since then, these events have drawn significant numbers. For example, the largest outdoor gathering on record took place in Manila, Philippines in the context of the 1993 World Youth Day, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The next meeting is scheduled for this summer. It will be held between July 23 and 28 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Brazilian World Youth Day will be the first to be held in Latin America since the Argentinians hosted one in Buenos Aires in 1987. Pope Francis will attend the event and some several hundred thousand to one million young pilgrims are expected to participate in it.
Aside from the international World Youth Days, all the dioceses around the world celebrate the event at the beginning of Holy Week on Palm or Passion Sunday. Today, Catholics observed the XXVIII World Youth Day. The theme for the event was taken from Matthew 28:19: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Thus, Pope Francis commemorated World Youth Day in the context of his Mass at St. Peter’s basilica for Palm or Passion Sunday.
Ahead of the pope’s entrance, some several hundred young people, deacons, priests, bishops, and cardinals processed into St. Peter’s Square. Representatives from various parts of the world, the diocese of Rome, in particular, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and the San Lorenzo Center, dedicated to serving the world’s youth, participated in the procession. Young pilgrims from all four corners of the globe walked in the procession.
Pope Francis concelebrated the Mass with Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko and Bishop Josef Clemens, the President and Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, which oversees the international World Youth Days, among others. In his sermon at the Mass, Pope Francis spoke a special word to the youth of the world:
“Today in this Square, there are many young people: for twenty-eight years Palm Sunday has been World Youth Day! … Dear young people, I saw you in the procession as you were coming in; I think of you celebrating around Jesus, waving your olive branches. I think of you crying out his name and expressing your joy at being with him! You have an important part in the celebration of faith! You bring us the joy of faith and you tell us that we must live the faith with a young heart, always: a young heart, even at the age of seventy or eighty. Dear young people! With Christ, the heart never grows old! Yet all of us, all of you know very well that the King whom we follow and who accompanies us is very special: he is a King who loves even to the Cross and who teaches us to serve and to love. And you are not ashamed of his Cross! On the contrary, you embrace it, because you have understood that it is in giving ourselves, in giving ourselves, in emerging from ourselves that we have true joy and that, with his love, God conquered evil. You carry the pilgrim Cross through all the Continents, along the highways of the world! You carry it in response to Jesus’ call: “Go, make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19), which is the theme of World Youth Day this year. You carry it so as to tell everyone that on the Cross Jesus knocked down the wall of enmity that divides people and nations, and he brought reconciliation and peace. Dear friends, I too am setting out on a journey with you, starting today, in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We are already close to the next stage of this great pilgrimage of the Cross. I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well prepare spiritually above all in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world. Young people must say to the world: to follow Christ is good; to go with Christ is good; the message of Christ is good; emerging from ourselves, to the ends of the earth and of existence, to take Jesus there, is good! Three words, then: joy, Cross, young.”