We are a few days before World Youth Day scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro beginning on July 23rd. World Youth Day was initiated by Blessed John Paul II, in 1985. So it has been celebrated for almost 30 years. Some of the original “youth” are now middle aged.
Does anyone know what WYD has accomplished over these 30 years? I do not mean this to be a snide question. I think one of the central issues in our society has been the overall drift away from a culture that is, and let’s be blunt, “Christian”, to one that is essentially atheistic.
If the purpose of WYD was to spread or strengthen the faith in some fashion, the evidence is it has failed to do so. For example using the data from the Pew forum on religious life, youth are becoming less religious in general.
It is worth looking at some specific data. Pew reports that the percentage of people who are either atheist/ agnostic or not affiliated with a religion has increased to about 20% compared to people who are over the age of 60, when it was about 12%, so the percentage has nearly doubled. Think carefully about what this suggests. In 1985 a 60 year old was 34. Over the ensuing 30 years of world youth days it would appear that “youth” have gotten less religious, not more so.
This does not mean that the Youth days have not had some benefit for those that attend, but in a larger sense it does not appear to have any effect at evangelization. In fact one could infer that it may have to some extent a negative effect. I do not know that it does, but merely raise the question based on the evidence. In fact the percentage of young people who are Catholic has remained constant in the United States only because the percentage of Latinos in the population has tripled, and Latinos are largely (70%) Catholic. The percentage of younger Latinos who profess Catholicism has been decreasing.
So what would a Martian anthropologist notice about this. I think he would hypothesize that there is something about the Catholicism of WYD that is insufficiently appealing to counter the secularizing trend sweeping the culture. In fact Spain, the host of two World Youth Days, is one of the most secularized countries on the planet.
The point is not to be negative, but rather to raise the question, “Why does WYD not have a bigger impact, and what is it about modern religion that does not sell?