Many Catholics and Church leaders have commented that it is often difficult to engage high-schoolers and college students in embracing the Catholic Faith as their own. At the end of July in Krakow, Poland, however, the world witnessed the awesome potential of an engaged young Church, and a story developed of joy and hope narrated by hundreds of thousands of passionate and faithful young people from across the globe.
In “the city of Karol Wojtyla,” these young people gathered to be inspired, to learn and to pray as one in the name of Jesus Christ for World Youth Day 2016. The joyful convergence of so many from across the world tells the story of a universal Church not dictated by borders, race or language but instead of a community brought together through a common love of the Lord. It tells the story of a young Church hungry for Christ and for truth. It tells a story of a charismatic pope who put his faith in young people, and how, for three decades, the Church has been reaping the dividends. Pope St. John Paul II showed the Church and the world that not only did the faith of the world’s youth have merit, but that it could start a revolution of love. The pope-turned-saint unlocked the young as a gift to the Church, and it’s a gift that keeps on giving.
As shared traditional values of marriage and family life, of care for the poor and the least among us, are becoming further separated from the norms of contemporary American society, young people often are finding themselves adrift in a sea of relativism and hungry for truth. John Paul II recognized this, and he responded — boldly proclaiming the beauty of the Faith in a way that made it possible for us to proclaim it as well. Continuing this legacy, we, too, must be prepared to harness the power and passion of the next generation of young people by leading them to the truth through love, catechesis and witness.
At the same time, we must also be open to learning from the unique perspective that youth bring to the Church. In our divided world, so ridden with violence, distrust and racial prejudice, young people can offer, as Pope Francis said in a video message to pilgrims issued before World Youth Day began, “a new sign of harmony, a mosaic of different faces, from many races, languages, peoples and cultures, but all united in the name of Jesus, who is the face of mercy.”
As young people leave Krakow after several days of pilgrimage, we must not only welcome them home in body, but in spirit — opening our own hearts to the fire of the Holy Spirit that they bring with them and praying that, together, we may transform the world.
As Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow challenged the youth in his homily during the opening Mass July 26: “Bring to others the flame of your faith and with it, light other flames so that the human heart may beat with the rhythm of the heart of Jesus who is the ardent source of mercy.
“May the flame of love engulf our world so that in it there will be no more egoism, violence, injustice, but the earth will be reinforced with the civilization of good, of reconciliation, of love, of peace,” he added.
A Church full of engaged and vibrant youth is not only possible, but is necessary. And each of us can play a vital part in bringing it to fruition.
Editorial Board: Scot Landry, chief mission officer; Greg Willits, editorial director; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor