Blessed John Paul II rallied young Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI instructed them and Pope Francis is preparing to send them out on mission.
- NCR Online
When he travels to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, Pope Francis -- the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina -- will be continuing a tradition begun by Blessed John Paul in Buenos Aires in 1987, gathering Catholic youth from around the world together for several intense days of faith-building and celebration.
In cities from South America to Europe, Asia to North America and back again, each World Youth Day with the pope has been different in size and in the culture the youths experienced and shared.
But the contributions of each pope -- because of both personality and personal emphasis -- also have left striking marks on the 11 international gatherings held since 1987. With Pope Francis, that tradition of the evolving World Youth Day is bound to continue July 23-28 in Rio.
World Youth Day gatherings are so much a part of Catholic life now that it is hard to imagine just how innovative Blessed John Paul's idea first seemed. The Polish pope invited young people to his Palm Sunday celebration at the Vatican during the 1985 U.N.-proclaimed Year of Youth, and Vatican officials were shocked when approximately 250,000 young people showed up; they had planned for 60,000 pilgrims.
Blessed John Paul brought Catholic teens and young adults out of the parish religious education and youth ministry programs that parents often had to force their children to attend. For him, the youths were not just the future of the church, but the embodiment of its energy and enthusiasm.
When convoked and affirmed, Blessed John Paul thought, young people could rejuvenate the whole church. Their energy certainly worked on him. One of the iconic photographs from World Youth Day 1995 in Manila shows the pope twirling the cane he relied on after breaking his leg and undergoing hip replacement surgery eight months earlier.