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When St. John Paul II initiated World Youth Day in 1985, he had one overriding goal: to inspire young people to draw closer to Jesus.
At these gatherings, John Paul used a number of his gifts—stagecraft, storytelling, music, and spectacle—to reach out to them. He sensed that if young adults had an experience of God’s presence, they would feel moved to explore the truths behind that experience. That’s why he referred to World Youth Day as “a powerful moment in which the young people of the world could meet Christ.”
Clearly, John Paul’s hopes have been fulfilled. He succeeded in creating an exciting atmosphere that helps young adults from around the world experience Jesus and deepen their faith. He left a rich spiritual legacy, which Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have faithfully continued.
So how popular is World Youth Day? Very popular! At the 1995 gathering in Manila, five million people attended the event’s closing Mass. At the time, it was reported to be the largest number of people ever gathered for a religious event. (In 2015 that record was surpassed when six million people attended a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis—again in Manila.)
A Tall Order. This month, when Pope Francis celebrates World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland, he will follow St. John Paul II’s lead and reach out with music, stories, and words of love.
Like his predecessors, Francis knows his audience. He knows that many of them have grown up with a postmodern mind-set—one that values experience more than analysis and stories more than lectures. He knows that sharing his own story and creating an environment that opens the door for young people to experience God’s love have the best chance of helping them come to the Lord.
So if you have young adults in your family, watch Pope Francis carefully. See how he reaches out to the young people, and see how they respond to him. Then see if there is any part of his approach that you can adopt in your own family.
In light of World Youth Day, this issue will focus on the postmodern influences that have affected so many of us—and, even more so, many of our children. We will look at some of the main tenets of the postmodern mind, and we will look at some strategies based on these tenets that can help us build our relationships with our children.
World Youth Day runs from July 25 to July 31. So let’s devote the beginning of this month to praying for Pope Francis as he prepares for this event. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to give him the right words, the right gestures, and the right approach so that he can reach as many young people as possible. Let’s also pray for everyone traveling to Kraków to be with the pope. May they all meet Jesus there!