Pilgrims gather for the closing Mass of World Youth Day celebrated by Pope Francis on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro July 28. An estimated 3 million people attended -- one of the largest crowds in the history of World Youth Day. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
valuable lessons came out of World Youth Day 2013. The first is that
the Holy Spirit is intent on igniting with joy and resilience the
post-conciliar Church of the twenty-first century. The second is
that, in large part due to the catechetical influences of Bl. John
Paul II and Benedict XVI, Pope Francis’s flock can better balance
the joys of the Spirit with the Cross of Christ.
will be helpful, then, to ponder some themes from Rio’s World Youth
Day because it is highly likely we’ll be encountering them
repeatedly as an energized Pope Francis shepherds his flock deeper
into the twenty-first century.
and Make Disciples
does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to
everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not
only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming.
It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into
every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem
farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants
everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.” Pope
Francis’s closing homily,
World Youth Day, 2013.
bishops, and even laity have said and written much during these past
few years on the New Evangelization. When planning for World Youth
Day 2013 began during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI the time
had come to urge the Church to act. Thus the theme “Go and make
disciples” seemed fitting for an event that draws millions of young
people and many millions more (of every age) through social media.
then Benedict XVI’s doctors told him that he could no longer travel
by air. And it seemed likely that even if he could he might not have
the strength that World Youth Day schedules demand. (One wonders how
much his being unable to travel to Rio de Janeiro influenced his
decision to cede the Chair of St. Peter.)
question of whether the pope would attend World Youth Day vanished
with the papal transition. Pope Francis brought to the world stage a
bold and gregarious personality. He changed the rules of papal
engagement and accelerated the use of social media. He continues to
bring his own style to the papacy, one that resonates in a world of
political uncertainty, economic struggle, and a growing weariness
with impersonal spirituality.
a stronger, younger body than his predecessor’s, Pope Francis began
charging into crowdswhich, come to think of it, seems natural to
do for those who espouse an incarnational faith. Once inside the
crowds, whether in Rome or Rio or wherever, he is especially happy
when he meets those on the outskirts.
see the fruits of this charging
in and greeting the outskirts by
listening to those who are not at all enamored with Catholicism but
are attracted to Pope Francis. For example, of those commenting on a
Post story about the pontiff at World Youth Day we find one
reader noting that “I'm not a Catholic but his defense of the
Amazon makes me care for this Pope;” another, “I like this Pope
and I'm a hard core Atheist;” and another, “[w]ell, I must say
this Pope is changing my view of Pope's [sic].”
of this is high praise but it is the beginning of dialogue. And
dialogue is a prerequisite for evangelization.
Pope Francis is opening the doors of such discourse by doing what a
young Joseph Ratzinger urged the Church to do as early as 1957: to
“love in the present.” Pope Francis is certainly showing the
world what such loving in the present looks like. And as seen in the
lives of the saints, a fully present, joyful love of neighbor always
attracts those who do not know Christ.
other words, the teachings and witness of Pope Francis at World Youth
Day have shown a generation of young Catholics how to personally
charge into their own worlds and embrace the people that they meetto
go and make disciples.
Requirements of Discipleship
offers us the possibility of a fulfilled and fruitful life; he also
offers us a future with him, an endless future, eternal life. But he
asks us to train, ‘to get in shape,’ so that we can face every
situation in life undaunted, bearing witness to our faith. How do we
get in shape? By talking with him: by prayer, which is our daily
conversation with God, who always listens to us. By the sacraments,
which make his life grow within us and conform us to Christ. By
loving one another, learning to listen, to understand, to forgive, to
be accepting and to help others, everybody, with no one excluded or
ostracized. Dear young people, be true ‘athletes of Christ’!”
Pope Francis. Closing
World Youth Day, 2013.
to evangelize first requires times of solitude, prayer, and
especially the grace of God. As Christ alternated between a private
life of prayer and his very public ministry, Pope Francis does the
same and he exhorts his flock to do likewise. And so as in previous
World Youth Days, events in Rio were punctuated with times for
prayer, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and adoration before the
the pontiff may be better known for his extroverted activities, he is
very much a man of interior and communal prayer. We see this, for
instance, in his frequent stops at Marian shrines and in his daily
morning Masses with the community in which he lives. This tells us
something of a theme he offered at World Youth Day. He stressed that
our ability to be authentic disciples of Jesus Christ comes from our
relationship with God, a relationship that we first learn most
especially from our families.
Friday’s Feast of Joachim and Anne, Pope Francis spoke at the
Angelus, noting “[h]ow
important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human
and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every
society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and
dialogue, especially within the context of the family.”
linking faith and the family, Pope Francis taught a generation raised
in a world growing accustomed to broken families that the activity of
nurturing the bonds within our own familiesespecially with our
elders, who have unique insights into mysteries of life and
relationships with God.
A Fruit of the Holy Spirit
need a Church capable of accompanying [people] on the road back to
Jerusalem! A Church capable of helping them to rediscover the
glorious and joyful things that are spoken of Jerusalem, and to
understand that she is my Mother, our Mother, and that we are not
Francis to the bishops of Brazil,
World Youth Day, 2013.
Sunday morning on Copacabana beach, some three million young people
gathered in what may be one of the most unexpected and impressive
images of Catholic joy. In a place often known for its hedonism, the
Acts of the Apostles came alive in the unbridled joy that surged
through the pilgrims present at World Youth Day. This joy was the
presence of the Holy Spirit, transforming minds and hearts and,
ultimately, human history.
is this joy that Pope Francis asks us to show the world by first
growing in a holiness that comes only from Goduniquely so through
course, Christian joy is not like the false pleasures offered by the
utopian promises of the twentieth century or by New Age
spiritualties. The Christian joy of World Youth Dayespecially on
Sunday morningwas present because hundreds of thousands first
received the Sacrament of Reconciliation and walked the Way of the
Cross; it was present in such strength because over two million
people knelt in silence before the Blessed Sacrament.
Pope Francis noted in his remarks at the vigil, Copacabana Beach
became something of a training ground for a young Church militant who
has not forgotten both the need for forgiveness and the Cross of
Christ. On the prior evening, during his
remarks after the Way of the Cross, the pontiff reinforced this
theme by saying that “[o]nly
in Christ crucified and risen can we find salvation and redemption.
With him, evil, suffering, and death do not have the last word,
because he gives us hope and life: he has transformed the Cross from
an instrument of hate, defeat, and death into a sign of love,
victory, and life.”
Here it is helpful
to remember that the pope emeritus and Bl. John Paul II, who had both
been influential during the Second Vatican Council, sought to insure
that the Church’s readings of the Council’s documents remained
mindful of core Christian realitiesmost notably the Cross. In
doing so, both would help frame the catechesis that would eventually
form the faith of today’s young Catholics.
instance, when commenting in the late 1960s on the Council’s
teachings on revelation, Joseph Ratzinger’s wrote that one could
suppress the question as to whether the Council did not start from an
over-optimistic view in its account of revelation and salvation
history, losing sight of the fact that divine salvation comes
essentially as a justification of the sinner;
that grace is given through the judgment of the cross and thus itself
always retains the character of judgment.
XVI may not have been able to attend World Youth Day 2013 in person
but he certainly had an impact on it: Decades after he wrote those
words, the cross is the central element of every World Youth Day and
was quite prominent at Rio.
now, the World Youth Day cross will begin its journey to Krakow,
Poland for the next assembly of the young and not so young in 2016.
While much will happen in the life of the Church between now and
then, we know this: in Rio, a global gathering of young Catholics
witnessed what happens when one lives the love and joy of proclaiming
Christ crucified and risen. Now if they choose to go and proclaim
likewise, Krakow in 2016 will likely be an immensely crowded city.