Diocesan WYD celebrations blend local, universal Church

By: OSV Newsweekly

From Jan. 22-27, millions of young Catholics will convene in Panama City, Panama, for World Youth Day. They will come from all over the globe, from every inhabited continent, and just about every country. But many more will be staying home, unable to make the trek to Panama.

It was announced in 2017 that the 2019 World Youth Day would be held at the end of January; this was largely a weather-related decision, as the typical dates of July or August would have meant the event would happen during Panama’s heavy rain season. Instead, in January it will locally be summer.

While the timing of the event makes it difficult for young people in North America and Europe to travel to Panama, as many teen and college-aged students will be in school, organizers do not expect this to dramatically dampen attendance. In fact, the last time World Youth Day was held in January was in 1995 in the Philippine capital of Manila, when an estimated 5 million people attended Mass with Pope St. John Paul II. This set the record for the largest religious gathering of all time until 6 million attended Mass with Pope Francis in January 2015, also in Manila.

Near and far

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops describes World Youth Day as a call to all Catholic youth and young adults to renew their faith in Christ and prepare themselves for the work of the new evangelization that lies ahead. All youth are invited to participate in World Youth Day, even if they cannot make it to Panama, and the USCCB invites dioceses, parishes and campuses to host local events to commemorate the gathering.

In the United States, many dioceses are planning local World Youth Day events for those who cannot make the trip. For example, the Archdiocese of Washington is holding a celebration for young adults on Jan. 26 at The Catholic University of America, with speakers and musicians, opportunities for confession and adoration, Mass, fellowship and more.

The Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee, offers two opportunities for young adults to join in the celebration of World Youth Day. One way is through traveling as pilgrims to Panama. The other is to travel on pilgrimage to the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. to join their stateside World Youth Day celebration.

“World Youth Day is an important event for the Church,” said Brittany Garcia, who oversees Hispanic youth ministry in Knoxville. “It intentionally creates opportunities for young people to be strengthened in their Catholic faith, consider their vocation, be a pilgrim, learn about other cultures from around the world, and experience profound unity as one universal Church deeply loved by God.”

Many more dioceses are organizing events to coincide with, or celebrate at a different time, World Youth Day in Panama. The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, is holding a youth conference Feb. 8-10, 2019, with Mass, adoration, confession, small groups and more. On Jan. 26, the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, will hold its World Youth Day Stateside event, featuring similar opportunities.

Local diocesan celebrations throughout the country show the importance of the local Church as well as the Church’s unity and universality. 

“World Youth Day is important because it gives youth and young adults a global sense of the Church,” said Paul Jarzembowski, the assistant director for youth and young adult ministries, as well as lay ecclesial ministry, at the USCCB Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

Experiencing the Faith

World Youth Day is not only meant to show young people the universality of the Church. It also serves to help young people experience their faith in a dynamic way, gathered with other youth in an explicitly Catholic context, such as attending Mass, going to confession and Eucharistic adoration. It is important to experience this in one’s local Church community in their diocese.

“If a young person cannot attend the international event, engaging in something near home can be a great alternative,” Jarzembowski said. “World Youth Day is, by its very name and nature, meant for the world — and so no youth or young adult is excluded from the message and experience of World Youth Day.”

With technology keeping people interconnected at the touch of a button, the world seems to be smaller every day. This plays a part in the global purpose and outreach of World Youth Day.

“Living in a digital world, there are many ways to connect to those in Panama, those celebrating across the United States, and around the globe,” Jarzembowski said. “Even in these regional or diocesan or local celebrations, there is a sense of the universal that is important for young people to engage with.”

The world will be listening to hear what Pope Francis has to say at World Youth Day, not just the young people attending in Panama. When the pope addresses the crowd, he won’t just be talking to the youth and young adults gathered in Panama, Jarzembowski noted.

“He will be speaking to every single young person on the planet that can hear his voice,” he said. “Getting together with other young people, whether on the streets of Panama City or in the parish community down the road, and listening to the Holy Father and meeting, praying with and learning from one’s peers, is something vital to the overall World Youth Day experience — so that no young person is ever left behind.”

A global family of faith

Tex Phelps, director of youth ministry for the Archdiocese of Washington, told Our Sunday Visitor that the group he is leading to Panama looks forward not only to being part of a global event with Pope Francis, but also the experience of the Church on a larger scale with greater diversity.

“As part of our trip, we are attending Mass in the rain forest, so that is something that will be different and beautiful,” Phelps said. “In addition, we will get to see some beautiful churches in Panama, and I personally love worshipping with other communities and cultures.”

“World Youth Day gives the pilgrims an understanding of the universal Church, of knowing that they are not alone in their faith journey, and that they are supported by a global family,” Jarzembowski said.

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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