by Clyde Ericson H. Nolasco
Ten years ago, I celebrated my birthday in Madrid, Spain while attending World Youth Day (WYD) 2011.
Like any other person, I have a list of memorable birthday celebrations.
Being born in a rainy month, I once celebrated my birthday crossing a waist-deep flood outside my high school then got stuck in traffic for five hours.
Three birthdays ago, I remember watching Ben&Ben live. As the clock ticked 12:00 midnight, I welcomed my birthday as the band jammed to their song “Sunrise” while the drizzle of the rain and dancing lights covered us. It was surreal.
I have also had the chance to personally receive birthday blessings from Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, both now Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Manila, while attending different audiences with them that fell exactly on my birthdays.
But being in Madrid, drinking sangria and being with 2 million WYD delegates coming from 193 countries, of course, tops my list.
With the generosity of friends and of our parish, I was able to join the 26th WYD held in Madrid, Spain.
It all started with my desire to answer the question “What is World Youth Day?” In 1995, there were no classes for a week. I was in grade 5 then. I was baffled why and I was just told that there was a World Youth Day being held in Manila.
Sixteen years later, I answered my own question by traveling for more than 12 hours from Manila to Spain along with the other 71 youth delegates, pilgrims and priests of the Archdiocese of Manila.
We spent our Days in the Diocese in Toledo, one of the oldest and magnificent cities just beside Madrid. Days in the Diocese is a pre-WYD week wherein delegates spend their time discovering the culture of the local church and the organizing nation. We were pampered with Spanish hospitality. We were welcomed by and into their families and immersed ourselves in their church communities. What was great was they didn't forget to serve us churros and paella!
After a 5-day stay with our host families, we moved to Madrid for the WYD proper which took place from August 16 to 21, 2011.
Though WYD is primarily an encounter with the Pope, it was also an encounter with the other members of the Church: bishops, priests and religious from different dioceses of the world as well as young people coming from different cultures.
In Madrid, you would hear young people echoing the words, “Esta es la juventud del papa! Esta es la juventud del papa!” (We are the pope's youth! We are the pope's youth!) Young people would sing in the train or would dance on the streets, celebrating being Catholic, being young and being in the midst of the Pope.
I can remember one time at the end of a conference, when the WYD 1995 theme song “Tell the World of His Love” started playing, the Pinoys were so happy and proud that we gathered in front singing our hearts out while waving Philippine flags.
Rooted in Christ
The theme for WYD 2011 was "Rooted and Built Up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith (Firmes en la Fe)" from Colossians 2:7. Thus, it was an invitation to every delegate and pilgrim to remain rooted and faithful to Jesus and to proclaim Him even to the ends of the world. It was an invitation to celebrate faith, a faith that transcends age, gender, culture, race, economic status and language.
Encounter with the Pope
World Youth Day or WYD is a Catholic event for young people from all over the world to encounter the Pope. Held every three years in different countries, young Catholics gather for a week-long catechesis and spiritual formation.
Inspired by the Youth Jubilee (1984) and the United Nations International Youth Year (1985), the great Pope John Paul II established the first World Youth Day in 1986. Back then, World Youth Day was celebrated locally through the dioceses every Palm Sunday. However, after some years, it became an international pilgrimage for young Catholics, held in major world cities.
International WYD have been held in the following world capital cities: Rome, Italy (1986), Buenos Aires, Argentina (1987), Santiago de Compostela, Spain (1989), Częstochowa, Poland (1991), Denver, USA (1993), Manila, Philippines (1995), Paris, France (1997), Rome, Italy (2000), Toronto, Canada (2002), Cologne, Germany (2005), Sydney, Australia (2008), Madrid, Spain (2011), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2013), and Krakow, Poland (2016).
The closing mass of WYD Manila holds a World Guiness record for “the largest number of people gathered for a single religious event with 5 million attendees.”
Meanwhile, the next WYD that was to be held in Lisbon was postponed twice due to the pandemic. Originally scheduled for August 2022, it is now slated for 2023.
Why attend World Youth Day?
I have attended WYD once and I am not sure if I am going to participate in another one anytime soon.
But from my experience, it can be every young Catholic’s mecca. I suggest that every young Catholic should attend even once in their lifetime for the following reasons:
It nurtures faith. In WYD, it is common to see young people even from different nations enjoy the company of each other. They sing and dance together on the streets, inside trains and even in restaurants. It is an image of inviting one another to put our faith in God and in His young people who are often misunderstood because they are adventurous, loud and fun-loving.
It brings hope. WYD echoes the adage that “the youth are the hope of our future.” At WYD, young people exude appreciation towards one another and God as if the Spirit of faith is lit within them. Thus, each of them carries the Spirit that will help them continue their hopeful journey with the Church.
It cultivates love. A WYD is a preview of heaven where race or nationality do not exist. WYD breaks barriers and negative impressions. Young people go home to their countries earning more than experiences and memories but with new friends and new relationships that foster love.
Through the prayers of St. John Paul II, the patron of young people and the proponent of WYD - and our patron saint for Dominus Est - may we be able to gather once again as one people of God, especially for another WYD!
St. John Paul II, pray for us!