Cardinal Parolin: Pope Francis has great expectations for WYD

Looking ahead to Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to Portugal, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin says World Youth Day offers an important opportunity for young people to come into close contact with Jesus and describes the Pope's visit to Fatima as a time to be close to the sick and to call for prayers for peace.

By Massimiliano Menichetti

The young people who have travelled to Lisbon are waiting for Pope Francis to celebrate together the 37th World Youth Day, the first after the Covid-19 pandemic. The Pope sets off to Portugal with the awareness that these "gatherings are powerful, that they have the strength even to change the lives of some people".

With these words, Cardinal Parolin shares with Vatican Media his insight into the Pope’s thoughts as he prepares to meet with, listen to and speak to young people who have come from all over the world for this great feast of faith. The Holy Father will be in the Portuguese capital from 2 to 6 August, this will be his 42nd international apostolic visit.

The Vatican Secretary of State also urges all those who will not be able to participate physically in the upcoming Days to "feel involved and fully protagonists" and explains 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. 

Q: Your Eminence, Pope Francis will be spending time with the young people of WYD in Lisbon, Portugal. How is he preparing for this meeting?

The Holy Father has many expectations for this upcoming World Youth Day in Lisbon, and already in several video messages he has invited young people to join him in this pilgrimage and to prepare this ecclesial event, above all, in prayer. The Pope prays for all the young people who have already set out for Lisbon in these days, in the conviction, in the knowledge, that these meetings, these gatherings have great power, the strength even to change the lives of some.” He recently said "one grows a lot in Days like this!". So the Holy Father is preparing for the next World Youth Day with great hope and is encouraging young people to have this same attitude towards the time he will experience with them.

A few weeks ago he was amongst the first to be given the backpack that the young pilgrims will receive in Lisbon.

Q: World Youth Day stems from an intuition that St John Paul II had. What significance does this meeting have in 2023?

I would say that 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 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.

Therefore, this prophetic intuition seems to me to be manifested in all its relevance even in our current day. This prophetic intuition retains all its relevance in current times because it aims to reaffirm the Church's commitment to the younger generations. In a world, which is undergoing profound change, which has undergone the tragic experience of the Covid pandemic and which is experiencing multiple conflicts, today, throughout the planet, 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. And so, World Youth Day still proves to be an important tool and occasion of evangelisation for young people.

Moreover, 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.

So, we should be thankful that this experience has been ongoing for 40 years and that today it has a great chance to impact the lives of the young.

Q: What can the Church learn from young people today?

I believe that the Church is facing the great challenge of the transmission of the faith, the transmission of the faith to the world at large. And I believe that within this task that the Church has, young people have something to tell us.

In today's world, 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. The Pope has often spoken of this rupture in the transmission of faith between generations, explaining 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 who do not baptise their children, who do not teach them how to pray or who go to other faith communities (EG 70).

This situation, of which we must be aware and which we must take into consideration, 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. Therefore, 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. It is necessary to be creative, it is necessary to find 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 than their peers of the past, can encounter Him and live a profound experience of faith, and from this profound experience of faith will then be born the desire to share it with all their peers. Hence, an invitation not to remain quiet within our walls, but to become truly missionary towards young people and involve them more closely in this journey of faith.

Q: There are so many crises the world is going through: wars, poverty, indifference, abandonment, selfishness, secularism... Can young people overcome these challenges?

Yes, and 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. Here, Our Lady shows us, she shows young people above all, the way of proximity and encounter. And I believe that young people when they tread these paths of proximity and encounter, have the capacity in themselves to face and help solve and overcome the many challenges of our society.

I have in mind the testimonies of so many young people who, just like Our Lady, were not afraid to abandon their comforts and make themselves close to those who are in need. They do not close in on themselves 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. I believe that this is the contribution that young people can make to the great challenges of our time.

Q: The Fatima leg has been added to the WYD programme. What is the significance of this visit to the shrine of Our Lady?

It is an important visit in which the Holy Father will meet young people who are sick and pray the Holy Rosary with them. An intense moment. I believe that the Pope wants to reiterate Our Lady's message to the three shepherd children when she appeared back 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. Our Lady invited the shepherd children, and through them she invited all men and women, to pray and to recite, in particular the Holy Rosary, with great confidence, to obtain peace in the world.

So, Pope Francis, who always carries in his heart the drama of those affected by conflicts, with this visit to the Shrine of Fatima during WYD, asks us not to lose heart and to persevere in prayer and in the specific prayer of the Holy Rosary.

Q: WYD can and must be a time of listening. What do you think can be born from this encounter?

In the encounter is the grace of God, working in the hearts of men and women and in the hearts of young people. But I would like to emphasise that there are three moments of encounter that seem very important to me. The first is listening to the Lord, to his call. A particularly significant moment in this sense is the Vigil, the Saturday evening celebration, during which we will also experience a time of Eucharistic adoration. Meeting the Lord present in the Eucharist, and allowing oneself to be met by Him present in the Eucharist, means being prepared to also listen to His Word: it is an encounter that can really change the lives of many young people.

The second moment is one of listening to the Pope. We know the Pope's ability to enter into contact and 'tune in' with young people, how capable he is of speaking to them, of giving them words that can shake them up, encourage them, stimulate them to give the best of themselves. The encounter with the Successor of Peter, as a witness and teacher of the faith, can also become a turning point in the lives of young people.

The third moment for the young people is that of meeting and listening to each other: every World Youth Day is also an opportunity to meet, as I said, young people who come from other countries, to discover how their peers live their differences and how they can enrich each other.

Q: What do you have to say to the many young people who will not be in Lisbon, even though they wanted to be?

Yes, we know that while World Youth Day is taking place in Lisbon there will also be events “in loco” and it will be possible to follow WYD through the media. Those who cannot - for various reasons - go to Lisbon should, I invite them to unite themselves spiritually with the Pope and their peers who are in Portugal and to live, even if from a distance, strongly live this experience by praying with them and for them, for those who are in Lisbon. And so they too must feel a living part of this WYD!

I would like to conclude by saying 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: they must be integrated into ordinary youth ministry. Therefore, before each WYD there must be pastoral work by dioceses and parishes that are called upon to prepare the world gatherings, which must then be followed up. I believe that at this time all young people, even those who cannot be physically present in Lisbon, must feel involved and fully protagonists.

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01 August 2023, 08:00