Pastor’s Corner for the Transfiguration of the Lord, Year A, by Fr. Chris Chatteris SJ

We pray that the World Youth Day in Lisbon will help young people to live and witness the Gospel in their own lives – Pope Francis.

The question hanging over all big youth events is: What are the long-term effects? As a youth myself, at a time well before World Youth Day, I was able to participate in some pilgrimages to Lourdes where I joined other young people in working with the sick.
The spectacular aspects of the pilgrimage certainly had an impact – the processions, the mega-Masses, the thousands of pilgrims. However, it was the contact with the sick and the example of their faith that made the deepest impression. It is important that WYD is more than just participating in a vast, international meeting.
And that’s precisely the problem with an event which lasts a few days. How do you engage hundreds of thousands of youngsters from all the corners of the world in some life-changing activity? I noted the same problem at Taizé. The monks did their best to gather the young pilgrims into discussion groups to reflect on the problems of the Church and the world, but breaking into small groups is hardly something one could describe as a ‘hands on’ activity!
What I think we really must pray for is that this WYD avoid the logistical problems which were reported after the WYD in Spain by a South African group. This group was lodged so far from the centre of the action that they spent a large amount of time on public transport, getting up at the crack of dawn and arriving back late at night. The result was that they ended up suffering from sleep deprivation and long periods without food. In a day and age when we are, rightly, super sensitive to the treatment of children and young people, such arrangements are unacceptable in themselves and potentially scandalous.
Another thing to pray for is that young people gather for this event in their numbers. The explicit aim of WYD is to give the young people at the gathering a deeper understanding of the Gospel. But on another, less-conscious level, we have a desire to show to the world and to ourselves as a Church that we can still pull in the young crowds.
We must avoid the temptation of the big spectacle. This is a potential temptation for the Church in Europe where there aren’t too many young people in Church these days. When they had WYD in Manilla and in Rio, the problem was not how to make up the numbers, but rather how to limit them to safe proportions. In the developing world there are young people in Church because of the young demographic. Not so in Europe.
And because the developing world does have young people in Church, one of the problems for our parishes contemplating sending delegates to Portugal is which young people do we send? In a German parish there may only be two or three youngsters and the availability of resources to send them is not a problem. With us, painful choices must be made because not everyone can go!
Fr Chris Chatteris SJ,

Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network.