19Jun World Youth Day? Sean O Conaill

As a tiny remnant of Ireland’s Catholic youth makes its way to Rio for ‘World Youth Day’ next month will any of them wonder about its significance for the huge majority of their peers left behind?

Will any of those on the plane ask themselves: “Why is there ever only one such assembly on this spherical earth? Doesn’t that exclude almost all of us? Why isn’t WYD celebrated on the same day in every city and diocese in Ireland – with all of us able to attend and tell our bishops how we foresee the future of the church?”

Those questions might even be prompted by the same experience that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin described to the pope emeritus in 2006: “I can go to parishes on a Sunday where I find no person in the congregations between the ages of 16 and 36. None at all.”

Given the usual format of World Youth Day, it is highly unlikely that any question as to its mysterious unilocational character could be put directly to the pope next month by our young people. However, given the dire crisis of continuity threatening the Irish Church – proven by the very phenomenon that Archbishop Martin described – shouldn’t it occur to the Irish Bishops Conference, as well as to the Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, to ask it for them?

It will certainly be regarded by future generations of Irish Catholics as the strangest and most dangerous feature of our church at present that we all, adults and young people alike, do not have regular opportunities for asking such questions of our bishops. Why this overwhelming fear of any regular assembly that might permit unscripted questions to the magisterium – questions that might relate directly to all aspects of the crisis we are so clearly surrounded by? How come that the nearest ever approximation to an assembly of the Irish church in the midst of this crisis was organised by the ACP in May 2012, an event entitled ‘Towards an Assembly of the Irish Church’? And how come not a single Irish bishop could dare to attend that?

To me it seems that the answer lies in the fear of modernity that overtook the papacy after 1789, a fear that was squarely challenged by Vatican II, but a fear that returned in 1968 with the conflict over Humanae Vitae. This fear has led to an effectual ban on assemblies of the Catholic church in Europe – in the very era that the papacy has deplored the EU’s apparent loss of a sense of its Christian heritage. How else are we to understand, for example, the disappearance of the plan to hold a synod of the Dublin archdiocese, mooted in the final years of Cardinal Connell?

And so World Youth Day has been until now essentially a media op for the papacy – to prove its intense rapport with younger generations. It has also been, sadly, a striking sign of the very sickness identified by Pope Francis: the fatal narcissism of the church’s leadership – and of its denial of the actual crisis of Youth Departure in the Western church.

So maybe this year World Youth Day in Rio will hear promise of an entirely different format for the future – one that will allow the entire cohort of Irish Catholic school leavers to attend next time round? This too would be for me a litmus test of the pope’s determination to end the magisterial ban not just on assembly, but on its Christian corollary – genuine Communion. It is surely this ban above all that explains why Archbishop Martin could still probably go to parishes in Dublin “where I find no person in the congregations between the ages of 16 and 36. None at all.”

4 Responses

  1. BuenCamino

    Will the Rio in Dublin event planned to co-incide with WYD, address some of these concerns? The Papal Nuncio is to attend. 800 young people expected to gather for this 3 day event. Perhaps those who register might put these very questions to the Nuncio.

  2. Fr. Kieren


    Thanks for your thoughts on the subject of WYD. I share some of your concerns but I feel that you are trying to over think the event. WYD is celebrated every year primarily in Dioceses, the ‘Big WYD’ is celebrated every couple of years, if the Dioceses and Parishes are not annually and locally celebrating young people and their faith, that reflects badly more on your/our clergy rather than the Church and the Pope.
    Many Bishops in England are not promoting Rio WYD due to the cost, although that hasn’t stopped many young Catholics over here arranging travel.
    Personally, after attending two previous WYD, I think the event offers young Catholics opportunities and experiences lacking in the local church. Firstly they get the sense of the Universal Church, secondly they do receive needed catechisis, and thirdly they do get the chance to challenge and question members of the hierarchy, probably more directly than the ACP.
    I have concerns regarding the cost, but I don’t think that the WYD event attempts to paper over the problems in the Church. I think that rather than being cynical or critical of this event we should see what we can learn from it to help all of us in our ministry to young people.

  3. John

    So what’s stopping Archbishop Martin and his counterpart in Armagh organising in Ireland whatever youth requires? Are they waiting for permission?

  4. BuenCamino

    Having attended 3 WYDs in the past ten years I have to say that it is something that has kept me hanging in there in terms of church. The events may be publicity stunts but they also gave me a sense of community, showed me a young church that was alive and kicking in other parts of the world – a welcome change from the doom and gloom of the average Irish parish. Its a space to meet like minded people your own age who share your concerns…. The bishops meet with young people daily at WYD and take their questions and discussions – but nothing changes there. Either they don’t listen or feel powerless. I suppose it is the closest thing to an assembly for youth in the church that one can get.

    The planned Rio in Dublin event this July in Dublin hopes to attract huge numbers of those who can’t travel to Rio. Perhaps it would be a good space for young people in Ireland to air their views. The WYD family of youth out there gather monthly in different areas of Dublin – but how welcome they feel in their own parishes is another big question we need to ask.

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