WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Archbishop Richard Smith joined pilgrims from the Edmonton Archdiocese and around the world at WYD 2008 in Sydney, Australia.
EDMONTON - Archbishop Richard Smith is hoping many young people will respond to his invitation to participate in World Youth Day in Madrid next year.
He himself has participated in three of these events and says World Youth Day can be a powerful spiritual experience.
"What participants in World Youth Day most commonly tell me is that they are strengthened in their faith, particularly through the discovery that they are not alone in their love for the Lord and for the Church," the archbishop said in a Sept. 5 email.
"They discover this in their experience of being together with hundreds of thousands of their peers who are enthusiastic about our Catholic faith. It is an amazing experience of unity and from this they derive great peace and hope.
"When they return home they are eager to learn more about the faith and to participate more fully in the life of the Church."
Last June at a meeting with youth, Smith placed a specific challenge to youth leaders in the archdiocese. "I would like to see 1,000 young people from the archdiocese go to Madrid," he said. "How can we, together, make this happen?"
Andrew Papenbrock, director of the Office of Youth Evangelization, said he is taking the archbishop's challenge seriously and is trying his best to get "as many young people as we can" to Madrid.
But he said he is not as concerned about the number as he is about the meaning of the archbishop's challenge.
Papenbrock said his office is going to put extra resources into the effort "to see if we can get more people going, again, not because of numbers but because of the impact" WYD will have on young people.
Events like WYD tend to change people, he said, and "that benefits us as a diocese."
"We've seen that from other World Youth Days. We've always sent out a large number of people to World Youth Days and we've seen the direct impact on the archdiocese - great young people active in the faith."
The long-term effects of going to WYD are, of course, difficult to estimate, Smith said in the email from Montreal.
"WYD plants wonderful seeds that can grow and blossom over a number of years. But we have already seen some wonderful results.
"WYD has been a reality now for more than 20 years and we have witnessed many WYD 'alumni' discern vocations to priesthood and religious life or seek consciously and deliberately to place the service of Christ and his Church at the heart of their Christian marriages."
Among other things, members of the Youth Evangelization Office plan to put extra time on WYD-related events, making themselves available to parishes and groups, letting them know what WYD is and helping them with their projects.
Papenbrock, who has coordinated several WYD over the years, said this year he has been surprised at the interest expressed by young people.
"This year I've been surprised because of the number of parishes already that have shown an interest in sending young people there," he said.
"We will help parishes with their promotions; we'll encourage maybe some groups that possibly may not have thought it (WYD) was for them such us young teachers, young parents, people that are in marriage preparation and RCIA programs."
On Aug. 21 several hundred young people from the dioceses of Edmonton and Calgary spent the day commemorating WYD at Home in Rockyford. The mini-pilgrimage, sponsored by the Calgary Diocese, offered "a lot of different sessions, great speakers, great music and lots of activities," Papenbrock said.
About 100 young people from the Edmonton Archdiocese attended the event.