German Catholic Youth leader shocked by reverence for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Rainbow flag means more than the Cross of Christ at his WYD

Strong words, missed opportunities

Was the World Youth Day in Lisbon already a foretaste of the planned World Synod? The president of the BDKJ (Federation of German Catholic Youth), Stefan Ottersbach describes where the meeting gave hope - and where there is a need to catch up.

It was above all a celebration of the encounter of young people from many nations and it was the first major Catholic event of this half-year. Pope Francis found strong words at the welcome ceremony: "In the Church there is room for everyone. God loves us as we are, not as we would like to be or as society would like us to be." This message touched and resonated with those listening. When the pope asked the crowd to shout "Todos!" together, that "All!" could be heard far beyond the square. Did the Pope have the World Synod in mind when he called for these shouts? Were the enthusiastic "Todos!" shouts to be heard all the way to Rome?

In Lisbon, it was once again evident that the church in post-modernity is a space full of contradictions, almost irreconcilable opposites. For example, people carrying rainbow flags were verbally or even physically attacked by others. On one morning, the joint celebration of the Eucharist was in question after controversial positions on the role of women and homosexual people had been raised in a previous catechesis. In another celebration, the faithful were forced by a priest to take Communion by mouth or were denied hand communion. Such experiences leave - to put it cautiously - an extremely bitter aftertaste and require a critical reappraisal by those responsible. At the same time, these experiences point to very weighty theological questions that we will certainly encounter again at the World Synod. To name just two: How can the Catholic principle of unity in diversity be adequately developed in the face of such experiences of difference within the church? What consequences arise from the fundamental recognition of "all" for Synodal decision-making processes in the church?

The Pilgrims' Centre of the German Bishops' Conference, established for the first time at a World Youth Day, proved to be a blessing. On the one hand, because it was a place of rest and reflection. On the other hand, because it offered space for critical topics. In the face of sexualized violence and its cover-up in the church, many expressed frustration and disappointment and reported that they did not know how much longer they could remain in this church. Well attended were debates on necessary systemic reforms, especially with regard to power structures, the recognition of queer people, and equal rights for women and nonbinary persons. There were also many young people at the Pilgrim Centre who care about the Christian vision of a more just and solidary world.

It was remarkable how the Pope, referring to the motto of WYD, spoke of Mary as the woman who hurries, and that in this she is a model of faith. At the closing service, he followed up on this and encouraged with the words "Do not be afraid. Forward!" to go forward fearlessly. At this point, did Pope Francis have in mind the many clergy who sat before him? After the World Youth Day in Lisbon, many young people expect above all such strong words and fewer missed opportunities from the next major Catholic event.



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