World Youth Day revellers take in the festivities at WYD 2011 in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Vanessa Santilli

Youth office steps back from WYD

  • June 13, 2012

TORONTO - As part of the new direction of the archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth, the office won’t be organizing a trip to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day 2013, said director Fr. Frank Portelli.

“It was discussed at the Council of Priests and it was decided that it would be better if the parishes work on their own groups to go down so it would be more parish-based initiatives,” Portelli told The Catholic Register.

The OCY will instead help with the formation which precedes World Youth Day, such as by creating a curriculum or teaching material for youth ministers in the lead-up to the pilgrimage.

“We’re moving away from being event-based to being more of a support for those doing youth ministry already,” he said.

Fr. Tom Rosica, chief executive officer of Salt+Light Media Foundation, said it was a “wise” decision and that many dioceses are doing the same thing as the OCY for various reasons.

“The important thing is we keep the spirit of World Youth Day alive and that could be done at the international event and by celebrating locally,” said Rosica, whom the Canadian bishops appointed World Youth Day co-ordinator for the Canadian delegation to Rio. He was also the national director of the 2002 WYD event in Toronto.

“And given the serious challenges before us for the World Youth Day in Rio, people need to be very prudent and circumspect in making such decisions.”

Neil MacCarthy, communications director for the archdiocese and a former director of the OCY, said while the decision will be disappointing for many pilgrims, the short time period between pilgrimages puts a strain on parish fundraising, diocesan co-ordination and pilgrim formation.

“There are also some other larger dioceses like Vancouver that, for the last number of World Youth Days, have not organized a diocesan pilgrimage,” said MacCarthy. “They provide information to parishes for local travel agents who are able to assist.”

The OCY officially started organizing a diocesan-wide pilgrimage in 2005, he added.

Daniela De Ciantis, 19, said it’s a shame OCY won’t be taking a delegation to Rio. As a participant in last year’s trip to World Youth Day in Spain, De Ciantis said the experience was life-changing, in part, because of travelling with the OCY group. “The leaders were great and so were all the pilgrims,” said De Ciantis.

But she’s not planning on going to Rio.

“If I was planning on it, I do not know of any group travelling there that I would be able to go with.”

If youth find themselves in this situation, Portelli encourages them to get in touch with the OCY, who will help to connect them with other young people going in their area.

“Or maybe we can help them take that leadership role and organize something.”

Leeza Shakkouri, 19, also enjoyed last year’s pilgrimage to Madrid with the OCY.

“But I believe if the OCY has decided this, then it is for the best,” said Shakkouri.

For Barbara Kowalski, 24, her experience in Madrid with OCY wasn’t as good as her time at WYD Australia in 2008 mainly due to organizational difficulties.

“The OCY has such great potential to reach out to Toronto’s Catholic youth and I sincerely hope to see this potential put to great use.”

But Amanda Foster, 21, isn’t so sympathetic, calling the decision a big letdown.

“As the official Catholic youth office for Toronto, they should be sending pilgrims to Rio… I wanted to go but since the OCY isn’t going, I’m no longer going.”

Foster said she’s been unsuccessful in finding a group to go with as her parish isn’t organizing a pilgrimage.

Portelli, who took the reins as OCY director last November, said the office is going through a restructuring as it wants to support young people while helping them integrate into their own parish communities.

In Toronto, where there’s lots of resources at parishes and lots of parishes are operating with a youth-focused ministry, the office is being challenged to change their focus to adapt to their need, he said.

“And I think it’s better, as I talk to youth ministers in the archdiocese, to move towards this,” he said.

“So given that with Rio, there’s difficulty there with price and security, there are all kinds of concerns that people are bringing forward to me, it’s perhaps a good time to move away from events-based to more ministry-based. Now is the time.”

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