World Youth Day officially opened today. I just saw an article in the current issue of The Catholic Leader, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, Australia, that discusses WYD from the perspective of vocations.
The August 16-21 celebration in Madrid is the first international youth gathering to feature a special papal meeting with religious women under the age of 35. About 1,500 sisters will meet with the Pope on August 19.
The next morning, Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to celebrate Mass with about 4,000 seminarians.
The gatherings, according to Archbishop Joseph Tobin, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, are important for those considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, as well as for those who already have embarked on their journey toward vows or ordination.
When the archbishop was superior of the Redemptorists, he said, a young member of the order told him what a similar youth gathering meant to him.
“He said for the first time in his young life as a Redemptorist priest he was in a room with other Redemptorists who have hair, and it’s not gray,” the 59-year-old archbishop said.
As for claims that World Youth Day is a seedbed for vocations, “I admit I was a little sceptical some years ago about whether it was a flash in the pan, and how do you carry it forth with some energy,” he said.
But studies have shown a significant portion of young men and women entering religious life cite the international event as an experience that contributed to their vocations.
The key thing, he said, was that there was follow-up and support after WYD ended.
“That’s always the challenge with any really strong emotive experience. If that becomes your benchmark, it’s hard to duplicate that,” Archbishop Tobin said.
“Ask any young married couple when they’re facing a sink full of dishes, a sick baby and one is travelling or they’re unemployed. Somehow the high of their wedding day is hard to sustain.
“Loving is an art, but it’s an art that demands discipline and practice and, yeah, sometimes failure, but we get a whole lifetime to try to get it right.”
Any contact any religious has with a young person “is a vocational moment,” because youths are “trying to sort it out,”, to see where they fit in, the archbishop said.
Religious need to listen to young people, be clear about their own identity, and invite the young to see for themselves if the community would be the right fit.
“That’s it in a nutshell,” Archbishop Tobin said.
In the Gospel of John, “Jesus doesn’t try to make a hard sell. He appeals to what motivates people: ‘What are you looking for?’ And then: ‘If you think you can find it with me, come and have a look.’ So the hook comes at the end,” when Jesus says, “Follow me.”