Since Pope John Paul II launched World Youth Day thirty years ago, it’s become not just the Catholic Church’s biggest event, but also the world’s largest gathering of people, period.
Over the years some critics have tried to dismiss this gathering as merely a Catholic Woodstock- or, in modern terms, a South by Southwest or Coachella equivalent. While the comparison is apt in terms of size and enthusiasm, it fails to recognize World Youth Day’s substantive contributions to both Church and civil life these past three decades.
For starters, World Youth Day has been one of the primary motivations for vocations to religious life in recent years. It’s no coincidence that in the very years in which many of the Church’s seminaries were in decline and vocations around the globe were plummeting, World Youth Day was founded. World Youth Day-by providing an occasion for Catholic identity to be presented in a new and creative way-effectively created a breeding ground for a renewal in religious life.
The latest data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University found that one in seven of last year’s class of 2015 priests participated in a World Youth Day-more than any other Catholic gathering or festival.