World Youth Days

I have two questions about World Youth Days. The first is prompted by reading that some three million people attended the papal Mass on the Copacabana beach. Is the Mass intended for such massive gatherings? Aren’t there other types of services that could be devised instead? I don’t think that every significant occasion in the life of the Church requires that a Mass be celebrated.

And then, how broad, how deep, and how enduring is the effect of such “Catholic Woodstocks”? Enzo Bianchi notes that many people observe that when the young people return to their dioceses and parishes, they’re often disappointed at how few initiatives are taken to reproduce and convey the intensity of the WYD experience. What kind of initiatives need to be taken on local levels for the experience to have any lasting effect?

The founder and prior of Bose suggests that Pope Francis’s pastoral style and his actions and words in Brazil might be taken up and applied in more ordinary pastoral situations and become the ordinary way to bear witness to the faith:

What bishop could not stop and meet and chat with his faithful, enter the houses of the poorest in his diocese and share a coffee with them, or visit the prisons of his city, or embrace strangers so they’ll sense that Christ’s love for all of humanity knows no frontiers? And what pastor or priest could not decide to meet and greet, one-by-one, the people entrusted to his pastoral care, get to know their joys and sufferings, accompany them in their wearying daily search for meaning? And what young person could not devote his energies to alleviating the suffering of people around him, convey his enthusiasm in taking care of people of his own age.., and dialogue with those who have preceded them on the path of faith? And what Christian community could not “go out into the streets,” “go to the peripheries,” strip themselves of their security, welcome people other themselves?

Yes, what we have seen Pope Francis do and heard him say in these days in Brazil could provide an example that everyone can understand, offer the possibility of recognizing that the Christian life is basically simple. It can and does entail toil, suferings, difficulties in giving up the mind-set of this world, in opening oneself up to solidarity, in banishing egoism and personal interests, but it is so close to the deepest desires of our hearts, to our desire for peace, justice, universal brotherhood. “If the Pope comes among us, nothing will be as it was before,” the inhabitants of the Varginha favela said. Who knows if the poor, old and young, of the quarters of our Europe of markets might soon say the same thing: “If a bishop, a priest, a Christian, a young person, bends down to us, stands beside us, listens to us, speaks to us, nothing will be the same as it was before.”

If the Pope's actions and words had effects of this sort, one might also feel a little re-assured that the in-built tendency of World Youth Days, as presently organized and celebrated, towards papalotry can be counter-balanced by what is taking place in communities, parishes, and dioceses.

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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