“I look forward joyfully to this coming July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil!” Pope Francis called out these words on Palm Sunday to the young people of the world. His invitation includes not only the young people from those wealthier nations which can afford the cost of the journey to Rio. “Go and make disciples of all nations” is the theme of this year’s World Youth Day. Young people from all over the world will converge upon Rio and together bear witness there to Christ. And above all the young people from those countries where Christians face oppression and want will be giving a special kind of testimony. But they themselves will also be strengthened in turn by the experience of sharing their faith with millions of other young people. They will understand that they are by no means a minority, but instead belong to the immense family of the Universal Church.
A group of 100 young people from Baghdad will be among those attending the World Youth Day, as representatives of all their peers in Iraq. The fate of the Christians in Iraq is an issue close to the heart of Pope Francis. When the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch, Louis Raphael Sako, visited the Holy Father the week after his election and told him of the suffering of Iraqi Christians, the Pope was moved to tears. A thousand Christian martyrs in the space of ten years, sixty churches attacked, fear, death and persecution at every verse and turn… The “appointment with the Pope” will strengthen and encourage these young Iraqis. It will be tangible proof for them that they are not simply a marginalised minority. ACN is helping with a contribution of 20,000 Euros, so that these young people from Baghdad can also respond to the Pope’s invitation.
The young people of Haiti can also do with some encouragement, since theirs is the poorest country in Latin America and one of the most underdeveloped nations on earth. Social violence, natural disasters – including of course the devastating earthquake of January 2010, which claimed over a quarter of a million lives – political unrest, poverty and hunger have plagued this country, which seems to have been spared almost no imaginable suffering. Now young representatives will travel to Rio from all ten dioceses in the country and later returned to share with their friends the fire of their enthusiasm and the sense of being part of the wider, Universal Church. Despair will not be allowed to have the last word; instead, the encounter with the Holy Father and with millions of other young people from all over the world will be an unforgettable experience for them all. Later, in August some of the dioceses in Haiti will be organising their own youth meetings, in which the young men and women who were not able to travel to Rio will be able to share in this message. Consequently ACN is not only contributing to the travel costs of the young delegates who will be travelling to Rio, but will also, with a contribution of 12,000 Euros, be supporting the youth meeting in the Haitian diocese of Jérémie, where almost a thousand young people from the 39 parishes of the diocese will be taking part.
From Egypt too there will be a delegation of young people attending the World Youth Day. Many young people in this country have been disappointed and disillusioned by events at home, where the so-called “Arab spring” has been unmasked as a winter and their hopes have been betrayed. In fact, for Christians in particular, life has become harder than ever. With a contribution of 10,000 Euros ACN has made it possible for 49 young Egyptians to attend, as heralds of new hope for the Church in their country.
The experience itself is important. Right from the start, faith was a matter of experience. The living encounter, the personal approach, the immediate contact – all this we read about in the Gospels. But it is equally necessary to nourish this enthusiasm with knowledge and to prepare properly for this great event. Consequently ACN is also helping to fund the distribution of a million copies of the youth catechism YOUCAT, which already proved such a great success at the last World Youth Day in Madrid.
Pope Francis is looking forward to the World Youth Day. In his address on Palm Sunday he said, “Young persons, you must tell the world that it’s good to follow Jesus that it’s good to go with Jesus. Jesus’ message is good. It’s good to go outside ourselves to the ends of the earth, and outside of our own existence, to bring Jesus!”
Let us help these young people from the countries where the Church is particularly in need to follow his invitation.