Youth representing ecumenical networks have been vocal in addressing social, economic and environmental issues at the World Youth Day (WYD), a Roman Catholic Church event, which gathered more than a million participants in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The World Youth Day event featured a visit by Pope Francis who presided at the closing mass on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. Francis, originally from Argentina and elected to the papacy earlier this year, was making his first trip as pope to his home continent.
Held 23 to 28 July, promoting the motto “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28. 19), the WYD engaged the Ecumenical Youth Network (REJU) of Brazil along with other faith groups to create spaces for dialogue on issues vital to the young people.
REJU is a member of the Brazilian forum of the ACT Alliance, an ecumenical partner organization of the World Council of Churches. REJU works with young people to end racial and religious intolerance, and promotes social and environmental justice, while using art and theatre.
As part of the official programme of the WYD, REJU with other faith groups addressed the theme “Youth Wants to Live” at the Youth Tent set up in the St Bernadette Parish in Rio.
The Youth Tent was a place of welcoming, training, prayer, exhibitions, celebration, cultural performances, dialogue and sharing among diverse groups attending the WYD.
The Youth Tent provided young people with an opportunity of discussing wide range of issues, including transitional justice, environmental challenges, economic crisis, youth and social rights, human trafficking, culture, human rights and youth evangelization in Latin America.
Daniel Souza, national coordinator of the REJU said that such discussions reveal “challenges faced by the Brazilian youth and their struggles against violence”.
The WYD takes place after the release of reports on high number in murders of young Brazilians of African descent and the Candelária massacre, where eight teenagers were killed by police in Rio in 1993. Souza considers these events a strong reason to “engage ecumenically” in addressing the issues of violence along with the Catholics.
“We need to see how our spirituality is transformed by the reality of violence,” he said.
“That's why we are participating in the Youth Tent. Here we reaffirm the role of ecumenical youth and our conviction to struggle for justice that remains at the heart of our faith,” Souza added.
Another participant, Alexandre Pupo Quintino of the Methodist Church in São Paulo shared, “an event that brings youth to confess their faith from around the world, across different denominations and cultures is surely an important endeavour.”
“Sharing of experiences makes me believe that ecumenism is possible,” said Quintino, who also volunteered for the WCC’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.
Leda Alves of the Roman Catholic Church in Rio said “the WYD offers young people an opportunity to see how important it is to respect the culture of others.”
She added that ecumenical gatherings like the WYD help “deepen our thoughts on dialogue, respect and religious tolerance”.
Daniel Douek, from the Jewish tradition and Shuaib El Boustani from the Muslim tradition, both described the WYD as a “space for all”. They stressed that the WYP promotes the cause of peace, which is important to all religions.
Other organizations part of the Youth Tent initiative were the Office of Youth Ministry in Brazil, Caritas Brazil, Franciscan Youth, the Brazilian Commission of Justice and Peace, Cajueiro - centre for training, Consultancy and Research on Youth, the Fellowship of the Martyrs of the WYD, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, the National Youth Secretariat of the federal government and Brazilian Network of Youth Centres and Institutions.