What in the Hell is World Youth Day?

World Youth Day is this absolutely insane gathering of Catholic young people from all over the world, who converge on some poor unsuspecting city and basically take over the place.

In 1984, Pope John Paul II “invited” Catholic young people to Rome (you know, hey, guys, stop by for a drink). It was so cool that he decided that this should happen more often. So, about every two years, a different country hosts (what were they thinking?) this event…World Youth Day has been in Spain, Poland, Denver, Manila, Paris, and back in Rome in 2000. Toronto, Ontario, Canada, is gearing up for WYD2002 from July 23-28.

You might be thinking at the ripe old age of 22 or 27 or 35…hey, I’m no “youth”…oh, but you might be! The term “youth” in the U.S. usually refers to those in the junior high/high school age range. But in other countries, “youth” actually means older folks..(like you!). The age range for Toronto is 16-35.

So what actually happens:

Day 1: Pilgrims (think not the Mayflower) descend on the host city. You get your bearings straight, check our where you will lay your tired head at night, and basically sit around a lot and enjoy some of the best people watching there is.

Day 2/3/4: Mornings are spent at an assigned “catechetical” session—words of wisdom from a bishop, some pretty decent music, small group discussions, etc., then Mass and lunch. The afternoons and evenings are filled with countless venues of music, drama, dance, prayer…you name it. Go where you want. It’s a free country (Canada).

Day 5: Rest and then walk to the site for “Catholic Woodstock.” Hang out, eat, listen to music, wait in line for porta-potties, camp out in preparation for Mass in the a.m….and I mean MEGA-Mass…and with the “Big Guy” no less.

Day 6: Early morning closing Mass with the Pope. If you get a good view you are set. If not, you snuggle up to the nearest jumbo-tron (keep thinking arena rock Catholicism).

Who should go? All those between the ages of 16 and 35 who think they can hang. You gotta like people from everywhere, crowds, surprises, unforgettable God moments, sleeping on the floor, people-watching, and the unpredictable.

Who should not go? Claustrophobics, folks that wig out easily over surprises and inefficiency (Rome hosted two million pilgrims in 2000..you just gotta deal, folks).

Why go? Because for under $200 for the week (+ transportation to/from) you get a place to sleep, meals, and the chance to experience the many faces of Jesus like you have never seen before in your life. People say the Catholic Church is diverse and universal? Well, after an event like this, you will have no doubt. You have no IDEA who some of the Catholics in the world are!

Insane? Yes! If previous years are any indication, the souvenir opportunities alone will be insane—Sacred Heart air fresheners, Pope snow globes, Pope-soaps-on-a-rope, Pope sprinklers that say, “Let us spray.” Is it worth all the insanity? You betcha!

Michelle Miller is the director of the
National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association.

Editor’s Note: BustedHalo.com will be in Toronto July 23-28. Come by the booth we’ll be sharing with the Paulists in the Vocation and Service Exhibition Hall…we’ll be the ones eating the Pope-sicles.