World Youth Day

After featuring my Bolognese brother, Marco, in yesterday’s post, it seemed fitting to share my Roman friend, Pastor Leonardo De Chirico, today. Leonardo serves as Pastor of Breccia Di Roma, an evangelical congregation which he was instrumental in planting in Rome. Leo also serves as Professor of Historical Theology at the Istituto di Formazione Evangelical e Documentazione in Padova. If serving youth with the gospel is of interest to you (and hopefully it is), World Youth Day is a phenomenon with which you should be familiar.

World Youth Day

In the beginning there were rock concerts and the young people became the “youth”. At the end of the Sixties, the youth culture expressed itself through pop music and massive events. Woodstock (1969) epitomized such powerful trends in Western society. The youth became a social subject and youth events entered into history, influencing that generation and the next. How did religious movements react to the Woodstock culture? Evangelicals were quick to sniff out the change and immediately responded to it. Massive youth events received a boost in the USA (Urbana) and beginning in the late Seventies began to take place in Europe as well (Mission congresses). Then, as the cultural tide changed and the economic crisis took its toll, these youth events declined and stopped having the impact they had initially.

A slow start, a persistent project

The RC Church was less reactive to these changes in society. Being an institution led by older people, it generally needs more time to come to terms with what happens with the younger generations. John Paul II, however, introduced the idea of having World Youth Days to catch the imagination of the global youth and to find regular opportunities to convene massive events that would show the “youthful” face of the old institution. So, after a few introductory attempts in the early Eighties, the first big event was held in Buenos Aires (Argentina) in 1987 where hundreds of thousands of young people took part. The World Youth Day began and has taken place regularly ever since: Santiago de Compostela (1989), Czestochowa (1991), Denver (1993), Manila (1995), Paris (1997), Rome (2000), Toronto (2002), Cologne (2005), Sidney (2008) and now Madrid (2011). Slow to respond, the RC Church has nevertheless become the primary organizer of global youth events. Once on track, the power of the institution gives continuity to events that other religious movements have the tendency to only play with for a time.

Madrid 2011

The 26th World Youth Day (WYD) will take place in Madrid from August 16 to 21, 2011. The choice of Madrid is strictly related to the desire of Pope Benedict XVI to reclaim the soul of Europe as a “Christian” continent. Spain is a new frontier in the interface between traditional RC cultures and secularizing trends. Nearly a million young people are expected to participate at the WYD from all over the world, especially Europe. The program entails multiple sessions of catechism, vigils of prayer, calls to auricular confession, as well as selected art and music festivals. The star of the event will be pope Benedict himself who will celebrate the concluding open-air mass. Since John Paul II was the initiator of WYDs, after his recent beatification he has been proclaimed patron and protector of the event. A new edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church has been prepared, having in mind the youth as the audience. It’s entitled YouCat and is a shorter and more youth-friendly version of the official text, with pictures, comics, all in an innovative format. 700.000 copies will be distributed to catch the attention of the young people.

What’s the WYD’s big idea?

While it is difficult to summarize the contours of the Woodstock culture, it is much easier to envisage the big idea behind the WYD. First, the RC Church is a large, welcoming home that is also a place for the young people. In it you can find fun, the Eucharist, music, friendship, devotion to Mary, community, etc. The Church provides all. The Church combines Middle Age practices and postmodern habits. Even the old popes, apparently so remote from the concerns of the youth, are young in spirit and trustworthy “fathers” to be listened to. Second, the RC never hides its vision, goal, and project. Sometimes, for the sake of contextualization or relevance, Evangelical initiatives loose gospel centeredness and become shallow events. Not so for the WYD. The RC vision in its fullness is crystal-clear from beginning to end. The highest hierarchy with all their traditional vestments will be there at centre stage. The traditional RC practices will be encouraged. The traditional teaching will resound. Youthful yes, but always Roman Catholic. WYD will not sell cheap Roman Catholicism.

Most likely not all the youth that go to Madrid will live out their faith in a coherent way, as they will be encouraged to do. Many will continue to nurture their pick-and-choose spirituality. This is not the main point, however. The young people will go back home with a solid impression of the power of the Church of Rome, a Church that has a youthful profile, offering spiritual engagement and cultural belonging to the new generation. Nowadays the RC Church seems to be the only religious agency in Europe and in the world that can attract a large number of people to youth events like this. The WYD is a highly symbolic event with long term implications. Do we grasp them?

Leonardo De Chirico

Rome, 9th July 2011

Home Page

Leonardo De Chirico is church planter in Rome (, having previously planted a church and pastored it for 12 years in Ferrara. He lectures in historical theology at IFED (Istituto di Formazione Evangelical e Documentazione) in Padova. His doctoral work was published as Evangelical Theological Perspectives in Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2003).

About the author

Chris Castaldo (PhD, London School of Theology) is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and coauthor of The Unfinished Reformation.


  1. Why do you think so many young people come, when the Catholic Church is generally seen as so backward, and the current pope lacks the charisma that John Paul II had?

  2. Thanks Devin. Good question. I am not entirely sure. I don’t consider myself to have particular insight into youth ministry. My guess is that young people, for all of their high tech activity, realize that there is a void deep down within and are seeking spiritual life wherever they might find it.

  3. Mr. Devin Rose,
    If you think our Catholic Church is BACKWARD, you are obviously not active in the Catholic Church. We have NCYC (National Catholic Youth Conferences) every two years, and this brings 25,000 youth together for this meeting. If you would attend a youth meeting in a Catholic Church near where you live, where would feel the precense of the Holy Spirit. Mr. Castaldo, I wish to commend you on your positive comments on WYD, since it is the ONLY blog by a protestant about our event. Protestants dont read about this or hear about this in church. We Roman Catholics exist in the protestant world, only as individuals who “need to be saved!” You are a very insightful person in writing about this.
    Thank you for your blog!

  4. Felix,

    You misunderstood my comment. I’m a Catholic (believing in all the Church’s teachings). I wanted to draw out from Chris how it is that a Church that *some people think* is “backward” could possibly draw in young people by the millions, as World Youth Days have done.

    God bless,

  5. Mr. Devin Rose,

    Thank you for your kind mail. I am glad you are a Roman Catholic that believes in ALL the church teachings! The Catholic Church provides a unity in our Christian believes that Protestants dont. Each evangelical group has their own believe and interpretation of the Bible. Baptist, Southern Baptist, Independent Baptist, Church of God Pentecostal, Assembly of God Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist…. they could never get over one million adolescents or adults to worship together who were from the same denomination. I am impressed with the man who set up this Blog, that wrote positively of WYD, since you never hear about it in protestant churches.

    May the Virgin Mary Bless you with her Grace,


  6. Dear Felix,

    Grace and peace to you! In the interest of good interdenominational dialogue, with the goal of unity in Christ, I encourage you to consider refraining from phrases like “May the Virgin Mary bless you with her grace”. As a Catholic, I know what you mean by that; that is theological shorthand for “May the Virgin Mary, intercessor par excellence, shower upon you graces which she receives from her Son, Jesus, who is the only savior of the world and the only source of grace.” I understand that. But, to an evangelical who is not educated in such theological shorthand, such a phrase as “bless you with her grace” might sound idolatrous, as if we are placing Mary, a creature, in the place of God, our Creator.

    Thank you for considering my comment.

    May Mother Mary pray for you and lead you to Her Son, as she did the servers at Cana, with her words, “Do whatever he tells you.”

    Katie Rose (Devin’s wife)

  7. Thanks Katie. You and Devin are a class act. If you’re ever passing through Chicago and have some extra time, please let me know. Angela and I would enjoy visiting with you guys. -Chris

  8. Mrs. Rose,

    Thank you for your kind comment. Mr. Rose stated he was a roman Catholic who believed in ALL the church teachings. We have a prayer that says:
    Hail Mary FULL of GRACE…

    I dont think that Roman Catholics need to worry about what Protestants think of us when we write to each other. I would not write in this manner to a PROTESTANT, but felt comfortable doing so to a fellow Roman Catholic. It is not possible to be a Roman Catholic and not be with the Son of Mary, Jesus. That is the main part of our faith. I dont worry that Protestants think we are Idolatrous, since we have been raised believing that they are Heretics until recently. They are now our separated brothers in our faith.

    When we Pray the Hail Mary, we dont think much of what Evangelicals would say about us!

    I prayed the Rosary for you and your family tonight!

    Thank you for your very kind reply

    Felix Subervi

  9. Chris, sounds great man! Hopefully we will visit the Windy City one day soon, and will definitely let you know.

    Felix, thanks for your prayers. I would mention that this is a Protestant brother’s site, with probably mostly Protestant readers, so it’s a bit of “mixed company.” And Chris in particular being a former Catholic is quite attentive to such flowery talk about our Lady. Nonetheless, I won’t seek to caution you anymore than my wife has–God love ya!

  10. Just as a note of clarity…

    I would like to add that, if one takes a look at the ratio of kids attending WYD to the total population of Catholic kids, it is very clear that any Protestant denomination displays more “unity” on a weekly basis than Mr. Subervi claims for this Roman festival. (The simple fact is that percentages work against larger populations in this regard, so Mr. Subervi’s claim begins on troubled ground for just that reason.) For example, 1 million kids against a population of 500-600 million Catholic kids is only 0.17% to 0.20%. Apply that percentage to any large Protestant church in the United States and you will quickly see that more kids show up for weekly worship – as a percent of the kids in the denomination – at just one church – than Catholic kids that show up for WYD. Mr. Subervi may want to stake his claim for unity in some other ground.

    Surprisingly nobody has mentioned the theological controversy resulting from WYD’s release of “YouCat” the new youth catechism that coincided with year’s event. (More info found here:

    Apparently, the “unity” of Rome’s teachings have been undermined in such key areas as “Homosexuality, Contraception, Euthanasia, Evolution, and Scripture” by WYD.

    How could that happen?


  11. Constantine,

    Such comparisons are not really helpful. There are hundreds of millions of Catholics in Africa and the Global South who do not have the means to travel across the world to Spain for World Youth Day. The fact though that 2 million young Catholics would make tremendous effort to get there to see an 85 year old pope of a “moribund religious institution” is the odd thing.

    Do Protestant kids show up for Awana and other programs? Sure, no one claims otherwise. But no Protestant church or denomination or group of denominations has anything that comes close to World Youth Day. That doesn’t make Protestantism false, or Catholicism true. But an explanation must be found for why young people would go to WYD.

    The young adult catechism is fine. Sure, it had some issues that have been dealt with–the Catholic Church doesn’t claim that every Catholic understands their faith well or represents it in the best way. The site you link to itself is by a guy who has gone off the deep end, believing in geocentricity and some other strange things.

    So your claim that the Church doesn’t have unity due to this is false. The fact is, we can know exactly what the Church teaches. Now, not everyone will believe it. Guess what? Not everyone believed in Jesus or believed everything He told them, even though He was and is truth itself.

    God bless.

  12. Mr. Rose,

    I believe you have missed the point entirely. I was addressing Mr. Subservi’s point about the relative superiority of Roman Catholic unity in the context of WYD. While the numbers might be impressive on their own, proportionally they aren’t. That’s all.

    And thank you for supporting the case further by noting that the YouCat – which is an official Vatican publication – deviates from the “unity” of Rome.

    As far as Sungenis and geocentrism, isn’t that still the official teaching of Rome? If it’s not, I would be very grateful to have you direct me to some official pronouncement that states otherwise. Has Sungenis been censored by his bishop for this view?

    So my claim is, in the end, true. As you have shown.


  13. Constantine,

    Gimme a break dude. Playing up a little issue with one of the YouCat translations as evidence against the unity of the Catholic Church? Thinking geocentrism is still the “official teaching of Rome”? The Church has no dogmas on matters of science, but various Catholic scientists have scratched their heads about Sungenis’ geocentrism. Faith and reason are compatible, not contradictory.

    So your claims aren’t true, and you’re tone is snide. I’m unsubscribed from the comments, so this will be my last comment to you.


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