In 2023, World Youth Day’s Joy Shined Amid Synodal Way, Holy Land’s Sorrow

YEAR IN REVIEW

Pope Francis waves from the popemobile prior to presiding over the Holy Rosary prayer with sick young people at the Chapel of Apparitions in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima.
Pope Francis waves from the popemobile prior to presiding over the Holy Rosary prayer with sick young people at the Chapel of Apparitions in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima. (photo: David Martins/SOPA Images / AP)

As the year 2023 draws to a close, all eyes are on the Holy Land, where another brutal war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza makes the fate of Christians in Jesus’ homeland even more uncertain.

At the same time, even though a multifaceted persecution of Christians is escalating all over the world, and Catholics themselves are often divided by cultural-war dynamics in the West, the remarkable success of the 2023 World Youth Day in Lisbon has given an unhoped-for missionary impetus to a young generation thirsting for God and for moral landmarks.

The Israel-Hamas conflict, reignited by the massacre of more than 1,200 Israelis by Hamas on Oct. 7, has completely overshadowed the Russian-Ukrainian war on the media scene, not least because of the immense geopolitical stakes involved. The Catholic Church itself, directly affected by this conflict, which does not spare the Christians living in the territory of the Palestinian Authority — who make up the oldest Christian communities in the world — is still struggling to find a unified diplomatic response to a situation that locals describe as unprecedented. According to a Dec. 4 UNICEF assessment, the Israeli response in Gaza had already claimed more than 15,500 Palestinian victims, including 5,350 children.

But these ongoing tragedies in the Holy Land should not obscure the great hardships endured by many Christian peoples in other areas around the world, notably the Armenians of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, almost all of whom were forced to flee their historic homeland following a new military offensive by Azerbaijan in September 2023.

The Register also extensively reported on the daily atrocities suffered by Christians in Africa, particularly in Nigeria, where the number of martyrs has soared over the past year. Another ethnic conflict in the Manipur state of India resulted in the deaths of 120 to 150 Christians and the destruction of several hundred churches. In Nicaragua, persecution of the Church by the dictatorial regime of Daniel Ortega culminated in the imprisonment of Bishop Rolando Álvarez, sentenced to 26 years’ imprisonment for treason last February after refusing to go into exile.

News in Western nations for 2023 was often marked, on the one hand, by attacks on life — of which the court-ordered death of English baby Indi Gregory is the painful symbol — and on the other by the cultural war waged by “woke” deconstruction movements against religious perspectives that conflict with their agendas. The suspension of 16-year-old Josh Alexander by St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Renfrew, Ontario, in Canada, for protesting the school’s new transgender policy, illustrated that the institutional infiltration of these politically progressive ideologies does not spare Christian institutions.

Nevertheless, these growing divides between Catholics — which were also reflected during the consultative phases leading up to the October assembly of the Synod on Synodality in Rome — were almost forgotten during Lisbon World Youth Day in August, in which more than 1.5 million young people took part. Their unity, in an extraordinary religious fervor indifferent to ideologies, showed the emergence of new generations seeking a more radical anchoring of their lives in the Catholic faith.

While COVID-prevention policies and Germany’s controversial Synodal Way appear to have accelerated the emptying of churches in Italy and Germany, and atheism has become a widespread belief in many Western countries, recent figures show that the dynamism of traditionalist Catholic communities is becoming more and more widespread in countries such as the U.S. and France.

The Nordic European countries, once at the forefront of de-Christianization, also seem to be witnessing a reawakening of the Catholic faith, a phenomenon explored at an EWTN conference on Gotland Island in Sweden in September.

This juxtaposition of opposing dynamics in terms of faith and culture gives grounds for hope and promises fascinating developments over the next few years, which should be followed closely.

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