VATICAN CITY — This year's World Youth Day celebrations in Rome will feature three encounters with Pope John Paul II, special Masses and catechetical services, and plenty of opportunities to build international friendships, Vatican organizers said.
As many as 1.5 million young people are expected to participate in the Aug. 14-20 celebrations, with some arriving as early as Aug. 10 for several days of hospitality in Italian dioceses.
“During the week of Aug. 14-20, Rome will be the youngest city in the world,” Cardinal Camillo Ruini, papal vicar of Rome, told a press conference April 10.
U.S. Cardinal Francis Stafford, head of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, said the event will be an extraordinary moment of evangelization, Church communion and personal renewal.
“The Pope will be a main catechist with his sermons, words and gestures in front of the whole world, while numerous cardinals and bishops will speak for three days on fundamental themes of the faith to participants in various language groups.”
Cardinal Stafford said World Youth Day would once again serve as are an expression of John Paul II's special charism to communicate with youth, and they are one of the ‘prophetic gifts’ of his pontificate.”
The Holy Father has described past 14 World Youth Days as “providential moments for stopping” of the young generations on the road of faith toward the new Christian millennium.”
The Pope will preside over two welcoming ceremonies the evening of Aug. 15, at the Basilica of St. John Lateran and St. Peter's Basilica.
While organizers have avoided gathering the youths in the city center on most days, Cardinal Ruini said Rome could put up with a few logistical problems Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption and a public holiday in Italy.
“The city should experience this day in a positive, not negative, way, as an opportunity of encounter,” Cardinal Ruini said. He said history has shown that World Youth Day participants are never a troublesome crowd.
The Pope will lead a prayer vigil the evening of Aug. 19 at a main gathering site on the outskirts of Rome, then return there Aug. 20 to celebrate the closing liturgy.
During the week, youths will take turns making their pilgrimage to Rome and the Vatican, walking in procession up an avenue to St. Peter's Basilica and passing through the Holy Door there.
They will also attend Masses celebrated in the Circus Maximus, the site of an ancient Roman racetrack, where special tents will be set up for confession. In morning sessions, they will hear talks on the World Youth Day theme dedicated to the mystery of God made man: “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”
On Friday, Aug. 18, many of the youths will participate in a Way of the Cross that will end at the ancient Roman Colosseum, the site of Christian martyrdom.
Organizers said a special effort was being made to invite young people who are not necessarily members of lay associations or the most active in their parish.
Protestant and Orthodox participants are expected from several European countries, and a delegation from India will include members of non-Christian religions.
(From combined wire services)