What do these two men have in common?
Well, after this week, both of them have been to the Copacabana. While the setting in the 1978 Barry Manilow song “Copacabana” was a night club in New York City, the Copacabana that Pope Francis went to this week was the world-famous beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was on this beach that Pope Francis greeted 3 million (yes, 3 million!) people, mostly youth, for Mass at the closing of World Youth Day. World Youth Day, familiar to most of our readers, is the bi (or tri)annual meeting of the Pope with the Catholic youth of the world. It was started by Blessed John Paul II in 1984, and it has travelled around the world to many locations, most recently Madrid (2011), Sydney (2008), and Cologne (2005). The next World Youth Day will be in Krakow, Poland, in 2016 (Blessed John Paul II was once the Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow).
I have been blessed to attend 3 World Youth Days, the first when I was a college student (Rome 2000), the second as a college seminarian (Toronto 2002), and the third as a Priest chaplain of a group of young people (Sydney 2008). I can tell you that the World Youth Day is a great blessing to the Church. Many young people have found future spouses on a World Youth Day. Many have been inspired to go into the seminary, or discern a calling to the religious life. One cannot go to a World Youth Day and believe the lie that Christianity (Catholicism particularly) is a dying way of life. On the contrary, Christ is alive in His Church! The diversity, the enthusiasm, and the authentic spirituality of the World Youth Day participants (again, mostly teenagers and collegians) is unmistakable. It is easily the most amazing gathering of youth in the history of the world. As John Paul II said in Rome in 2000, while young people used to gather in the millions to prepare for war and slaughter, now millions gather at World Youth Day in peace and love. At World Youth Day, we see the diversity of the universal Church. Indeed, Christ’s Great Commission that the Gospel be preached to all nations has been fulfilled!
We have a tendency to sink back into depression, mediocrity, and hopelessness. We cannot give in to such temptations. God is with us in so many ways. God is with us through the Church, whose foremost representative is the Holy Father, the Pope. We must allow the important moments in the life of the Church, such as World Youth Day, to give us hope for the future. In the 1960’s, a group of counterculture youth had a huge gathering at a farm in New York. The gathering was called Woodstock. While the larger culture viewed those at the gathering as mindless troublemakers, the energy from the event inspired millions to turn to the rock and roll lifestyle. It was a stepping stone to bringing our culture to where it is today, that is, to a confused and dangerous place.
The World Youth Days are like Catholic Woodstocks. Yes, the 3 million on the Copacabana beach have gone home, and nothing much will seem to have changed upon their return. Indeed, nothing much will change in the foreseeable future. But things will change! As the youth of World Youth Day 2013 live out the gifts that the Spirit gave them, they will plant seeds of hope. And those seeds will grow into a brighter tomorrow – a future where things that are good, true, beautiful, and holy will not be mocked, but cherished. Those seeds will grow into a future when the horrible injustices of our age will be banished to history. Yes, World Youth Day is the beginning of rebirth for our Church and our world.
Please go to the link below to view a wonderful but brief talk on vocations that Pope Francis gave to World Youth Day volunteers on July 28, 2013. I would imbed it, but I don’t have permission. Go to YouTube and search “Pope to WYD volunteers”. God bless!