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World Youth Day: from Toronto to Cologne

Rome 10-13 April 2003

Bishop Stanisław Ryłko
Pontifical Council for the Laity


The path of preparation for WYD 2005


1. A new stage begins

The symbolical celebration of the passing of the Cross from the young Canadians to the young Germans that is due to take place on this coming Palm Sunday, will officially open a new stage in the great spiritual adventure of World Youth Day. When setting out on a new journey it is advisable to have your destination clear and to be given some directions so that you can avoid taking the wrong turnings or "running in vain" as Saint Paul said (Gal 2:2). This is the objective of my short intervention.

In order to facilitate our path of ministry towards the gathering of 2005, the Holy Father has already announced the theme: "We have come to worship him" (Mt 2:2), chronologically preceded by that of 2004: "We wish to see Jesus" (Jn 12:21). Yet again, even in the choice of themes, the Pope confirms the Christocentric character of the event. Again he calls on the youth of the entire world to direct their gaze towards Christ, to contemplate his image in the company of his Mother Mary, to place themselves in his school and to put themselves under his direction. This invitation can be seen in the theme chosen for WYD this year: "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19:27).

In 2005, the world gathering of young people with the Pope will take us to Cologne, an ancient city where we find the church where the relics of the three Magi have been kept and venerated for centuries. It is therefore a very symbolic place. In choosing Cologne, the Pope is drawing the attention of the young people of today to the spiritual journey undertaken by these mysterious people from the east as they went in search of Christ, King of the Jews. The goal of their journey: "We have come to worship him" is the same as ours. This important spiritual journey implies some priorities of a pastoral nature that I wish to share with you.


2. Ongoing training of those working in youth ministry

The instructing of instructors is, in my opinion, one of the most urgent needs of the Church today. Thanks to WYD, there is now a new generation of young people - the so-called "John Paul II generation", the "sentinels of morning" generation, the "people of the beatitudes" generation. These young people need a new generation of instructors, whether they are priests, religious, or lay: a new generation of methods, programmes, enthusiasm!

The youth ministry sector, perhaps more than any other sector of ministry in the Church, does not allow for any pause - so to say - in witnessing to Christ. The authenticity and the very credibility of this witnessing must constantly reach the level of expectations that are always very "demanding". Those who work with youth know well how easily they are disappointed and how little it takes to lose them!

The request made by the Greeks to the Apostles: "We wish to see Jesus", chosen as the theme for WYD 2004, fully expresses the deep desire that young people hold in their hearts. It is a desire that urges them to look around them, to search and to question. This expectation, this hope, presents those responsible for youth ministry with an unavoidable question concerning their own ability to show Christ to the young people around them. As I said in my homily, youth ministry must not become routine. It is vital that we rediscover its prophetic dimension. We must regain the ardour, the courage, the ability to go against the tide, to break moulds... Youth ministry is a field in which the future of the Church is decided. However, methods and programmes alone are not enough if we are not able to take a look at our own attitudes. We must ask ourselves seriously about our own life witness with respect to this continual request that comes from the world of youth: "We wish to see Jesus". The Pope thus comments on this passage: "Like those pilgrims of two thousand years ago, the men and women of our own day - often perhaps unconsciously - ask believers not only to 'speak' of Christ, but in a certain sense to 'show' him to them.[...]. Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face. (Novo millennio ineunte, n.16). He cautions us: "Ours is a time of continual movement which often leads to restlessness, with the risk of 'doing for the sake of doing'. We must resist this temptation by trying 'to be' before trying 'to do'. (ibid., n.15).

WYD calls the attention of those who work in youth ministry not so much for what they "do" - we often do so many things and perhaps too many - but especially for what they "are". Perhaps we should have less congresses and conventions and more spiritual retreats so that we can "be" better and so give better spiritual consistency to our ministry with young people. Ongoing training for those who work in this critically important sector of pastoral ministry in the Church is therefore of utmost importance.

3. Basic programme for youth ministry in the light of Novo millennio ineunte

In the apostolic letter Novo millennio ineunte, the Pope insists on the advisability, or rather, the necessity of having pastoral programmes. Although there is always some tension to a greater or lesser degree between programmes and life, in a certain sense this is healthy and beneficial. Pastoral ministry, as Saint Gregory the Great said, is an "art", or rather, the art of arts: Ars artium, regimen animarum! Instructors, like artists, must be creative and possess a lively "pastoral" imagination... Routine and habit are the relentless enemies of pastoral ministry and dry up its lifeblood.

In elaborating a pastoral programme in view of WYD in Cologne, we must always remember some of the basic principles that Pope John Paul II records in Novo millennio ineunte.

First of all, the primacy of grace. When we speak of evangelisation and pastoral ministry, we must never forget its basic nature: we must never forget that evangelisation and pastoral ministry are both essentially works of grace. The results of our commitment to either of these are never mainly due to our intelligence or our organising ability, but to the gift of divine grace. The Pope forcefully reminds us that, "we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person" (n. 29), and he draws our attention to prayer, a key factor in the fruitfulness and success of each pastoral plan. We must always remind ourselves that pastoral ministry is not moved by the laws of market research or propaganda. Its nature and foundation reside elsewhere and are seen only in the light of faith.

Secondly, the primacy of holiness. The Pope points out that "all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness" (n. 30). Therefore, the pursuit of holiness is also a priority in the field of youth ministry. The call to holiness regards all the baptised and we must encourage young people to see it as a "high standard of ordinary Christian living" (n. 31). We must exert all our effort to make our pastoral initiatives become real "schools of holiness" and real "schools of prayer". It is an ambitious and demanding undertaking, but it is worth the effort.

Thirdly, the primacy of the sacramental life. In the education in the faith process, two sacraments are of particular importance: Eucharist and Reconciliation. Young people need to be helped to rediscover the Eucharist as the "fount and apex of the whole Christian life" Lumen gentium, n. 11), and to rediscover the sacrament of Reconciliation as an encounter with Christ who frees us from the most deep-rooted slavery that exists, that is, the slavery of sin. The Pope himself encourages Pastors to arm themselves "with more confidence, creativity and perseverance in presenting it and leading people to appreciate it" (Novo millennio ineunte n. 37). Besides, it is not by chance that these two sacraments are always at the centre of WYD, and we all remember the touching witness given by long lines of young people at the confessionals in the Circo Massimo in Rome in the year 2000, and at the confessionals in Duc in altum Park in Toronto in 2002. These are very encouraging signs that should be followed up.

Fourthly, the primacy of the spirituality of communion. Work with young people requires firm and generous commitment on the part of the whole Church, but especially on the part of associated groups within the Church. Res nostra agitur! They are all expected to contribute according to their specific charism. Youth ministry should be the mature fruit of the spirituality of communion of which Pope John Paul II speaks. It is not a case of competition and antagonism, but of collaboration and sharing.

So, what should we do? I feel that the most appropriate thing to do is to respond in the remarkably prophetic  words of the Pope in Novo millennio ineunte: "Over the years, I have often repeated the summons to the new evangelization. I do so again now, especially in order to insist that we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul, who cried out: 'Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel'" (n. 40). May the Lord grant that this encounter may be an occasion to give new impetus and energy to our commitment to the service and cause of the young people of the Church and the world.