For a long time, since Pope Francis’ pontificate, the themes of mercy and the family has come up very often in the Catholic Church. Since the start of 2017, besides talking about those two topics, it seems that Pope Francis has been talking a lot more on the youth. I think that Pope Francis, wants to keep the fire from World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow burning bright.
The topic of youth and the Catholic Church has come up quite often during the past decades, especially through the pontificate of St. Pope John Paul II. He founded World Youth Days, a large gathering that gathers millions of young people and held every 2 to 3 years in a different country. The tradition continues to this day, with the next World Youth Day to be held in Panama in 2019. World Youth Days at the Diocesan level are held every year on Palm Sunday. After the Canonization of Pope John Paul II, he was designated as the Patron Saint of the World Youth Days. Pope John Paul II attended every World Youth Day since 1984 and the last one being in 2002 in Toronto, Canada. Despite his old age during the last World Youth Days of his pontificate, his presence still continued to attract many young people.
At the start of a new millenium, 2000, Pope John Paul II during that year’s World Youth Day, “Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium!” (Message on the occasion of the XV World Youth Day). John Paul II emphasized this throughout his whole Pontificate as the change in society through the years may be a factor causing slow deterioration in the Catholic Church. Many youth become pressured to follow their friends, scared that they would be made fun of when expressing their faith, for example by going to Church every Sunday instead of hanging out with friends. However John Paul wanted to tell the youth that in order to become saints, followers of Jesus, we must go outside the boundaries and “Do not be afraid”! In a new day and age, John Paul wanted to show the youth that, “True holiness does not mean a flight from the world; rather, it lies in the effort to incarnate the Gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement.” (Message to participants on the 17th International Meeting of the “Catholic Fraternity of Covenant Communities and Fellowships”) John Paul died April 2, 2005 but the spirit of his World Youth Day continued in 2005 in Cologne, Germany.
Pope Benedict XVI succeeded the long pontificate of John Paul II. He however, did not leave the youth alone. Like John Paul II, he attended all the World Youth Days during his pontificate starting in 2005 to his last World Youth Day 2011, in Madrid, Spain before his resignation from the Papacy on February 28, 2013. “Dear young people, the Church depends on you! She needs your lively faith, your creative charity and the energy of your hope,” said Benedict in his letter on the occasion of the XXVI World Youth Day. Indeed, as the youth slowly become older, becoming parents, grandparents, teachers, doctors… then the youth of today are the building blocks that continue the “great wall” of the Church, built on the apostles and Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. Pope Benedict XVI endorsed the creation of the YouCat, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, now one of the best selling Catholic books. I have a copy of the YouCat and it is very easy to understand and very colourful (literally) than the tradition “adult” Catechism. The YouCat was a gift from Pope Benedict to all the youth at World Youth Day 2011.
Though Pope Benedict XVI stepped down from the throne of St. Peter’s February 28, 2013, Pope Francis, a humble Jesuit from Buenos Aires succeeded the pontiff. Since the beginning of his pontificate, he never diregarded the youth. He encouraged youth at World Youth Day 2013 in Rio, saying: “You too, dear young people can be joyful witnesses of his love, courageous witnesses of his Gospel, carrying to this world a ray of his light.” (Welcoming Ceremony WYD 2013). That quote seems to be continuation of St. John Paul’s wish for the youth through WYDs, especially through his last WYD Homily, “The world needs salt. It needs you – to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” (Closing Mass WYD 2002).
The youth are the strength and future of the Church. Therefore, Popes have much attention to the youth of the Church, for without them, the Catholic Church would not have life and there would be no Catholics to replace the older generation of Catholics today.
Let us pray: St. John Paul II’s Prayer for Youth
Let us pray for the young people, to whom the Lord extends His invitation to follow Him more closely, that they may not be drawn away by the things of this world, but may open their hearts to the loving voice that is calling them. Let us pray that they may feel capable of dedicating themselves for their whole lives, “with undivided heart,” to Christ, the Church, and souls. Let us pray that they may believe that grace gives them the strength to make this gift, and that they may see the beauty and greatness of priestly, religious, and missionary life. Amen.