THE WYD STORY
In 1984 & 1985 Pope John Paul II invited the youth of the world to celebrate Palm Sunday in St Peter’s Square in Rome, in the hope that such a gathering might inspire youth and encourage them to live the teachings of Christ. The success of these two events led the Pope to expand the invitation so that it became what we now know as World Youth Day.
The first official World Youth Day was held in 1986 and since then it has become not just a single day but a whole week of festivities and fun and spiritual enrichment. There have been 11 international WYD celebrations held every 2-3 years, each time in a different location, where young people across the world have gathered in staggering numbers to hear the words of the Holy Father and to share the light of Christ with the world.
Each WYD leaves a lasting legacy in its host city; residents are amazed at the joy and peace found amongst the pilgrims despite the large crowds filling the city streets. Flags of many nations and the songs of different cultures transform the sidewalks into a sea of colour and unrestrained joy. Pilgrims at WYD become not only a witness to the people of the host city as they gather peacefully for the faith, but also a sign of hope for the whole world.
Check out the WYD timeline and what the themes and locations were for the previous World Youth Day’s:
2016 – Kraków, Poland
An estimated three million young people attended from all around the world, taking part in the week long event which began on 25 July 2016 and ended on 31 July 2016 with an open-air mass led by Pope Francis at Campus Misericordiae. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt5:7).
2013 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In July, 2013 about 4 million young people arrived in Rio, Brazil to welcome our new Pope Francis for the most recent WYD under the theme “Go make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).
2011 – Madrid, Spain
In August, 2011 about 2 million young people arrived in Madrid, Spain under the theme “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (Col 2:7).
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8) was the theme of the 2008 WYD in Sydney, Australia.
In 2005, WYD pilgrims warmly welcomed Pope Benedict XVI. It was his first WYD as Pope and was held in his homeland of Germany. About 1.5 million pilgrims went to Cologne for the week-long celebration. The theme was “We have come to worship Him” (Mt 2:2)
World Youth Day was first held on Canadian soil when Toronto hosted the event in 2002. This time the theme was “You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14). This was the last time Pope John Paul II would lead a WYD.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14) was the theme for about 3 million young people from all nations who converged once again in Rome in 2000.
Paris, France was the host city of WYD in 1997. The theme was “Teacher, where are you staying? Come and see” (Jn 1:38-39).
The largest WYD, when measured by attendance, was in 1995 in Manila, Philippines. There were about 4 million people present! The theme was “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you” (Jn 20:21).
The following WYD was in Denver, USA in 1993 and the theme was “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10).
In 1991, Poland hosted WYD for the first time. John Paul II’s homeland was the first East European country to hold the event. The meeting in Częstochowa brought together over a million young people under the theme “You have received a spirit of sonship” (Rom 8:15).
The next WYD was in 1989 in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The theme was “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6).
The following WYD was the first outside Europe and was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1987. The theme was “We ourselves have known and put our faith in God’s love towards ourselves” (1 Jn 4:16). About 1 million people attended the event.
1986 – Rome, Italy
The first WYD held in Rome was in 1986. The theme was “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1Pt 3:15). The celebration was at the diocesan level.
It was the Holy Year of the Redemption (1983-1984). Pope John Paul II felt that there should be a Cross – the symbol of our faith – near the main altar in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where it could be seen by everyone. A large wooden Cross, 3.8 meters high, was placed there according to the Holy Father’s desire.
At the end of the Holy Year, after the Pope had closed the Holy Door, he entrusted that Cross to the youth of the world, represented by the young people from the San Lorenzo Youth Centre in Rome. His words on that occasion were:
“My dear young people, at the conclusion of the Holy Year, I entrust to you the sign of this Jubilee Year: the Cross of Christ! Carry it throughout the world as a symbol of Christ’s love for humanity, and announce to everyone that only in the death and resurrection of Christ can we find salvation and redemption”(Rome, 22nd April 1984).
The youth responded to the Holy Father’s request and took the Cross to the San Lorenzo Youth Centre beside St Peter’s Square, and this was to be its home when it was not on pilgrimage around the world.
Since then, the WYD Cross has travelled far and wide – throughout Europe, beyond the Iron Curtains, to the Americas, Asia, Africa and Australia, and even to Ground Zero in New York – always present in the international celebration of WYD. It has been carried by commercial airline, light aircraft, dog sled, pick-up truck, tractor, sail boat, fishing boat and on shoulders.
The Icon of Our Lady
In 2003, Pope John Paul II entrusted to the youth another symbol of faith to be taken all over the world with the WYD Cross: the Icon of Our Lady, Salus Populi Romani. This icon is a copy of a venerated icon in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome (the first and the largest basilica in Rome dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary).
“From now on it will accompany the World Youth Days, together with the Cross. Behold, your Mother! It will be a sign of Mary’s motherly presence close to young people who are called, like the Apostle John, to welcome her into their lives.” (Angelus, 18th World Youth Day, 13 April 2003)
Journey of the WYD Cross and Icon
From the announcement of the host World Youth Day city, the Cross and Icon set out on pilgrimage in a relay-style event, known as the Journey of the Cross and Icon (or JCI for short), which sees them travelling throughout the Dioceses of the WYD host country, engaging with Catholic parishes and communities on a local level.
DAYS IN THE DIOCESE
The Days in the Diocese initiative began at World Youth Day 1997 in Paris as a way of involving all of France in the WYD experience. Since then, every WYD has incorporated Days in the Diocese as preparation for the WYD week.
The Days in the Diocese are usually scheduled 4-5 days prior to the WYD week and involve programs designed to immerse pilgrims in the local people, cultures and customs. Participating in Days in the Diocese is optional for pilgrimage groups, but it is a great opportunity to see how the local Catholics of the host country live.
Pilgrims from countries across the world are accommodated by each participating Diocese in schools, parishes, sports centres, and home stays. Each day is filled with opportunities for prayer, building community, historic visits, and all manner of activities specific to the host Diocese.
Approximately 300,000 young people from over 135 countries visited 63 Diocese in Spain as part of the Days in the Diocese in the lead-up to WYD Madrid. In Krakow in 2016, Days in the Diocese will once again be an integral part of the WYD pilgrimage.
The WYD week takes place over six days, beginning with an Opening Mass and concluding with an evening Vigil and Final Mass with the Pope. During the week, pilgrims from all walks of life attend Catechesis sessions and unite in prayer and the sacraments. A Youth Festival will also take place each day where pilgrims can reach across barriers of language and culture and celebrate together their Catholic faith through music and theatre and all manner of celebrations. Though WYD events are aimed at young people aged 16-35, people of all ages are welcome to come and be a part of the occasion.