For seven days the streets and squares of Madrid, Spain, were overrun by more than a million young people from all over the world. They gathered for the 26th World Youth Day (WYD), a youth-oriented event of the Roman Catholic Church. The World Councilof Churches (WCC) was officially represented by three members of its EchosCommission on Youth in the Ecumenical Movement, Diana Fernandes Dos Santos of Brazil, Mikael Giødesen of Denmark and Nikos Kosmidis of Greece.
The WYD offered the three Echos members a unique opportunity to understand the dynamics and developments of Roman Catholic youth through engaging the different movements and religious orders present there as well as discussions about issues of Christian unity. The team were guest speakers in two ecumenical events organized jointly by the International Young Catholic Students (IYCS), the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS), Pax Romana, the Juventud Estudiante Catolica (JEC) and the WCC.
A “World Café” with the theme “Youth and the Search for Christian Unity” invited some 200 participants to discuss issues related to Christian unity, divisions in the history of Christianity, the initiatives within contemporary ecumenical dialogue, youth involvement in the life and work of the WCC. The World Café was developed out of the youth agenda and young members of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC. Kosmidis, an Eastern Orthodox, delivered a presentation at why Christian unity matters today, the history of the ecumenical movement and what young Christians may do together as part of their social responsibility.
In the discussion following the presentation the participants, most of whom were Roman Catholic youth representing all continents, shared their different understandings of what unity means. An even more challenging topic was raised by the group regarding the role and ministry of the pope of Rome in the worldwide church and the way his primacy was understood within the “Pentarchy” (the five major episcopal sees) of the early church. Questions were also raised regarding the current level of the Orthodox-Roman Catholic bilateral dialogue and how young people may serve their churches in this discussion.“We believe our event gave a different experience of WYD where youth pilgrims had a chance to share, understand and reflect deeper on ecumenism experienced among young people,” said Loucille D. Alcala, programme coordinator for the IYCS International Secretariat in Paris. “Further, it was also a space to encourage working together with different youth organizations and promote ecumenical actions at all levels.” A second event focused on the spiritual foundations of ecumenical dialogue and how working for the unity of the church affects the faith of a young person. Dos Santos, a Methodist, and Giødesen, a Lutheran, both of whom have served as WCC stewards at international meetings, were able to share the experience of their ecumenical journey and how their lives have been changed as a result.