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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXII, No. 4
Christmastide 2007

World Youth Day: Act Globally, Think Locally

by Joanna Bogle

A mild summer evening after a day of driving rain, a suburban church, and some thirty young people kneeling in prayer. The sound of the O Salutaris rises as a young priest begins the beautiful service of Benediction. The singing is a bit wobbly, but it is stronger for the Tantum Ergo as the group seems to gain more confidence. The Divine Praises are said with vigor. Afterward there is a buzz of talk as people drift toward the parish hall for soft drinks and snacks, and a clatter of chairs as these are drawn up and a guest speaker is invited to talk.

An evening in the 1950s? A vignette from long ago as a more innocent era is evoked in a sentimental memory? No, this is 2007 and young people from our local deanery were gathering for their regular get-together as part of the preparations for World Youth Day.

The reason I know a bit about this is that I was there, as guest speaker on this occasion, giving a talk on the Church’s calendar and the traditional feasts and seasons that mark our year.

It struck me forcibly during the time of quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament that in so many ways this was very different from what I remember of parish “youth activities” in the 1970s. Back then, guitars seemed central to any and every activity in church, and Benediction with Latin hymns, incense, and a priest in a cope was virtually unthinkable. A time of silent prayer would have been guided by some invocations concerning vaguely political issues — the economic relationship of our country with the Third World, for example — or by someone announcing references to news events of the past week, such as bombs in Northern Ireland or discussions about the need for world disarmament.

What has brought about this mood of change? Is it just the passing of the years, a new generation seeking something different? Probably there is something in that. One can also point to specifics. Trawling through some of these gives food for thought, and cause for gratitude.

Pope John Paul II called the Church to a fresh confidence, and showed us that the center of our lives must be Christ rather than any political agenda. He made Catholics feel that they belonged to a Church that counted for something, one that mattered.

As the post-Vatican II fog drifted a bit, clear theological thinking began, gently, to permeate from Rome consistently over 20 years, a Ratzinger influence that was a gift of immeasurable value. Clichés centered on Liberation Theology — which had become a staple of Western sloppy thinking as seen in Bidding Prayers (intercessions) at suburban Masses — began to seem stale, and the collapse of Communism following Pope John Paul’s visit to Poland and the emergence of Solidarity, was a major part of that.

The stirrings of a new liturgical movement began to make themselves felt, and at the same time enthusiasts for the Tridentine Rite grew in confidence, spurred on by the hostility of diocesan bureaucrats and a growing sense of injustice. The huge popularity of Pope John Paul II, his massive appeal to youth, the way he seemed to represent fatherhood and strength in an era when, in the secular world, fathers were being denigrated and nothing seemed certain, made the mass media take note.

By the time World Youth Day had become firmly established on the international Catholic agenda — and that took some while — a new generation had grown up that simply didn’t see the Church, or the Liturgy, in post-Vatican II terms. They see things differently. Of course this means that there are some things they have scarcely seen at all, things that vanished, for good or ill, forty years ago: women wearing hats in church, for example, or the use of beautifully bound missals and prayer-books among the congregation. And, more importantly, there are whole chunks of Catholic tradition, heritage, and folklore lost to them because of the destruction of beautiful sanctuaries in the name of “renovation” and — most tragic of all — a collapse of Catholic religious instruction in schools and parishes through what has been accurately described as a “catechetical revolution”.

But young Catholics in the Western world, in 2007, each with his or her own reason for being present at church — a staunchly Catholic family, a good local priest, involvement in or around one of the New Movements, a lingering tradition despite semi-practicing parents or a muddled education at a nominally Catholic school — are now open to the idea of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a sense of Catholic identity, Latin chant on a summer evening.

I actually got involved with World Youth Day after reading criticisms of it on an ultra-conservative/“traditionalist” web site. All sorts of things were denounced — immodest or vulgar dress, people eating ice cream during a papal speech — and I am sure that these things happened. But knowing that this was not the whole story — a niece had attended the Cologne event and spoken of it in detail and with great joy and enthusiasm1 — I decided to find out more. With preparations for 2008 and Sydney in hand, it seemed right to help the group of local young people — led by a dedicated young priest — who were planning to go.

This is the Benedict XVI era, and WYD is beginning to reflect that. World Youth Day was born in an era of a strong pop culture and aspects of that are going to be part of it all for a long while yet. But style is different now, and the Church seems more confident in her own traditions. World Youth Day and, probably more importantly, its local affiliated activities are being strongly influenced by younger priests who were reading Cardinal Ratzinger’s views on the liturgy a decade ago and have made them their own.

There’s something intangible about this sense of change, but it’s happening. Somehow, people have picked up the idea that preparing for World Youth Day could usefully include learning how to sing some Latin (“It’s an international language — you’ll find you need it for singing in Australia”) and that silent prayer is also definitely on the agenda. Images from Cologne show a scholarly Papa speaking of sacred things in a measured voice, and of a million glittering candles as night falls and the Blessed Sacrament is on a glowing altar high on a hill.

I am quite sure that World Youth Day 2008 will include all the usual things that a massive gathering of people must necessarily involve — a degree of noise and chaos, some events not to everyone’s taste, bad behavior among much good, tensions as things don’t work out quite as planned. Not everyone who goes will find it as awe-inspiring as others will. And yes, there will be pop-style noises too.

But watch for the wider trend, the general mood, the direction in which things are going. Wake up, as they say, and smell the incense. The young people in this local group — not a mantilla or a missal among them — were not brought up on a rich diet of Catholic traditions. There is a lot they can learn and discover in the years ahead. What is intriguing — and beautiful — is that the indications are that it seems increasingly likely that they are going to have the chance to do so.

1 An account of the last World Youth Day, by Lucy Nash, Joanna Bogle’s niece, appeared in the Pentecost 2007 edition of Voices. It can be read online here: — Editor.

Joanna Bogle, a contributing editor of Voices, writes from London. She is a well-known author and journalist, who writes and lectures on issues of the Catholic faith, and appears frequently on the radio.

From the World Youth Day Web Site

World Youth Day is the largest youth event in the world and will be held in Sydney July 15-20, 2008.

Organized by the Catholic Church, World Youth Day gathers young people from around the world to build bridges of friendship and hope between continents, peoples and cultures.

In August 2005, Sydney was chosen to host the XXIII World Youth Day. The announcement was made by Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne at the conclusion of the XX World Youth Day in August 2005.

So began our incredible three-year journey of planning, preparation and anticipation began for Sydney, Australia ... and the youth of the world.

WYD08 will be the occasion of the first visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to Australia and we very much look forward to welcoming him to the “Southern Land of the Holy Spirit”.

Through the WYD08 experience, young people from throughout the world will make a pilgrimage in faith, meet, and experience the love of God. The young people will have an opportunity to rediscover their baptismal calling and the centrality of the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation, and so discover a new apostolic zeal to witness more fully the Gospel in the modern world. All in the context of the beauty of Australia and the hospitality of the Australian people!

More info:
WYD Logo © World Youth Day, reprinted with permission

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