Members of the Montreal delegation prepare for their journey to World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, which runs Aug. 2-6. Photo by Peter Stockland

WYD pilgrims challenged to be seekers

  • July 29, 2023

Less than 24 hours before her departure for Portugal on July 13, Isabel Correa, national coordinator for the Canadian delegation to World Youth Day (WYD), appeared to exemplify something of the Biblical verse that is the theme for this year’s pilgrimage, “Mary arose and went with haste.”

When The Catholic Register caught up with her, Correa was bustling around her offices at the Archdiocese of Montreal, where she has served as director of Youth Ministry since 2007, kicking around the boxes of WYD t-shirts and calling out last-minute instructions to her young volunteers.

Correa was due to take-off the next day for Lisbon, arriving in advance of the Aug. 2 to 6 global gathering for Catholic youth to take care of the many tasks necessary to ensure the 5,000 Canadian leaders and pilgrims arriving for WYD 2023 would receive a warm welcome.

“First thing I will do is get the SIM cards we promised our delegation, then I will meet the people locally who will be housing us to make sure they have everything they need so that the settling of our pilgrims with the host families is done correctly,” said Correa.

It has been 30 years since Correa attended her first WYD in Denver, where Pope St. John Paul II exhorted the 750,000 young people gathered in Cherry Creek State Park at the closing Mass: “Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages.”

Correa says that she was a reluctant pilgrim in 1993. “I said the same things a lot of the pilgrims say, ‘It is not for me, I don’t have the money, yada, yada.’ ”

But despite her initial reservations, Denver was transformational for Correa.

“Cherry Creek Park is where I felt it for the first time: I’m not alone in having faith.”

Since then, Correa has traveled to nine World Youth Days around the globe both as a simple pilgrim and as a leader. Lisbon is her second as Canada’s national coordinator, a position she took up in 2017.

She is clearly as excited for Lisbon as for any of the previous global gatherings of Catholic youth she has attended.

“There is no other project that I have experienced working in youth ministry that is as motivating as World Youth Day,” Correa told The Catholic Register.

Much has changed since those heady days in Denver in 1993. For a start, the huge numbers of pilgrims attracted to the event are, seemingly, a thing of the past. An estimated five million people attended the closing Mass in Manila in 1995. Krakow, Rio and Madrid all tallied up numbers in the millions.

There was a decided drop at the last WYD, Panama 2019, with an estimated 600,000 people keeping watch at the all-night vigil. This year, though organizers are using the million number for press releases, a total of 313,000 had completed the registration process by the end of June.

Correa says that the type of young person attracted to the event has also changed. They tend to be older, emerging professionals and, according to Correa, “eco conscious.”

The content of the catechesis is reflective of the major themes of the Pope Francis pontificate: ecology, social friendship and kerygma, “created by love, for love,” and the catechetical method is to be synodal, to “include this experience for young people.”

Correa noted there would also be an “ecumenical dimension” this year, although it seems there will also be an interreligious encounter with planned visits to local places of worship, including a Hindu temple, a mosque and synagogue, and invitations to youth of different faiths to attend WYD events. It was in this context of proposed interreligious dialogue that Cardinal-elect Américo Aguiar said, in a July 11 interview with ACI Digital, that WYD does not aim “to convert young people to Christ or the Catholic Church or anything like that at all.”

Correa does not see that the Gospel mandate to preach to the nations, spoken of by Pope St. John Paul II in 1993, and Aguiar’s comments are in opposition to one another.

“The young person that goes is totally free. The entire environment is built to facilitate an encounter with Jesus Christ. In the end, it is the young person who needs to take advantage of that.”

Correa and her team from Montreal, aided by what she says has been “great collaboration with members of the CCCB,” will gather on Aug. 1 in Lisbon’s Parque Urbano da Quinta da Granja for a “Canadian Gathering,” in advance of the official opening.

There, no doubt, Correa will be direct in her questioning of the Canadian youth.

“I always ask them, ‘Quo vadis?’ You are going on a pilgrimage. What is the grace that you want? What are you seeking for? Look for it. Be an active seeker.”

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