As many of you will know, 2011 is a World Youth Day year. Well, technically every year is a World Youth Day year, with young people gathering in Rome every Palm Sunday for a major celebration. But every three years or so, World Youth Day goes “on the road”, most recently to Sydney in 2008, and it will head to Madrid later this year for what looks set to be a massive international event.
I was having a chat with some friends over the weekend about where the next international World Youth Day might take place. The venue is announced at the closing Mass of the preceding WYD, so Madrid was announced as this year’s host city as the Sydney event was coming to a close.
So, in Madrid, the next host city will be announced. Dioceses or cities bid for the right to host the event, as cities do for the Olympics or as countries recently did for the Football World Cup.
Now, I enter into this next phase of the discussion with no inside information or any inkling of which cities might be keen to host World Youth Day in 2014. It’s just crystal-ball gazing or, even worse, navel-gazing.
How about South America? WYD hasn’t been there since the late 1980s, and with such a massive Catholic population, surely Brazil must have a chance? And they would have just hosted the Football World Cup, so the infrastructure will be in place. My hunch is consecutive WYDs in Latin countries — Spain, then Brazil — might not be ideal.
North America? Unlikely. Denver hosted in the 1990s and Toronto was the host city in 2002.
Europe? Germany hosted Benedict in 2005, just months after his election, and it’s in Spain this time.
Africa? My friends and I are not sure any country other than South Africa could host such a major gathering, unless you start considering countries like Egypt where Christians are a massive minority. South Africa did pretty well hosting last year’s Football World Cup, but security would still be a major concern.
So that brings us to Asia, where the Church is growing rapidly — as it is in Africa. The Philippines hosted WYD in the 1990s and the closing Mass reportedly had 5 million attendees, making it the largest gathering of humanity in one place in history. The climate change conference in Copenhagen couldn’t even beat it.
One theory we’re pushing is South Korea as a possible host nation. The story of the evangelisation of Korea is amazing, with lay people building the Church from the ground up, rather than the more traditional top-down story, with priests sent to a country to spread the Word of God. Once the lay people had laid the foundations, priests came.
So, I know it’s a pick from left field, especially with uncertainty over the political stability of the Korean peninsula, but I’m holding out some hope that WYD 2014 might be held in Seoul, South Korea.
I’d be keen to hear other people’s thoughts and we can revisit the predictions in about eight months.