What is a World Youth Day?

Is an international meeting of young Catholics with the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope. This event takes place every two to three years, bringing together groups of young people from every corner of the globe, along with bishops, priests, religious, lay institutions / movements to pray and to celebrate. This event is also open to youth of other faiths.

The World Youth Day (WYD) is an event / pilgrimage that has an explicit Catholic identity and is under the direct guidance of the Pope. The Pope chooses the hosting country and hosting diocese and invites youth from all over the world, whether close to the church or not. All who feel drown to this pilgrimage are welcome to attend.

It is the Pope who chooses the theme of the World Youth Day, explains and develops the message to the young people. The Pope presides over the pilgrimage in the presence of the Bishops, priests, religious and all people of the world.

This event / pilgrimage is entrusted to the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life (DLFL), a Department in the Vatican in Rome with the responsibility of developing and organizing the World Youth Day. This task is shared with the local Church (Diocese & Country) hosting the event. 


In 1984 at the close of the Holy Year of Redemption, over 300,000 young people from around the world responded to the invitation of His Holiness John Paul II for an International Jubilee of youth on Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s square. Looking out to the crowds who answered his invitation he said, “What a fantastic spectacle is presented on this stage by your gathering here today! Who claimed that today’s youth has lost their sense of values? Is it really true that they cannot be counted on?” It was at this gathering that the Holy Father entrusted to the youth what is now known as the World Youth Day Cross, to be carried throughout the world as a symbol of the love of Christ for humanity.

First WYD:

The following Palm Sunday, coinciding with the United Nation’s International Year of the Youth, Our Holy Father took the opportunity to welcome the youth of the world to Rome again. Later, announcing the institution of World Youth Day on December 20, 1985, and the first official WYD was held in 1986.

International WYDs:

The following year brought about a new tradition when the second event and first international WYD took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Every Palm Sunday has since been designated as a World Youth Day, alternately celebrated at the diocesan and international levels. There have been 12 International World Youth Day celebrations, where the youth continue to answer the invitation of the Holy Father in staggering numbers and carry home the message received there to be Christ’s light to the world. While these events are organized by the clergy and laity of the Catholic Church, youth of all faiths are invited to attend and encounter Christ, making this gathering truly universal.

John Paul II left a legacy for the youth in his institution of World Youth Day, which Pope Benedict XVI has faithfully continued, carrying on the hope of His predecessor for the youth of the world, inviting them and commissioning them as Christ’s disciples to be faithful living witnesses.


Year and Location Theme
1986– Rome, Italy Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.
– 1Pt 3:15
1987– Buenos Aires, Argentina We ourselves have known and put our faith in God’s love towards ourselves.
– 1Jn 4:16
1989– Santiago de Compostela, Spain I am the way, the truth, and the life
– Jn 14:6
1991– Czestochowa, Poland You have received a spirit of sonship.
– Romans 8:15
1993– Denver. USA I came that they might have life, and have it to the full.
– Jn 10:10
1995– Manila, Philippines As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.
– Jn 20:21
1997– Paris, France Teacher, where are you staying? Come and see.
– Jn 1:38-39
2000– Rome, Italy Jubilee – The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
– Jn 1:14
2002-Toronto, Canada You are the salt of the earth; You are the light of the world.
– Mt 5:13-14
2005– Cologne, Germany We have come to worship him.
– Mt 2:2
2008– Sydney, Australia You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses
-Acts 1, 8
2011– Madrid, Spain Rooted and built up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith
-Col 2:7
2013– Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Go and Make Disciples of All Nations
-Mt 28:19
2016– Kraków, Poland Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
-Mt 5:7
2019– Panama City, Panamá I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.
-Lk 1:38
2022– Lisbon, Portugal Mary arose and went with haste.
-Lk 1:39

The Goals of the World Youth Day:

  1. It is an expression of the universal Church. The whole church is involved, although the Church Community where the event is being hosted is particularly engaged in its organization.
  2. It is an instrument of evangelization in the world of youth, a world that is very much in need of clear and direct transmission of the message centered on Christ and the Church.
  3. It is an ‘epiphany’ of a youthful church that shows its dynamic energy to the world and bears witness to the freshness of the Christian message.
  4. It is an effective sign of ecclesial communion. It brings young people together and the various groups, movements, associations and communities, and they all join the Pope and the bishops in the same love for Christ, for the Church and for its mission in the world.
  5. It is a faith pilgrimage, both in the spiritual aspect (in the serious preparation and participation of youth), and in the practical aspect (in the simplicity of their lodging and in their pilgrimage on foot).

What the event should produce:

  1. A personal life-changing encounter with Christ.
  2. An experience of the universal Catholic Church as mystery and as communion.
  3. A rediscovery on the part of young people of their baptismal vocation by which they are called to be active members of the Church and to become evangelizers and missionaries in today’s world.
  4. A rediscovery of the sacrament of Reconciliation and centrality of the Eucharist.
  5. A strong impetus for youth ministry in the local and national church.
  6. A new trust in faith, hope and charity for the entire Church community in the host country.
  7. Commitment on the part of young people to Christian unity.

The Structure of the World Youth Day:

  1. Basic Programme of the World Youth Day
  2. Opening Mass (Tuesday afternoon) – by the bishop of the hosting diocese.
  3. Papal Welcome (Thursday afternoon) – This should have a festive mood while at the same time maintain a prayerful spirit. There is a reading from scripture and Holy Father’s First talk.
  4. Catechesis (the morning of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) – these are held in various language by bishops who come from all over the world. It must be held all over the city. The role of bishops is very important as they are the first catechesis in the church by virtue of their mission. During these sessions, a special emphasis to the Sacrament of Reconciliation should be made. Equally important is the active participation of young people.
  5. The way of the Cross (Friday afternoon) – This highlights the importance of the penitential dimension, one of the fundamental aspects of the World Youth Day, an aspect that is usually emphasized on Friday.
  6. The Night Vigil with the Holy Father (Saturday evening) – a venue that can accommodate 500 thousand – 5million people and they will sleep at the venue. There must be a programme of animation.
  7. Concluding Holy Mass (Sunday Morning) – This is presided over by the Holy Father (Pope) at the same venue of the Night Vigil. It is a solemn conclusion and culminating moment of the World Youth Day
  8. Reconciliation Centre:
  9. Youth Festival (a programme of religious and artistic / cultural activities):
  10. Vocation Fair:
  11. Pre-World Youth Day Hospitality in the Dioceses (Days in Dioceses).