With the Church being criticized and called out-of-date so often, it's wonderful to see signs of Catholicism not only alive and well, but thriving.
Yesterday began World Youth Day 2008, taking place in Sydney, Australia. Established in 1986 by Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day is an opportunity for young people from all over to make pilgrimages to various parts of the world and to meet and worship with a multitude of Catholics from all different backgrounds. John Paul II knew how important it was to get young Catholics involved in their faith, and focused on this during his time as pope like no one had before. As part of the "John Paul II generation" myself, it's great to know that in part because of his efforts many young Catholics today take their faith seriously and are willing and excited to go all over the world to celebrate that faith with thousands upon thousands of other Catholics. It's obvious that his work with young people, especially through events like World Youth Day, will have ripple effects for years to come that will continue to strengthen the Catholic Church around the world.
Events going on this week include the opening Mass with Cardinal Pell yesterday, Stations of the Cross, numerous Catechesis sessions throughout the week, an evening vigil with the Pope, and daily Youth Festival events such as prayer with the relics of saints, adoration, various exhibits, plays, and music. The week concludes with the Final Mass over which the Pope presides, expected to be attended by up to 500,000 in Sydney. The record attendance for an international World Youth Day final Mass was 4 million in 1995 when it was held in Manila, Philippines.
This year's World Youth Day is the first to take advantage of the ability to connect to young Catholics through many multimedia venues. A social networking site Xt3 was recently launched specifically for the event, intended to help those who traveled to Australia connect before and after World Youth Day, but it's also open to anyone who would like to join and network with other Catholics. In addition, Pope Benedict XVI is even sending daily text messages to the pilgrims, reaching out to young Catholics where they are easily found. For those who are not attending World Youth Day in person this year, there is a World Youth Day 2008 website set up to be a "virtual pilgrimage" so that anyone can take part in the week at least to some extent. People can also follow the events of World Youth Day at Pope2008.com.
The highlight of the trip for many pilgrims will be the opportunity to see the Pope in person (even if it is from far away). Some worried after John Paul II died that the next pope would be unable to match the enthusiasm and ecumenical spirit he had, but Pope Benedict has become just as loved and as popular. He has proven to many that he can be just as unifying for the Church, perhaps because of his love of reverence and tradition, which has drawn many Catholics to him - especially us younger Catholics, who hunger for the true richness of our faith. His tremendously successful journeys to places around the world including the United States have shown that, although he's much different from JPII, Pope Benedict has many wonderful gifts to offer the world. Their methods of reaching out to the people, including to young Catholics, might be different, but there is no question that they both have meant a great deal to the Church. John Paul II had a fantastic impact on the Church and the world while he was pope (including creating World Youth Day), and it looks like Pope Benedict XVI won't be much different in that regard.
Whether attending World Youth Day or not, if you would like to benefit from some of Pope Benedict's amazing writings, please visit the Pope Benedict XVI specialty store at our website to browse our selection of items by and about him. Some of our items include DVDs and resources from his Apostolic Journey to the United States earlier this year, as well as the book God's Revolution, a collection of Pope Benedict's addresses from World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne.
Also, read some reflections by youth and excerpts from Pope John Paul II's addresses at past World Youth Day gatherings in the book John Paul II, We Love You, or read teen-aimed explanations of his addresses from five different World Youth Day events in We're on a Mission from God.