The World Youth Day 2023 (WYD 23) puts the Salesian Youth Movement (SYM) of Portugal in a new time of opportunities.
We can perceive, in a first approach, that the greatness of this event and of all that we have achieved (and that we dream of) regarding the vitality and concerns of its preparation, generate very renewing circumstances in the lives of young people and of the Church. And we were offered this grace and this challenge: to experience WYD as an opportunity to feel the Church from perspectives beyond our “customs”.
And the SYM, as a gift of the Holy Spirit to young people, present in this small – but generous – country, opens its heart, hands and arms to welcome. I believe that the word “welcome ” gives a very strong and focused understanding of the path we are already on as a youth movement. “Welcoming” assimilates and summarizes well the mark of this WYD in their lives. “Welcoming” is much more than opening doors and organizing spaces, even if these aspects are necessarily well thought out. To “welcome” is to materialize, in the minds and hearts of young Christians, a feeling and a way of understanding themselves as disciples of Jesus in which they wish to become. It is a lifestyle, it is living in the readiness to follow in the footsteps of the one who radically lived Living for the encounter. Totally centered on making the personal relationship the most sublime moment of acceptance of the other and being whole for him. This seems to me to be the great opportunity that the YSM of Portugal can intensify in its identity and in its mission. In many ways and is already on the way.
1. For this WYD, the young people of the SYM were also challenged to evangelize. Pope Francis asked that this meeting seek to be a time of deepening the relationship with Jesus, of witness, proclamation and offering of the person of Jesus. The opportunity lies essentially in making the journey with Jesus, as a young experience that underlies one’s own existence. The relationship with Jesus and the search for the same Jesus in so many other young people and realities, to whom young people can reach, is the center of the construction of the person of the young person when he discovers him in freedom. On the other hand, the proclamation of Jesus necessarily leads to the use of his word so that the good news may be a reality in these days, in the days lived and lives shared. The young people of the SYM, from their Salesian youth spirituality, are invited to find in the proclamation of the Gospel, the joy of life with meaning. Jesus gives, in freedom, this grateful opportunity to recognize him in the other, with the gift of discernment, and to encounter him in the various experiences that WYD is giving them.
2. WYD is also (let’s call it that) a “laboratory”. An “ecclesial Laboratory” in which paths of synodality and the building of the Kingdom of God are discovered. The SYM is invited to grow as a universal Church. The “experimentation” of the universal ecclesial reality that a World Day offers challenges young people to dare to live a reality in communion with other cultures, other understandings of existence, other Universal riches and with all creation. This time of grace of wyd highlights in the lives of the youngest Christians the certainty of touching something so valuable that it leaves no one indifferent. WYD as the ” universal Laboratory of the Church” places young people in circumstances of true protagonism in the Church of Jesus.
3. The SYM finds in this WYD of 2023 something very valuable. The service experience. This time, All the young people of Portugal are asked to live these celebratory realities of the day as those who assume a fundamental role in welcoming thousands of other young people, into their own “home”. And to experience a journey like those who receive means to understand well where we start and what sustains all the operational and pastoral realities that we are given to live. And one of the supporting pillars of welcoming is, without a doubt, availability and dedication to service to others. To receive is to live in a state of radical service. To welcome is to love everyone with the gifts offered and in a forme attitude. To be young and to serve is the mark of the Kingdom.
4. With the time that many young people are already involved in the preparation for WYD and with the event in sight, it can be said that they live by the grace of the Holy Spirit. We know well that the Church is “the time of the Holy Spirit.” And this WYD in Lisbon is already this realization that the Spirit dwells and transforms. How many special marks can we find in the lives of young people with this assurance of the spirit! We often meet young people of the SYM who are witnesses of an inner and outer life that reveals the seed of God’s life in them. WYD will constantly challenge the young people of the SYM to let themselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, listening to him and giving him a place to walk together, Him and the young people.
5. An immense opportunity, as a WYD is, it is also for the young people of the SYM a time of greatness and deep joy of Salesian youth spirituality. Bringing together thousands of young people of the SYM on a journey not only highlights the enormous global dimension of the movement as such, but creates a precious moment in which these young people, who live as friends of Don Bosco and Maín, are signs of a model of life. Rooted in Christ, guided by Mary Help of Christians, they find in our founders a path that makes them happy and holy. More than an opportunity for the SYM of Portugal, this “general meeting” of SYM youth from all over the world will offer to all of us who live the Salesian charism an authentic demonstration of the vitality of Salesian youth spirituality and the special place that young people have in the heart of the Salesian family and in the heart of Jesus.
6. We believe that the SYM of Portugal has everything to gain from this WYD “at home”. Certainly, there are many dimensions of the Christian life of young people, as well as of the life of groups in the Movement that benefit from the journey we are making. And more concretely we find in the youth protagonism of the young people of the SYM one of the main opportunities. The Church of Jesus, personified in these young people, receives something precious for her life: young people as active participants who carry with them an enormous vitality, received from God. And the protagonism of young people can only be this integrated and authentic presence of Grace received, placed in generous self-giving of life, building communion with everyone, in a variety of contexts and missions. The young people of SYM are protagonists of God’s love because they live as missionaries in the name of Jesus and with Jesus.
7. The youth of the SYM in this WYD 2023 are, in themselves, the “great opportunity” of this WYD. We perceive the richness, the gift, the joy, the faith, the witness, and the depth of what they carry with them. Young people are, as Pope Francis reminds us, “the now of God”. In this sense, the challenge that remains is that they dare to take risks in sharing their lives, with other young people and fewer young people, to continue to strengthen educational and pastoral contexts where other young people feel good, discover meaningful paths, feel loved and encounter the Lord. And the young people of the SYM are already the sparkling lights of God that shine in the Salesian centers of Portugal.
WYD in Lisbon is an opportunity for young people in Portugal because the Holy Spirit Guides, renews and summons them to be a Living Gospel in this world and in these days.