Five months after their pilgrimages to World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland, young Canadian pilgrims are working to fulfill Pope's message Photo courtesy of Bill Wittman

Five months after WYD, young pilgrims work to fulfill Pope’s message

  • January 6, 2017

When my plane touched down at Pearson Airport last summer, World Youth Day suddenly felt like a dream.

Like many of the 3,800 young Canadians who came home from their experience in Krakow, Poland, the weight of our daily life came crashing down around us. It was back to reality, business as usual.

In the back of our minds, the words of the Holy Father at the closing Mass July 31 still ring true for us.

“The times we live in do not call for young ‘couch potatoes’ but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced,” he said. “Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we leave a mark.”

Almost five months after what many affectionately call the “Catholic Woodstock,” two million young Catholics are back in their dioceses, parishes and homes living out that message in their own ways.

In the Archdiocese of Vancouver, the Youth and Young Adult Ministry office hosted a World Youth Day reunion event in November to recapture some of the spirit of Krakow.

“We had two people share their testimonies of their World Youth Day experience and we had a video highlight,” said Gerard Garcia, young adult ministry consultant for the archdiocese. “We even had the consulate of Panama in Vancouver come and extend an invitation to the next World Youth Day (in 2019 in Panama City).”

More than 200 young people attended the reunion event, but Garcia said that many of its 450 pilgrims have hosted reunion events in their local parishes. Many are taking up leadership roles in their own ministries, he said.

It may still be too early to see what fruits will bear from the pilgrimage, but Garcia is optimistic the young adults of the diocese will take the Pope’s closing message to heart.

“We need to make sure that we keep them on our radar and plug them in to the life of the archdiocese,” he said.

Transferring the energy that young people experienced at World Youth Day can be a challenge when the distractions of daily life create a bubble of busyness for young people.

But in the Archdiocese of Quebec City, youth office coordinator Anne-Sophie Allard said they were “happily surprised” by the enthusiasm it created among their local youth.

“People brought together by this big event, once it was over, were like ‘Are we going to just dissolve like nothing happened? Or are we going to continue on some other kind of mission?’ ” said Allard.

Before the pilgrimage, Allard said youth ministry was very centralized around the events the archdiocese hosted. Now, the youth office is fielding calls from local groups expressing their desire to create their own initiatives.

Head of Quebec City’s youth office, Jesuit Fr. Marc Rizzetto, said the goal is to create leaders among the World Youth Day pilgrims.

“We’re planning some activities for our younger folk and the core organizers are people who have participated in the last World Youth Day,” said Rizzetto. “They’re like a magnet. It’s overwhelming seeing them because they’re so enthused and they want people to be a part of that Church experience.”

The archdiocese’s youth ministry office is organizing a youth rally in February for youth ages 14-17 years old. Rizzetto hopes that the energy of these youth leaders will transfer to the younger generation and help them feel more a part of the Church.

Rizzetto said they have yet to organize a diocese-wide reunion event for the 200 pilgrims that went to Krakow from Quebec City. However, they are looking to organize an event in April, led by Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix.

Lacroix also presided over the Canadian World Youth Day gathering July 26 at the Tauron Arena in Krakow.

In speaking to the world’s youth, Pope Francis called on each one to lace up their boots and “blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy.”

I know I still reap benefits from my first World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011. How far Pope’s “new horizons” will stretch after Krakow is anyone’s guess.

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