World Youth Day: What Differences Does It Make?

World Youth Day has become the largest regular gathering of young people in the world. Conducted every two to three years, World Youth Day regularly attracts more than one million participants, including thousands of young Australians.

Young Australians have participated in each of the international World Youth Days. During the early history of World Youth Day this involved fewer than thirty pilgrims, mostly drawn from Antioch youth groups or similar groups and movements. As awareness of the event grew amongst Australian Catholics, so did their level of participation. With the public encouragement and support of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference there has been a significant increase in the number of Australian pilgrims attending World Youth Day, especially from the year 2000 onwards.

Seemingly innate to human nature is the desire for connectedness and solidarity with others. This experience of bonding is deeply satisfying, fulfilling an innermost human need. Catholic anthropologist Victor Turner (1972) identified that this experience of communitas, as he termed it, can emerge at large gatherings, especially those which are religious in nature or are underpinned by ritual.

There is a dearth of evidence indicating that communitas is experienced in a diverse range of events which attract young people, and are at times symbolic of the youth culture. These include rock concerts, rave parties, festivals and the pilgrimage phenomena. Participants describe the experience of ‘ecstasy’, ‘acceptance’, ‘unity’, ‘love’ and ‘a special buzz’. Turner used the term ‘flow’ to identify the special moment when participants entered a unique and absorbing sense of consciousness. The new-found level of consciousness is not only deeply rewarding and fulfilling on a personal level but is a moment of connectedness, unifying one with others, leading to a ‘melding of selves’ (Tramacchi, 2001, p.174). Research would strongly suggest that World Youth Day is a fertile environment for the emergence of communitas.

The impact of World Youth Day cannot be underestimated. It is described by many as life-changing, and credited with strengthening and revitalizing peoples’ faith journey and witness. The great challenge as noted by Rymarz (2007) is the longevity of the impact of the ‘transformative encounter’, especially after the initial enthusiasm and euphoria of the week-long event has dissipated.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 23, No. 4, Pages 9-12

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