In less than two weeks, 40,000 American Catholics will travel to Krakow, Poland, to celebrate World Youth Day with Pope Francis and millions of pilgrims from around the world. Unfortunately, many more won’t be able to make it to the city of St. John Paul II because of the prohibitive high costs of trans-Atlantic travel, or work and other commitments. However, many will be able to attend stateside World Youth Day celebrations that will bring the faith, fellowship, fun, and culture of the world’s largest periodical Catholic gathering much closer to home. Thanks to this nascent tradition, which will continue parallel to future editions of World Youth Day, many more American Catholics will reap the rich spiritual fruits of this event than those who will be able to travel abroad.
Pope St. John Paul II launched World Youth Day in 1984 as a response to the growing dissociation of young Catholics from the Church. Some prelates were initially skeptical, and ahead of the 1993 edition of World Youth Day in Denver many American bishops feared that few young people would show up, causing a public relations disaster for the Church. These fears were unfounded, and World Youth Day has instead brought renewal to the Church in the form of vocations and conversions. According to a recent article in Crux, last year, one in seven American neo-ordinands had attended World Youth Day, and that proportion has been rising. Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia, which hosted World Youth Day in 2008, is quoted in this article as saying that the number of youth groups in his diocese has quintupled since his city hosted his event. Indeed, there has been a vocations boom Down Under, long in the vocations doldrums, since it hosted World Youth Day.
Naturally, all bishops and vocations directors would love to see these effects in their own dioceses. Because international travel is expensive and each edition of World Youth Day is held on a different continent (typically alternating between Europe and another region of the world), only a limited number of young people can travel to the event, and so the extremely positive effects would seem to be limited. However, the American Church is pointing the way for the rest of Catholicism with an initiative that can bring World Youth Day closer to home at little cost.
Without a doubt, the 37 Catholic pilgrims from Washington, DC, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for World Youth Day 2013 were disappointed when they learned that they trip would be cancelled after their travel agency had filed for bankruptcy. Little would they know, however, that their lousy luck would be in a way blessed, as it led to the creation of an event that will greatly expand access to World Youth Day.
These young would-be pilgrims were undeterred by this setback and instead decided to experience Rio de Janeiro and World Youth Day without leaving the country. The news of the bankruptcy came six weeks before World Youth Day, not enough time to find alternative travel arrangements, but enough to organize a spectacular alternative back home.
An event titled “Rio in DC” was held at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land. Talks, Eucharistic adoration, a candlelight procession, and the sacrament of penance were all offered. There was a live transmission of World Youth Day on a screen. The pilgrims were accompanied by a first-class relic of Pope St. John Paul II, the initiator of World Youth Day. Ultimately, 550 people showed up for the event.
In reference to World Youth Day’s host city, “Rio in DC” had a strong Brazilian component. “The fact that World Youth Day is hosted in a different international city every three years provides our American Church the opportunity to celebrate the Catholic faith alive in that culture and to celebrate the diversity of cultures that are present within our Archdiocese. At Rio in DC we were blessed to have a parish with a strong Brazilian community prepare dinner for over 500,” says Jonathan Lewis, director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s youth ministries. “We believe that faith is transmitted through culture.”
After the success of Rio in DC, the Washington Archdiocese has decided to make stateside World Youth Day celebrations a recurring tradition. “The Holy Father asks that every year dioceses or local churches host an event to celebrate the annual World Youth Day. Each year we commemorate this during our Annual 7 Church Walk the day before Palm Sunday. In a special way, every three years, we are excited to celebrate World Youth Day in solidarity with Pope Francis through a uniquely cultural celebration of our universal Church through a Summer stateside celebration,” Lewis explains.
This year, Krakow in the Capital will be organized on July 30 for Catholics from across the country ages 18-39 who will be unable to make it to Poland. In keeping with the theme that faith is transmitted through culture, this year’s stateside WYD event will have a strong Polish component. Traditional Polish food will be served, and the lives of Polish saints will be highlighted. Additionally, the event feature include Mass celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, catechesis with various well-known Catholic speakers, adoration and confession, and a vocations fair. Special catechesis will be prepared for those who are hearing impaired and those with intellectual disabilities. The diocese invites those who are no longer young adults or those who cannot travel to be a part of their digital pilgrimage experience by visiting wydDC.org/LIVE during the week of WYD to follow along with the stories of pilgrims in Krakow and at Krakow in the Capital.
This time, however, Washington, DC, isn’t the only American city bringing World Youth Day closer to home. A total of twelve such events will be held across the United States. In addition to the nation’s capital, they will be organized in: Chicago; Connecticut; Rochester, New York; Detroit; San Angelo, Texas; Sacramento; Milwaukee; Brownsville, Texas; Savannah; Canton, Ohio; and Des Moines. You can get contact information for each stateside World Youth Day events at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) website.
Some events, like Krakow in the Capital, are aimed at young adults, while others, like Rochester, are more geared towards high school students. Those events held in dioceses with large Hispanic populations, such as Brownsville, will be in Spanish or bilingual. Many will feature video transmission of the events in Krakow, and several include walking pilgrimages to local shrines. Taking a cue from Washington, many of the stateside World Youth Day events include tributes to Polish saints and celebrations of the culture of the host country.
If you live nowhere near any of these cities hosting such events, you can still participate. You can take the initiative and organize such an event yourself, or reach out to someone in your diocese who you think would be capable of such a task. The USCCB has prepared a DIY stateside WYD guide. If you know of any additional such events that are not among the dozen that are listed, reach out to email@example.com.
If you are hesitating about attending one of these events, take a word of advice from Jonathan Lewis: “Stateside WYD events will provide young adults an opportunity to encounter Christ through a daylong Polish pilgrimage experience. They are a moment to walk with Pope Francis through talks by national speakers and bishops and powerful prayer experiences, to celebrate our identity as young adult Catholics, to be renewed in our faith, and sent out to live as missionary disciples.”
Thanks to the creative approach of young adults from Washington, DC, to an obvious misfortune three years ago, more and more young people will be able to participate in the faith booster that is World Youth Day with each subsequent edition. Financial and time constraints will be less and less a barrier. True to its name, World Youth Day is now becoming more global thanks to stateside events.