ROME – World Youth Day, a massive gathering of young people from around the world that’s become something like the Woodstock of the Catholic Church, was founded in 1985 for young people.
Spokespersons say the January 2019 edition in Panama, however, also will be organized by young people themselves.
Among the novelties the Jan. 2019 event will introduce are an app to track down saints, and a theme park to promote the reading of the Bible.
“The youth are the real protagonists,” said Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa of Panama. “Us old folks are always doing things, but I can easily say that the team that is working on World Youth Day is all made up by young people.”
Jokingly, he added that he had to “reinvent” the meaning of what being “young” is to be able to include himself in the task force that is putting together this World Youth Day (WYD), an event which has summoned millions to Brazil, Poland, Spain, Canada and the United States in previous editions.
Ulloa and other members of the local organizing committee for WYD spoke on Tuesday at Rome’s Santa Croce Pontifical University, where they introduced some of the new ideas that the 2019 edition will incorporate in the week-long pilgrimage.
The new ideas include an app, JC go, inspired by Pokemon Go, that will reportedly be ready for download come August. With the app, people all over the globe will be able to “hunt down” saints, much like millions around the world searched for Pikachu and his friends some years ago. In addition, it will also give information on priests available for confession and spiritual direction.
In addition, they’re preparing a tent-like structure that will function as a lectio divina theme park, to promote the reading of the Bible, with the Archangel Gabriel welcoming the pilgrims as they go into the infrastructure, that will use artificial intelligence and top-notch technology to create what was described as a “unique” experience.
Scheduled to take place Jan. 22-27, 2019, the pope is expected to participate in WYD, as has been the case since the first international edition, back in the late 1980s in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“Everyone is invited to participate in WYD, because we’re convinced that this is the hour of the youth,” Ulloa said. “And if it’s not the time of the youth, we have to make it so because we all know that the transformation of the Church and of the world will come from them.”
The fact that the people organizing this mega-event are in their 30s, however, does not mean that they haven’t put in the hours.
Many of the volunteers working on the organizing committee, both in Panama and around the world, are WYD alumni, so they understand the dynamics behind the event. Several went as a commission to the previous WYD in Krakow, Poland, back in 2016, to learn the ins-and-outs.
Most, if not all, of the over 200 young women and men from every continent – who speak 22 different languages- working on the social media of Panama 2019 have been doing so at least since Krakow, but many of the people were inherited from the social teams of Madrid2011 and Rio2013.
In addition, at least three of the leaders of the organization – Ulloa, Víctor Chang González, executive secretary and Eduardo Soto, director of the communications team — are all showing gray hair, most of which were there before they joined the team. It’s subdivided into over a dozen working groups, and is working closely with the government of Panama, which, together with the local bishops “lobbied” the Vatican to become the first Central American nation to host WYD.
Ulloa acknowledged that putting the young at the center of the organization wasn’t easy. Among the challenges were priests themselves, who exhibited some “jealousy” at the fact that they were being left out of the organization.
“But, shoemaker to your own shoes,” Ulloa said, explaining that the ministry of priests is different, and that leaving the organization in the hands of the youth is the right thing to do, “even when they speak a language we don’t understand.”
“We have to be like Mary, take a leap of faith!” he said.
Young women and men, the archbishop insisted, can do much more than “moving chairs around at church,” and that given the opportunity, they voluntarily give up their nights to hold meetings until midnight, after working for over eight hours in their day jobs.
“I find it edifying to see how they’ve put the weight of organizing this on their shoulders,” he said. “We need to truly trust in our youth. When we trust in them, and when we love them, they accomplish incredible things.”
Also at the presentation, part of a seminar on Church communications given by the Opus Dei-run university, was González, executive secretary of the organizing committee, who underlined that this is a historic moment for WYD because “for the first time” the universal Church is speaking not only about the youth, but with the youth.
He was referring to the upcoming synod of bishops on the youth that was called for by Pope Francis and which will take place in Rome next October. As a set up for that gathering, hundreds of young people from around the world gathered in Rome last month and presented a document that will be used by the bishops when they meet in Rome.
Putting young people at the center, González said, is a “challenge” because the more space given to them, the more attention they will demand, for instance when it comes to pastoral attention, “but it’s a challenge that we can turn to grace.”
One of the complaints many in the northern hemisphere have expressed is the fact that next year’s WYD will be held during a school period. However, organizers argued on Tuesday that for those in the southern hemisphere the usual August date has “always been a challenge,” but nevertheless, delegations never failed to participate.
Plus, Ulloa explained, weather was a factor: January is a time of low rain, and it’s the “winter” season, with average temperatures in the mid-80s.