For over six months, hundreds of people had been preparing for the 35th celebration of World Youth Day (WYD) in Montreal, and this great event was completely thrown off course by the ban on public gatherings and the Coronavirus crisis. In spite of the initial disappointment, the Montreal diocesan Youth Ministry team did not stop there! On April 4, 2020 at 5 p.m., live on YouTube, the annual WYD Palm Sunday celebration took place nonetheless under the theme “VIVA”, inspired by the Gospel chosen by the Pope for WYD 2020: "Young man, I say to you, arise!". (Lk 7:14).
Mario and Danielle, a young couple married last July and very involved in their faith, have helped to organize diocesan WYD for several years, more specifically the teenage-and-young-adult component. The cancellation of the event, which usually draws thousands of young Montreal faithful, came as a shock. "We saw it coming with everything that was going on, but at that moment it was not easy, since we had been working on [WYD] for a good six months," explained Danielle. The team, however, quickly rolled up its sleeves. "As soon as it was cancelled, we told ourselves that we couldn't just sit at home and do nothing," said Mario.
This is also the case for Rhea Therese, a young adult from Our Lady of the Philippines Mission, involved for the seventh consecutive year with the organizing committee of the diocesan WYD: "When I heard that all events of more than 250 people were cancelled, the first thing I thought of was WYD [...] and I went through some grieving in a way, thinking of all the effort that had been put into this event, of every young person who had really invested themselves, even during their exams."
Bouncing back in no time at all
If, at first, the idea of a virtual WYD started off as a joke, in the end, it became a reality, having received extraordinary support from Archbishop Christian Lépine. He really wanted "to be able to celebrate youth and to live this event together", and to respect government directives at the same time, explains the couple who participated in the VIVA Mass from their living room with "lots of emotion":
"It was stressful enough to know that everyone is listening to us live and, in addition, we’re relying on technology, not knowing if we're going to experience any technical problems," said Danielle.
It was a quick, last-minute adjustment, but it all paid off. "We went from no event to setting up this [virtual] celebration very quickly, which reached more than 2,000 people," said Mario, who emphasized that "it was physical distancing that had been recommended, not social distancing. Even though we were physically far from each other, we were still able to experience something beautiful together."
"It's even more important to keep this communal spirit while we're all at home," added Danielle.
At her end, Rhea Therese did not hesitate to get “on board", but admits to having concerns "that the impact would be lost". "There is something really special about the physical gathering [...] There are young people who meet the Lord for the first time and realize that there are other people who have the same faith as them," explained the young woman who has participated in diocesan WYD since she was 13, and enthusiastically describes it as a "life-changing" event.
"It also shows that the Church is not just a building where you occasionally meet a group of young people, but it makes an effort to adapt to the realities confronting us. It shows that we are able to connect to the world where it’s at," said Rhea Therese, recalling how Jesus, in his ministry, would also meet people where they were.
Strength in numbers
"Even if we cannot gather together, Palm Sunday still remains World Youth Day," said Archbishop Lépine at the beginning of the celebration. "We are forging a way" by this " ‘yes’ we offer to one another," he said.
The strength of the group, even though spread out, was certainly one of the most striking elements of the Mass, given the diverse participation of many young people. Some performed a song; others did a reading or a prayer, daring to open the door of their "home" [through technology] as Rhea Therese did in providing the closing song: "I was super moved because I could see all the volunteers on my screen animating the celebration. There were people who were in tears. Seeing the work that the Holy Spirit can do, personally, within our home, I thought it was beautiful!"
The Gospel of the Lord’s Passion was also quite a challenge, but met with determination. "Someone said we could very easily have just had two to three people each celebrate in their own house. It would have been much simpler that way, but it wouldn't have represented WYD and all the young people of Montreal," added Mario and Danielle.
Archishop Lépine invited all the priests virtually "present" to join in the final blessing. During the Mass, from the live chat conversation, dozens of "thank you’s", "amen’s" and thanksgiving messages flowed. About 500 people watched live, in communion with each other.
Relive the diocesan WYD Palm Sunday Mass at: