Would it surprise you to see over 500,000 youth excited to hike several miles to sleep outside, in the middle of winter, just to attend Mass on Sunday? That is exactly what happened at the last World Youth Day (WYD) in Sydney, Australia with teens from our diocese in 2008. On Oct. 24 there will be local WYD celebrations in parishes across the U.S. These “local” celebrations are intended to prepare us for the international celebration of WYD every three years in an area of the world in need of renewed conversion. WYD is actually a week-long series of events with the Holy Father.
The next will take place in Madrid, Spain in August 2011. Over 3 million youth are expected to attend! WYD’s theme is from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “Rooted and built up in Christ, firm in the faith” (2:7). Paul wanted to encourage the faithful not to live as if they “still belonged to the world” (Col. 2:20).
It was with prayerful wisdom that our Holy Father chose this. The dilemma we face here in the U.S., and abroad, is that many youth have never experienced true and total conversion to Jesus Christ and His Church. They have been baptized and catechized, but never really go on to live out their faith. This is the reason why John Paul II called for a “New Evangelization.” It is a renewed call for the initial conversion of heart in the already baptized. This is intended to take place at an early age within the family. In order for catechesis to be truly effective this basic “conversion” is supposed to have taken place prior to formal instruction, but sadly this is not always the case. Pope Paul VI’s letter “On Evangelization in the Modern World” and John Paul II’s document “Catechesis in our Time,” explain a process of sequential stages of faith that we must progress through called “evangelization.” In youth ministry we use the terms “winning,” “building” and “sending” to explain this. In order to be “built up in Christ” as Paul wrote; the Colossians’ hearts had to be “won” over to Christ first. Since this is not always accomplished through the normal means of the family the “New Evangelization” calls us to utilize “new” methods.
When the Holy Father addresses the young people of the world in Spain, he will be addressing a culture that has lost its sense of being Christian (something that plagues Americans too). There are several reasons for this, but the fact remains, many of our youth, and adults, have never given their hearts to Christ prior to being instructed in the faith. Youth ministry addresses this. These necessary “conversions of heart” frequently take place by sharing the faith in person-to-person relationships. A large part of youth ministry is forming Christ-centered relationships between teens and faithful adults who guide them into a deep and personal encounter with Jesus – especially in Scripture and the Blessed Sacrament.
Part of the work of the Diocesan Office of Youth & Young Adult Ministry is to train and equip parishes to accomplish this vital task. The core of any relationally based youth ministry program is a weekly youth group gathering, as well as activities outside the parish where these relationships are formed and fostered. For the past three years the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry has helped parishes develop youth groups through a six-week process that not only recruits and trains the adults needed to begin, but the youth as well!
In addition to helping at the parish level, the Office of Youth & Young Adult Ministry plans large group events and pilgrimages that provide the atmosphere for these conversion experiences to take place. Thousands of youth from the diocese attend them each year. Some of these are listed on the side bar and include international opportunities like World Youth Day as well as national and local events. Last March, at the “Race for the Cross” youth rally, 600 teens came for a day of fun and worship. They heard nationally known speakers and musicians, raced through giant inflatable obstacle courses, participated in workshops, and celebrated Mass and Adoration together with their Bishop. At the end of the day they were on their knees before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, many having given their hearts to Him. In the words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, “This is why we are searching for…a new evangelization, capable of being heard by that world that does not find access to classic evangelization.”
If you are interested in finding out how the Office of Youth & Young Adult Ministry can assist your parish, or for more information on any of the events listed here please contact me at (315) 470-1419, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.syracuseyouth.org.