World Youth Day: It gets worse

A First for World Youth Day: Interreligious Dialogue a Focal Point in Lisbon

Behind Cardinal-elect Américo Aguiar’s controversial comments on conversion and WYD is a new emphasis on interreligious dialogue at the global Catholic event — including visits to a mosque, synagogue and Hindu temple.

A few days after headlines announced that Cardinal-elect Américo Aguiar had said that World Youth Day (WYD) does not aim “to convert young people to Christ or the Catholic Church or anything like that at all,” the Portuguese prelate and chief organizer of the upcoming Lisbon gathering sought to quell the controversy that had ensued.

But beyond the cardinal-elect’s comments are a set of facts, that, as of yet, have not been widely circulated in non-Portuguese media: Non-Catholics and non-Christians are not only to be welcomed at WYD Lisbon; in an apparent WYD first, and apparently closely tied to the teaching of Pope Francis, interreligious dialogue is a focal point of the entire event, even including visits to places of non-Christian worship as part of the organizers’ plan.

According to remarks made in May by Father Peter Stilwell, the point person for interreligious dialogue efforts at WYD Lisbon, this year’s event aims to “create harmony among all peoples of different tones and sensitivities,” including religious differences, on a “giant scale.”

Preparatory materials for WYD pilgrims do not mention interreligious dialogue, instead including “integral ecology,” “God’s love” and “social friendship” as areas of focus. 

Nonetheless, elements of interreligious dialogue have been present throughout WYD preparations and are included in the official plans for WYD Lisbon, which will take place Aug. 1-6.

A “Working Group for Interreligious Dialogue” has been actively inviting young people from other religious communities — including Lisbon’s Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu communities, as well as many local Protestant churches — to take part in WYD Lisbon. And at least one interreligious prayer and cultural event has already taken place amid planning for the event.

During the actual proceedings of WYD, participants will be able to visit non-Christian places of worship, such as a mosque, synagogue and Hindu temple, opportunities Father Stilwell described to Portuguese media as aimed at promoting dialogue between religious believers.

Additionally, Christian communities with an ecumenical focus, such as the Taizé community and Chemin Neuf, will be managing prayer and activities at two prominent Catholic churches in Lisbon. A major ecumenical celebration is planned to occur on Aug. 3, after Pope Francis has arrived in Lisbon, though it is not currently listed on his WYD Lisbon schedule.

A New Focus?

The Register sought clarification that interreligious dialogue is a new theme at WYD from the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, which ultimately oversees WYD, but was directed to the organizers of WYD Lisbon. WYD Lisbon organizers did not respond to the Register’s questions prior to publication.

Non-Catholic involvement in World Youth Day is not unprecedented. The Archdiocese of Panama office that organized the 2019 WYD, for instance, directed the Register to an article that described WYD Panama as having “the hue of collaboration between religions,” given support provided by local Jewish and Muslim communities (…)

“If I were a Muslim or a Jew and I showed up based on what [Cardinal-elect Aguiar] said, I would feel lied to,” tweeted Mark Brumley, the president of Ignatius Press, adding that it was misleading to present WYD as “some general youth meeting uninterested in fostering faith in Christ.”