In 1984 the International Jubilee for the Young was celebrated by John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square in a celebration that also marked the close of the Holy Year of Redemption. At this gathering the Holy Father entrusted youth with what is now known as the World Youth Day (WYD) Cross - one of the most important symbols of WYD.
The UN declared 1985 the first “International Youth Year” and to celebrate it the Holy Father welcomed youth from all over the world in Rome on Palm Sunday. In December of the same year he announced the institution of World Youth Day. It is celebrated annually at the diocesan level on Palm Sunday in Rome and at a week-long event internationally every two to three years.
Check out what the themes and locations were for the next World Youth Day and subsequent international WYD’s:
The first WYD held in Rome was in 1986. The theme was “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1Pt 3:15). The celebration was at the diocesan level.
The following WYD was the first outside Europe and was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1987. The theme was “We ourselves have known and put our faith in God’s love towards ourselves” (1 Jn 4:16). About 1 million people attended the event.
The next WYD was in 1989 in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The theme was “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6).
In 1991, Poland hosted WYD for the first time. John Paul II’s homeland was the first East European country to hold the event. The meeting in Częstochowa brought together over a million young people under the theme “You have received a spirit of sonship” (Rom 8:15).
The following WYD was in Denver, USA in 1993 and the theme was “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10).
The largest WYD, when measured by attendance, was in 1995 in Manila, Philippines. There were about 4 million people present! The theme was “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you” (Jn 20:21).
Paris, France was the host city of WYD in 1997. The theme was “Teacher, where are you staying? Come and see” ( Jn 1:38-39).
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14) was the theme for about 3 million young people from all nations who converged once again in Rome in 2000.
World Youth Day was first held on Canadian soil when Toronto hosted the event in 2002. This time the theme was “You are the salt of the earth ... you are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14). This was the last time Pope John Paul II would lead a WYD.
In 2005, WYD pilgrims warmly welcomed Pope Benedict XVI. It was his first WYD as Pope and was held in his homeland of Germany. About 1.5 million pilgrims went to Cologne for the week-long celebration. The theme was “We have come to worship Him” (Mt 2:2)
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8) was the theme of the 2008 WYD in Sydney, Australia.
In August, 2011 about 2 million young people arrived in Madrid, Spain for the most recent WYD under the theme “Rooted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (Col 2:7).
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