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WORLD YOUTH DAY 2008
Authentic Catholicism: a fertile ground for vocations to flourish
In Sydney, as in Cologne during World Youth Day in 2005, Pope Benedict wants to meet with young seminarians from all over the world. He wanted this 'so that the vocational dimension would truly emerge in all of its importance since it plays an ever more important role in World Youth Days.' In other words the Pope recognises that World Youth Day provides fertile ground for vocations to flourish.
Recently, a World Youth Day information night was held for seminarians at Corpus Christi College, the regional seminary for Victoria and Tasmania. The question was posed: how many of the fifty or so seminarians would attribute some degree of influence on their vocation to involvement in World Youth Day? About one-third of those present raised their hands.
There can be no doubt that the experience of World Youth Day has had a major impact on those who have attended these huge gatherings of the world's young Catholics over the past twenty years, even if Australia's participation in any organised and official way has been a little 'late have I loved thee.'
It was not until the year 2000, when over two million young Catholics gathered in Rome, that Australian dioceses were present in a significant way. The connection between this Catholic gathering of young people and vocations is not hard to explain. However it has more to do with the general challenge by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI to live the faith in an authentic way rather than being explicitly aimed at encouraging vocations.
Certainly the emphasis has now become more focussed on vocations promotion, as testified by the Vocations Exposition which will be held during WYD week at Darling Harbour (see below).
So why has World Youth Day been so successful in revitalising the faith of young Catholics? In a headline in the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano earlier in the year Pope Benedict's address to pilgrims was summarised as follows: 'Meeting Jesus: one is never the same.'
I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that for many people it was at World Youth Day that they encountered Jesus for the first time. Or at least that it was during some part of World Youth Day that they realised the full significance of that encounter with the person of Christ.
While no one can put constraints on the working of grace, it is not by accident that young people encounter Christ at World Youth Day. A brief look at the program for any WYD reveals that there are some key components to the WYD experience that facilitate this personal encounter with Christ and his Church.
Catechesis sessions, whereby the Church's teachers - bishops and cardinals - explain the faith are an integral part of the week's activities. Eucharistic Adoration - made available in numerous churches and locations - encourages youth to contemplative prayer and silence.
The Sacrament of Penance is probably the most surprising aspect of any WYD. This sacrament - largely abandoned by their elders and unfamiliar to their peers - has been attended by literally tens of thousands during WYD week.
I have attended three WYD's (Rome: 2000, Toronto: 2002 and Cologne: 2005). When I went to Toronto I had been ordained a priest less than two months earlier. One of my most vivid memories is the experience of being one of over 200 priests in an exhibition hall hearing confessions for eight hours virtually without a break. Some priests had been there longer.
I wasn't even a rostered priest but I saw that the lines were so long that I should do the decent thing and put a stole around my neck and help! And this was one of many places around the city of Toronto set aside for Reconciliation. The culmination of the week - World Youth Day itself - is marked by the Vigil and final Mass celebrated by the Holy Father.
The reason why this celebration of the Catholic Faith by young people has been so successful in igniting the faith of millions of them is that it is an expression of authentic Catholicism. Young people discover that there is such a thing as truth; that orthodoxy is not a fiction. It is, in the words of C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
Pope John Paul recognised years ago that in order to reach the young and challenge them he needed to meet directly with them. Pope Benedict has indicated that he too wants to have a first hand meeting with young people. He told the youth of the world in 2005 that, 'Anyone who had discovered Christ must lead others to him.'
As young people encounter Christ they will ask themselves how they can do that. All will discover that God is calling them to conversion; many will discover that He is calling them to lead others as priests and religious.
Fr Anthony Denton is Director of Vocations in the Melbourne Archdiocese.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 21 No 6 (July 2008), p. 9
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