World Youth Day offers an important opportunity for young people to come into close contact with Jesus. It’s what Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin affirmed in an interview with Vatican Media’s Massimiliano Menichetti in the days leading up to the highly anticipated multi-day event. Reflecting on the significance of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Portugal (the 42nd international journey of his Pontificate) and his attendance at the 37th wyd , Cardinal Parolin acknowledged the Holy Father’s awareness that these “gatherings are powerful, that they have the strength even to change the lives of some people”.
The Cardinal shared his insight into the Pope’s thoughts on his meetings with young people from all over the world present at this great feast of faith. The Vatican Secretary of State also urged all those unable to participate physically in wyd to “feel involved and fully protagonists”, and he explained that the Fatima leg of the journey stems from the Pope’s desire to be close to those who are sick and suffering and to pray for peace. Reflecting on the Holy Father’s attention and preparation for the event, the Cardinal recalled that “he was amongst the first to be given the backpack that the young pilgrims” received in Lisbon.
World Youth Day stems from an intuition that St John Paul ii had, which led him to officially institute World Youth Day, in 1985. According to Cardinal Parolin, “John Paul ii ’s choice was undoubtedly a prophetic one, a prophetic intuition, which indicated the Church’s wish to accompany young people, to accompany them in order to proclaim the Gospel to them, to facilitate their encounter with Christ; it was a sign”, he continued, “that the Church felt increasingly committed, on a worldwide level, to its youth ministry, that it was ‘tuned-in’ to the anxieties and concerns of young people, to their hopes and wishes, to their expectations, always within the perspective of encountering Christ who is the Way, the Truth, Life”.
This prophetic intuition has not lost any “relevance in current times because it aims to reaffirm the Church’s commitment to the younger generations”, he said. “In a world which is undergoing profound change”, on account of, among other things, “the tragic experience of the Covid pandemic”, numerous conflicts throughout the world, “it is more necessary than ever for young people to encounter the face of Jesus Christ, to get to know His Word of salvation and to become his disciples”. Therefore, he stressed, World Youth Day continues “to be an important tool and occasion of evangelisation for young people”, and it “also has an aspect of universal fraternity deriving from the fact that these young people, coming from different countries and therefore with different cultures, languages, and lifestyles, can meet each other and exchange their experiences, exchange their gifts”.
At a time when “the Church is facing the great challenge of the transmission of the faith [...] to the world at large”, the Cardinal said, “young people have something to tell us. In today’s world”, he noted, “there are many people who do not know Jesus Christ or perhaps have rejected Him, there is a growing number of people who have lost faith and behave as if God were not there”. He recalled Pope Francis’ frequent allusions to “this rupture in the transmission of faith between generations”, and his observation that “it is somewhat normal to feel almost disillusioned with the Church and cease to identify with the Catholic tradition. There is an increasing number of parents”, he explained, “who do not baptise their children, who do not teach them how to pray or who go to other faith communities ( eg 70)”.
Cardinal Parolin explained that this situation of growing distant from the Church “closely touches the existence of young people who harbour within themselves many queries, many doubts and many questions to which they do not know how to respond”, and he affirmed that “what young people ask of the Church is for the Church to renew its apostolic impetus and, without fear, embark on that path of pastoral and missionary conversion that is so much desired by the Holy Father”. He stressed the importance of finding “the courage and the right language with which to present Jesus Christ to the young people of today, in all of His freshness, in all His topicality, in such a way that even today’s youth, who have different sensitivities, styles, ways of doing things that their peers of the past, can encounter Him and live a profound experience of faith, and for this profound experience”, which can then give rise to “the desire to share it with all their peers”.
During the interview, the Cardinal offered a few ways in which young people can overcome the many crises and challenges affecting the world today — wars, poverty, indifference, abandonment, selfishness, secularism. “I believe that the indication comes to us in the Message that the Holy Father addressed to young people for wyd , where he presents Our Lady who, after the Annunciation, gets up in a hurry and goes (Lk 1:39) to her cousin Elizabeth, to help her in her needs.” He explained that through her actions, Our Lady shows young people “the way of proximity and encounter”, which gives youth “the capacity in themselves to face and help solve and overcome the many challenges of our society”.
The Cardinal then spoke of the many young people who have already set out in Our Lady’s footsteps, “not afraid to abandon their comforts and make themselves close to those who are in need. They do not close in on themselves” , he said, “but choose to make use of their talents, their gifts, their capacities, giving what they have received to others, and seeking — through choices which may appear rather limited, rather small — to make good grow in the world”.
Turning then to the Fatima leg of the Pope’s Apostolic Journey in Portugal, which will include an intense moment of prayer with young people who are sick, Cardinal Parolin said that “the Pope wants to reiterate Our Lady’s message to the three shepherd children”, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, to whom she appeared in 1917. “Hers were words of consolation, words of hope in a world at war, not so different from the reality we are experiencing today”, he said. Our Lady’s invitation to the shepherd children to pray the Rosary “with great confidence, to obtain peace in the world”, is an invitation extended to all men and women. The Holy Father’s visit to the Shrine of Fatima is a renewal of that invitation “not to lose heart and to persevere in prayer and in the specific prayer of the Holy Rosary”.
World Youth Day must be a time of listening that can bear much fruit, an encounter rich with “the grace of God working in the hearts of men and women and in the hearts of young people”, affirmed the Cardinal, highlighting three particularly important opportunities for encounter: listening to the Lord, listening to the Pope, and listening to each other.
Turning his thoughts then to the many young people who were unable to travel to Lisbon, the Cardinal said that “they too must feel a living part of this wyd !”. He invited them to participate in local events and to follow wyd online. He also invited them “to unite spiritually with the Pope and their peers who are in Portugal and to live, even if from a distance, [...] this experience by praying with them and for them”.
The Secretary of State concluded by reiterating Pope Francis’ remark that, as the Holy Father said, “World Youth Days are not ‘fireworks’, that is, moments of enthusiasm, perhaps of great enthusiasm, that remain closed in on themselves”. Rather, he explained, “they must be integrated into ordinary youth ministry”, meaning that dioceses and parishes called upon to prepare these events must invest in pastoral work before and after each wyd . “I believe that at this time all young people, even those who cannot be physically present in Lisbon, must feel involved and fully protagonists”.
The full interview is available online at https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2023-08/pope-wyd-lisbon-interview-cardinal-parolin.html