August 11, 2023

WYD experience provides a great infusion of renewed hope

Archbishop Charles C. ThompsonWhile I must admit to some hesitation about attending World Youth Day (WYD) 2023 in Lisbon, I certainly have no regrets about having done so. It was a wonderful experience. The Church and city of Lisbon did an amazing job! The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) staff was great as well.

In addition to the opportunity to gather with the other 187 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the time in Lisbon was a special time to bond with several bishops in a way that is not possible amid the full schedule of meetings during our spring and fall USCCB gatherings. Time was well spent with our diocesan groups, other bishops and staff members while having the opportunity to meet so many other people along the way. It was transformational for many!

Our Lady of Fatima certainly held a prominent place of pilgrimage and inspiration for WYD 2023, which was permeated by a Marian theme of “Rise Up!,” based on the Blessed Virgin Mary’s response of visiting Elizabeth immediately following the annunciation by the archangel Gabriel, but very Christ-centered throughout the experience. The small group sharing of the catechetical sessions, based on the synodal way of listening to the experiences, concerns and hopes of the young people, was particularly insightful and inspiring.

The highlight for many, of course, is the opportunity to gather with the Holy Father. Pope Francis was well-received and embraced by pilgrims of all ages. He spoke to the young people about being beloved children of God, embraced by the Church, called to holiness and mission, and the need to trust in the mercy of God to heal wounds.

He especially encouraged young people to rise above their fears and dare to believe in themselves as capable of missionary discipleship in making a difference in the lives of others. Praying the Stations of the Cross was a particularly moving experience.

The bishops had several opportunities to encounter the young people, both within our diocesan groups and beyond, in various ways of dialogue and accompaniment. We met them in parks, churches, plazas, restaurants, and on the streets. They exuded joy for the Gospel, love for Jesus, devotion to the Catholic faith, and a desire to serve.

Their enthusiasm for Jesus Christ and the Church, especially during and following the large events, was particularly palpable.

Several spoke of having profound personal experiences of encountering the Lord and being called to consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Several others shared about concerns back home for family members, friends and others who had fallen away from the Church and/or experiencing struggles in their lives. Still others just wanted to encounter and be encountered. As depicted on the official WYD 2023 Lisbon emblem, “JMJ,” it seemed that all were entrusting their hopes and desires, concerns and fears, to God through Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

The experience of WYD provides a great infusion of renewed hope. The young people, we must always keep in mind, are not the future Church but the young Church of today. As we know through engagement at confirmations, graduations, young adult gatherings, etc., young people have much to offer the Church by way of their gifts, talents and energy. We can never tire of calling them forth and embracing all that they have to offer.

+Charles C. Thompson, Archbishop of Indianapolis


(Related Criterion news story: Archbishop Thompson and other World Youth Day pilgrims share moments that touched their lives)

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