“Thank you for your joy and your resistance! Your strength is greater than the rain! ” Ten years ago, on Saturday August 20, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI found nearly a million and a half young pilgrims at the Cuatro Vientos air base, in the suburbs of Madrid (Spain). Coming from 193 different countries, these participants in the World Youth Days (WYD) had long expressed their joy to surround the Pope, replacing with their songs the words he could not pronounce at the microphone, the place being swept away by a violent storm.
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For the diocese of Madrid, this prayer vigil, followed the next day by the closing Mass, marked the culmination of these ardently desired WYDs. At the time archbishop of the Spanish capital, Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela hoped to see his city be chosen to succeed the WYD of Toronto, held in 2002. “But the Pope (John Paul II, Editor’s note) said that Germany needed a great pastoral boost ”, says Mgr Goyo Roldán, general secretary of WYD in Madrid. In accordance with the alternation between Europe and the rest of the world, Sydney succeeded Cologne in 2008 and, in 2011, Madrid can finally welcome “its” edition.
Allow a “great experience of God and of the Church”
Ten years later, this “Tsunami of young Catholics” – according to the formula at the time of everyday life El Mundo – left his mark on the diocese of Madrid. “I believe that the first of the fruits of these WYDs is to have taught us to work with the different ecclesial realities: communities, movements and parishes., considers Father Luis Melchor Sánchez, current chaplain of youth ministry in the Spanish capital. A decade later, we have managed to maintain this harmony. ” He himself remembers this event as a period “Grueling”, but who “Allowed many to have a great experience of God and of the Church”.
If the priest considers that hosting WYD has made it possible to give “Momentum” in the youth ministry of Madrid, however, it tends to moderate its importance after a decade. There are two reasons for this: the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought all events and meetings to a halt, but above all the change of generations. “Young people today were children in 2011, he emphasizes. They n‘did not directly participate in WYD in their city. “
For Father Luis Melchor Sánchez, the fruits are rather to be seen in current vocations. Often associated with an increase in vocations, did the WYD of 2011 have this effect on their hosts, in particular among the 28,000 volunteers? According to the figures, across the country, the number of priestly ordinations has remained relatively constant over the decade.
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On the other hand, Spain has 16.5% fewer seminarians this year than in 2011. “Many vocations have been born in Madrid, but all in good time, cautiously advances the diocesan leader. A seed planted during WYD can be discerned for many years. “
Welcoming young people passing through in 2023
And for the generations too young to participate in WYD in Madrid, attention turns to the next edition of the gathering, which will also take place in the Iberian Peninsula, in August 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal (1).
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In this perspective, all the Spanish dioceses are preparing to welcome in September and October the two symbols of WYD – a large wooden cross and a Marian icon. This passage of the two emblems throughout the country underlines Spain’s association with the WYDs hosted in neighboring Portugal. “We are aware that many young people will pass through Madrid before or after the Lisbon meeting, assures Father Luis Melchor Sánchez. We will soon begin to recruit volunteers to help them as well as to identify possible accommodation. “
As for the young people of Madrid themselves, they should come in numbers to Lisbon, since 5,000 of them are expected to go there. They will therefore be 150 times more numerous than during previous WYDs, in Panama in 2019, and twice as many as for the last European edition – in 2016, in Krakow (Poland). And by then, as a warm-up, the Spaniards will welcome to their country the participants in the European pilgrimage for young people, next summer in Compostela.
Catholicism in decline
At the end of the Franco dictatorship (1939-1977), 90% of Spaniards claimed to be Catholic. The country of Saint Teresa of Avila has long been considered the “Spiritual reserve of the West”.
Today, only two thirds of the 47 million Spaniards identify themselves as Catholics. An even more marked drop among young people: 55% of 16-29 year olds say they have no religion, according to a 2018 study.
This decrease has repercussions on priestly ordinations, which have almost been halved since the year 2000. The Spanish Church has around 17,000 priests, spread over 70 dioceses.
The Church remains present in Spanish society through its many schools, its hospitals and retirement homes.