First Saturdays for World Youth Day

A worldwide campaign of prayer to coincide with World Youth Day has begun. Called “Firm in Faith With Mary,” the initiative invites the faithful to pray the Rosary for World Youth Day on Saturdays from the beginning of May until WYD takes place in August.

A number of Church organizations have joined together to call the whole Church to prepare for WYD in Spain and implore for its fruitfulness by praying the Rosary. The campaign, which will make extensive use of social media, has the full backing of the World Youth Day organizers in Madrid.

In April, Holy Cross Father James Phalan, a member of Holy Cross Families Ministries and coordinator of the campaign, spoke in Rome with Register correspondent Edward Pentin about the initiative and why praying the Rosary is especially important during these days.  Father Phalan is the author of the new book Living the Rosary: Finding Your Life in the Mysteries (Ave Maria Press).

Is this the first such Rosary campaign to coincide with World Youth Day?

It is, and I think it’s the first time there’s truly been a worldwide Rosary prayer campaign. There have been scattered initiatives but not ones that have tried to link into the international communications network.

Is it just based around the Rosary or are there other aspects to it?

For a good campaign, you need one simple idea and we have one simple idea: pray the Rosary on Saturday for World Youth Day starting in May. It’s very simple, something people can do and something we can unite around and that it is for all Catholics. The Rosary has been second only to the Mass for the last 800 years, so we were thinking: How could we help young people to prepare for World Youth Day?

So we asked ourselves what’s going to be at the heart of the preparation for WYD? Prayer, and getting the pilgrims to pray. And not just pilgrims, because this World Youth Day is really coming at a very important moment in the Catholic Church. It’s a very important opportunity for the New Evangelization in Europe. I would say it is certainly the high point of Catholic life this year, and not just for Spain but for Europe.

How is this different compared with other World Youth Days?

It’s hard to say but we can at least look at the context we are in. It wasn’t a surprise that Spain was chosen at all [because] it’s become so secular. I’ve spent a lot of time in Spain and it’s not that the Spanish people are bad; it’s just really what they’ve been led to. It’s very secular but it’s also got major economic crises and this could help them wake up to something else.

But speaking in more positive terms, this is a wonderful opportunity for Europe, which is complicated regarding faith, particularly in Spain. This is a wonderful opportunity to have a million and a half, perhaps two million, pilgrims present for World Youth Day and to gather them to pray. It’s very powerful.

And WYD is can be a really powerful event. We should encourage all Catholics to pray, something simple. So it’s a simple idea but the execution and promotion of it opens up lots of possibilities to trying to help young people to prepare themselves spiritually.

Have you organized a program for, say, families to pray at a certain time?

We didn’t want to complicate it ...We hope that people will gather, that youth groups will gather to pray, and that parishes will also. We have to leave that to the Holy Spirit but we will encourage that during the course of the campaign. So the execution of the campaign gives us a lot of possibilities if we can get some media support. I’ve been working together quite a bit with the World Youth Day communications network. Their website and Facebook structures are well developed and they’ve done good work. Obviously, it’s going to be a web-based campaign. It’s all on the website, and that’s where young people are. But how we can utilize it for the Catholic Church? Facebook has been toppling governments so why can’t we use it for prayer?

How will it work?

Once launched, we’ll have posts every day, a photo, images, and links to other great websites telling of another great activity. Every day we’ll have a couple of posts of a spiritual nature, trying to follow a theme of developing a Christian life in a subtle way, a subtle pedagogy, not explicit — clearly Christian, Catholic formation, but we want to give a pedagogy that is more experiential, that is to say, meditate on God. Life is so crazy there’s something wrong, so stop and take a few minutes and find some peace. One novelty will be to allow young people to post their own video of about three minutes.

What we’d like is to be able to remind people, through the international media, to pray on Saturday. There’s a lot to be done to rediscover the Rosary in the Catholic Church at this point. One thing we need to do is get it out there and talked about, and then teach what John Paul II taught about the Rosary.

Do you think there is a danger that the faithful only see the Marian months of May and October as perhaps the only time to pray the Rosary?

Yes, and very few people also take those months seriously. Sixty years ago, Catholics prayed the Rosary, now in most parts of the world they don’t. Also 60 years ago, most Catholics prayed a lot more than they do now. So this [campaign] tries to instill something once again in the hearts of young people.

And to those people who might not know much about the Rosary and how effective it can be, how will this campaign get people to understand its value?

We have to work in a number of ways, mainly by giving people resources on a web page. There’s a section that links people to simple instructions on how to pray the Rosary and that will be in several languages. But also links to other interesting resources — this is a ritual chapel that will be made, we’ve been trying to develop resources to show how to meditate with the rosary. If I see a kid praying the Rosary in parishes, it sounds more like machine gun fire than it does prayer. I wouldn’t blame them for not wanting to pray it like that.

Will there be different themes for this campaign, to pray the Rosary not just for WYD but other subjects?

The campaign is going to give us lots of opportunity to do that. We’re going to keep the Facebook to let people to suggest things, to pray the Rosary to protect life, for example. But what we really want is to help people understand that they need to pray. You know the main reason why people say they don’t pray the Rosary? No time. People need to say where their life is at. If they’re being driven around by things so crazy, can’t stop for just a few minutes a day, they need to take time, and we need to say that. We are running around like crazy people and where’s it getting us? I remember speaking to a group of high school kids and when I started talking about the fact that life can be so crazy, we need some peace, at that point they were going like this (nodding). It would perhaps be more radical to say shut down your machines for 15 minutes. But the world needs peace, we need to take time so we can find God in our hearts. Unless you do, God’s just an abstract idea. It’s superficial. Of course it’s easy for young people to get into praise music, and that’s good too, but there needs to be a little more depth to it. We Catholics do not really believe in the power of prayer at this point. Do we really believe in the power of prayer? What would happen if we really prayed for something with faith, for a springtime of the Holy Spirit. What if we really prayed with faith for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on World Youth Day?

Do you think young people really want to see the fruits of prayer, prayers that have worked, testimonies?

Honestly speaking, we don’t have that many. So that’s one of the reasons why we thought of setting up a website so that people may give them to us.

And not just a miracle, just a sense of God’s presence, for example?

Yes, or “I was in a lot of stress before an exam and I prayed and felt peace”, or “I prayed and I did well in my exam and felt God was with me.” That’s not necessarily a miracle – if someone didn’t do well in their exam then God shouldn’t give them a good grade in their exam. But there’s still a sense of how God is with us. 

Register correspondent Edward Pentin writes from Rome.