A Glance Through the History of World Youth Day From Pope John Paul II to Pope Francis

Tags: Currents Faith, Pope Benedict, Pope Francis, Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day, World Youth Day 2023

This year marks the 39th anniversary of the Palm Sunday that Pope John Paul II spent in St. Peter’s Square with 250,000 young people. 

There, he gave them a cross, which would later become one of the symbols of World Youth Day. 

“Carry it through the world as a symbol of Christ’s love for humanity,” Pope John Paul II told the crowd of youth then.

The institution of World Youth Day was officially announced in 1985. 

In 1987, the first international meeting took place. The city chosen was Buenos Aires. 

The eight World Youth Days of Pope John Paul II were widely attended and the momentum continued with Pope Benedict XVI. 

Pope Benedict’s last World Youth Day as pope took place in Madrid in 2011. One of the most exciting moments was the vigil with the youth, even despite the rain. 

“Thank you for this joy and endurance,” Pope Benedict XVI said. “Your strength is stronger than the rain. Thank you. The Lord sends us his blessings with the rain. With this, you set an example.”

Just a few months after being elected pope, Pope Francis traveled to Rio de Janeiro to preside over World Youth Day. There, one of the most famous phrases of his pontificate was heard for the first time: “Make a mess!” 

“I would like to say one thing: what do I expect as a result of Youth Day,” Pope Francis asked the crowd. “I expect trouble. That there will be trouble here. There will be. That there will be trouble here in Rio. But I want trouble in the dioceses; I want it to go beyond.”

In Krakow, in 2016, Pope Francis visited Auschwitz and prayed in silence in the cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe was tortured. 

And each day, from a balcony, he gave a good night speech to the youth. In one of them, he remembered a volunteer who died of cancer weeks earlier. 

The last World Youth Day that Pope Francis presided over was in Panama in 2019, where he dedicated several messages to the Virgin Mary. In one of them, he defined her as “God’s influencer.”

“Undoubtedly, the young woman from Nazareth did not appear in the “social networks” of the time,” Pope Francis said. “She was not an “influencer,” but without wanting or looking for it, she became the woman who influenced history the most. And we can call her, with the confidence of children, Mary, God’s “influencer.”

This World Youth Day in Lisbon is the fourth presided over by Pope Francis, motivated by the mission of bringing young people closer to their faith.