I am writing to you from Poland. I am here at the Shrine of the Black Madonna in A Czestochowa to attend the meeting of coordinators of past World Youth Day (WYD) events. They are asking our delegation from Manila how we did that phenomenal event of January 1995.

How can the future hosts of World Youth Day celebrations repeat the Manila event?

The World Youth Day has been to us Filipinos a journey. The sailboat in the WYD’95 logo is our Church, our means for moving, for carrying out our pilgrimage of faith.

Faith, I think, is an essential element of WYD celebrations. Although there were WYD celebrations to look back to and learn from, there still existed an unidentifiable uniqueness about our first Asian WYD. We knew that the Asian culture would, at the last moment, have to find expression in some unpredictable ways. And this happened in the droves, the unexpected number of young people who had converged in Manila. It happened in the way the whole country responded to an event that was centered in Manila. Days before the actual celebration, young people of different nationalities had landed in the country’s scattered provinces. From there, they journeyed toward the metropolis, accompanied by their local friends.

Thus did the WYD start, not even just a few days before the opening, but much much earlier, in the open hearts of the Filipino youth. How did it happen? Grace through prayer.

Prayer was the weapon that ignited the conflagration of love and openness. We started out with a set prayer offered at every liturgical celebration and gathering. Soon The awareness grew. Liturgical celebrations became themselves entire prayer offerings for the intention of the WYD and the Holy Father, and the youth. This praying together created the invisible communion that linked different races’ hearts everywhere.

We are not saying that prayer will be the only answer. The setting up alone of an organizational system that would coordinate the mammoth crowd with the widely dispersed and closely timed activities was a tremendous feat.

Without prayer and because of the breadth and range, and scope of the activity, we would not have been able to pull it through.

What we have learned from the experience is easy to note. The first is the necessity, extreme necessity to start preparations early, to start thinking early. The blueprint may change over time, but it is essential to have it right away.

The second is to tap people right away. It is amazing how much response we got in terms of volunteers. Spread out the activities as much as possible. But always with an eye for the center, the core from which emanates the major direction.

We were very much aided in our endeavors by the already existing youth groups. Foremost of this was the Archdiocesan Youth Council and the various parochial, school, and Catholic youth organizations.

No amount of preparations could have anticipated the explosion that was the visit of Pope John Paul il and, in particular, the celebration of the 10th World Youth Day in Manila in January 1995. The images are still vivid, millions of faces exuding unbridled joy, wild exuberance, and exhilaration. It was the Philippines, grand fiesta.

In this massive sea of visages were the faces of the youth, forever smiling, unabashedly joyful.

That is the image that persists to this day. WYD has “youthified” the local Church. No longer are the youth to be in the background, patronized but not taken seriously. No longer would they be in the periphery. But WYD made them count and saw their value and worth.

It was the Holy Father himself who was primarily responsible for this. First, it was his call to the youth to a serious task: to be missionaries, to be evangelizers. He exhorted them to get out of futile existence, to emerge from the darkness of insignificance, because they have something vital to contribute. The young people, he noted, were to give their future, their life. Along with this challenge, he assured them: “Be not afraid.” For Jesus is with them at all times. The Holy Spirit will guide them. The Holy Father watches out for them and cares for them in a very special way.

It was a fatherhood that the young people could respond to with trust. The church’s institutional demeanor gave way to a human face, the face of a kind and gentle father, the leader of the Church. He brought the presence of Jesus Christ, who founded the human institution and invited it with a divine mantle. The Holy Father, by his presence, words, and gentle, soothing actions, in a very authentic way, represented Jesus Christ.

That is the lasting benefit of the WYD ’95 to us Filipinos, and perhaps in a similar sense to our other brothers and sisters who have experienced him in past World Youth Day celebrations in their own countries.

Jesus Our Light


  1. I was one of the WYD participants in 1995. I was a graduating student then at the Lyceum of the Philippines and member of the Sons and Daughters of Mary Choir (Nat’l Shrine of our Lady ofFatima)…. Unknowingly, as the time past by, serving the Church helps me knowing Jesus more. Now, I am here in Sardinia Italy, serving the Church for His community and being part of His call of New Evangelization. Thanks to the WYD encounter ❤️

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