World Youth Day

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In July 2002, a crowd of 800,000 individuals in their teens, twenties and early thirties gathered in Toronto for the eighth international celebration of World Youth Day (WYD). This tremendous gathering was a testament to the religious convictions and sense of unity among the world’s youth. Could it grow larger?

Absolutely. In July 2013, more than 2 million youth are expected at the twelfth international WYD event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This extraordinary event was established to bring young people from various cultures, races and religions together in a peaceful celebration of religion and life. Inspired by Pope John Paul II’s International Jubilee of youth in Rome in 1984, WYD has been celebrated annually among dioceses and every two to three years internationally since 1986.

The International Jubilee took place in St. Peter’s Square on Palm Sunday 1984 when the Pope invited young people from around the world to convene in Rome to celebrate their religion and values. More than 300,000 individuals responded, leading to a second Jubilee in 1985, and then the institution of World Youth Day. Rome remained the site of the first official celebration of WYD, in 1986, and in 1987, the first international event was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

WYD has since been held in Santiago de Compostela, Spain (1989); Czestochowa, Poland (1991); Denver, USA (1993); Manila, Philippines (1995); Paris, France (1997); Rome, Italy (2000); Toronto, Canada (2002); Cologne, Germany (2005); Sydney, Australia (2008); and Madrid, Spain (2011).

At the most recent international gathering for WYD, in 2011, young people from 137 countries made the pilgrimage to Madrid, Spain, to participate in not only WYD but also the Days in the Dioceses, several days preceding WYD wherein the pilgrims enjoy free accommodations in schools, parishes, sports centers or homes, thanks to the support of regional dioceses. (Days in the Dioceses began in 1997 at WYD in Paris to give all of the people of France, not only the youth, the opportunity to participate in the event.) Each day of their retreat, the pilgrims met with young local Catholics for prayer and worship at revered religious sites. They also enjoyed historical tours and and nonreligious cultural activities.

The 2013 event will include Days in the Dioceses as well, from July 17-22. During these days of preparation, pilgrims will participate in spiritual activities, works of solidarity and missionary and cultural events in the host and surrounding dioceses. WYD activities, including a visit by the Pope, catechetical sessions led by bishops, walking pilgrimages, Holy Masses, Stations of the Cross and other spiritual journeys, will take place July 23 - 28.

The WYD planning organization is recruiting volunteers to help with the 2013 Rio event. Expecting 45,000 Diocesan volunteers from the 280 parishes of the Archdiocese of Rio, Niterói, Caxias and Nova Iguaçu, the committee says that another 15,000 volunteers are needed worldwide to ensure that lodging is available, meals are planned, facilities are prepared, and activities are well-organized.

Visit for more information about volunteer opportunities as well as the history, philosophy and future of World Youth Day.


Sources: Archdiocese of Toronto, Catholic News Agency,