Since 1985, a key feature of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II has been the staging of World Youth Days (WYD). These events, held every 2 or 3 years, are amongst the largest international gatherings of young people. In the millennium year of 2000, The WYD in Rome attracted more than 2.5 million pilgrims. In 1995 the gathering in Manila recorded an attendance in excess of 4 million. Simply for attracting so many recipients, WYD has become a significant social phenomenon. Participants are mainly Catholics although the invitation to take part is extended to all.
Venue and Date of World Youth Days Year Venue 1984-1985 Rome 1987 Buenos Aires 1989 Santiago de Compostela, Spain 1991 Czestochowa, Poland 1993 Denver 1995 Manila 1997 Paris 2000 Rome 2002 Toronto 2005 Cologne
The target WYD audience is between 16 and 35 years of age. WYD has a deliberate emphasis on pilgrimage, and hence each has had a strong international flavor with representative participation from all continents. The emphasis on pilgrimage is reinforced by the selection of traditional pilgrimage sites, such as Rome, Santiago de Compostela, and Czestochowa as venues. The format of WYD has a characteristic structure. Prior to a WYD, those planning to be participants attend a series of planned talks (catechesis) arranged around the city in which the event is taking place. These are designed as a preparation for the specific day. Talks are usually given to national groups or, in the case of the host country, regional groups and are typically given by bishops or other leadership figures. This reinforces the idea that WYD is an activity, which comes with the sanction and sponsorship of the Catholic Church. In the evening, events are planned that are intended to introduce participants to the breadth of Catholic culture. Part of this is the deliberate mixing of pilgrims from different countries. On WYD the highlight is the Papal Mass. The mass is often on the outskirts of the city in order to accommodate the large numbers involved.
World Youth Day has provided one of the clearest indicators of John Paul's emphasis on the New Evangelization. Implicit here is the concern that wider culture has either drifted from or not been sufficiently influenced by the Christian message. The Pope explicitly has called on youth to be the agents of a new proclamation of the gospel to those who have never heard it or have neglected it. Participation in WYD is intended to provide youth with a heightened sense of religiosity by providing a peak religious experience of the universality and strength of the Catholic tradition. It is anticipated that youth will develop their spirituality by sharing their experiences with disparate groups, of similar ages, all within the atmosphere of communal expression of religious faith.
The involvement of John Paul II has given WYD both its impetuous and its on-going strength. The ability of John Paul II to attract such a high level of interest in focused specific events and in a variety of settings is seen as one of the features of his pontificate. Some have commented that the emphasis on the Pope has provided too narrow a focus, and whilst providing a peak religious experience for many of those who attend, the long-term effects on both individuals and society are much more difficult to ascertain.