JMJ, behind the scenes of a founding adventure



The Church, young people and globalization. A history of WYD

by Charles Mercier

Bayard, 540 p., € 21.90

Trace the genesis, tell behind the scenes, decipher the scope of these “Woodstock Catholics”. Through a detailed investigation, the historian Charles Mercier analyzes the way in which the World Youth Days (WYD) sought, at the end of the last century, to “Reconnect” between the Church and the new generations of young Catholics.

In a world won over by secularization, the author – who was in his twenties when he himself took part in those in Paris in 1997 – points out how these gigantic itinerant gatherings have thus attempted to remedy the stoppage of the traditional transmission of faith in families. And how much they left their mark on thousands of the faithful, without one really being able to measure to what extent these founding experiences will then have been able to play, or not, more durably in their eventual return to religious practice.

His work – which focuses on the pontificate of their founder, John Paul II, for the sake of ensuring a “historical perspective” – is also an opportunity to renew the approach of the figure of the Polish pope. By pointing out the relevance of the intuition that the latter had of bringing together young people from all continents, in a context of “end of ideologies”, liberalization, and the erasure of borders.

As Charles Mercier describes it, the first “prototype” of WYD took place in Rome in 1984, around a special jubilee for young people. Beyond the Vatican hopes, nearly 300,000 young people from 67 countries flocked. Reinforced by this success, John Paul II reissued this meeting format the following year, declared “International Year of Youth” by the United Nations. This time, 450,000 pilgrims responded to his invitation.

A new success that pushes Karol Wojtyla to formalize the creation of “World Youth Day” – the acronym then goes to the singular -, the first edition of which was held in Buenos Aires in 1987. Although attractive then little beyond the Latin American fold, this choice of destination clearly testifies to the pope’s concern to anchor the event in globalization, by encouraging young people to “Conscienceofthe universality of the Church ”. Based on a pedagogy of diversity, “(…) The WYD of John Paul II apprehends ethnic and cultural differences in an inclusive way, by being part of a form of multiculturalism”, notes the author.

Santiago de Compostela (Spain, 1989), Czestochowa (Poland, 1991), Denver (United States, 1993), Manila (Philippines, 1995), Paris (France, 1997), Rome (Italy, 2000), Toronto (Canada, 2002)… Over the following decades, the different editions of WYD succeeded one another. The organization rode, not without sometimes crystallizing tensions, between the Pontifical Council for the Laity (organizer of the first WYDs), the Curia or even the new communities which are gradually giving way to the national episcopates …

Rich in many anecdotes, this thrilling tale unveils behind the scenes of these events – the emotion, the stress, the extra work -, their geopolitical significance in terms of foreign diplomacy, and the links they have forged between the Churches. communities, the Vatican, public authorities, the “secular” world – relying in particular on groups specializing in events – and the international media.

Beyond what could also be considered as a “Very good public relations operation” Church, Charles Mercier still shows how much “The WYD (have) restored, after the crisis of the 1960s and 1970s, the weight of the papacy in the imagination of young Catholics (…) ” and allowed “To positively support the” minorization “of Catholicism, by preventing its young affiliates from letting themselves go to resentment or being tempted by secession from the rest of society”.

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