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New World Youth Day ‘Rise Up’ catechesis receives mixed reviews  

Archbishop Timothy Broglio speaks to young people about adoration and pondering during a Rise Up Encounter at the Church of Our Lady of the Incarnation in Lisbon, Portugal on Aug. 4, 2023. / Credit: Claudette Jerez/EWTN News

Lisbon, Portugal, Aug 5, 2023 / 14:50 pm (CNA).

The World Youth Day gathering in Lisbon, Portugal, this week debuted a new model of catechesis sessions aimed at listening to young people better.

The new format, however, garnered a mixed response from pilgrims and some complaints from bishops about miscommunications related to schedules and locations.

Venues included both churches and large parks and attendance in individual sessions varied from hundreds to thousands of pilgrims.

Young people from the Netherlands, Poland, the Philippines, Ireland, Australia, the United States, and Liberia participated in a Rise Up Encounter with Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis in the Church of Our Lady of Providence in Lisbon, Portugal, on Aug. 2, 2023. The morning included praise and worship, a catechesis, a question and answer session, and Mass. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Rise Up Encounters, as the new catecheses are called, took place on the mornings of Aug. 2–4 at approximately 270 locations in and outside of Lisbon. They were organized into more than 30 language groups and led by different Church groups with the participation of bishops.

The meetings, according to the official WYD website, “are planned to provide young people with an experience aligned with the ongoing synodal journey in the universal Church.”

Each day focused on a different theme: integral ecology, social friendship, and mercy.

The meetings were supposed to “provide a time for reflection, listening, and sharing,” the website says, and include “the construction of a house” after dialogue with the bishop, to “show young people that together, they can build a ‘common home’ with their dreams.”

‘Really amazing’

Rise Up Encounters at the Church of Our Lady of Providence in a quiet, residential neighborhood in east Lisbon Aug. 2-4 were led by members of the Emmanuel Community, to which many of the pilgrims in attendance belonged.

The English-language sessions included pilgrims from the Netherlands, Poland, the Philippines, Ireland, Australia, the United States, and Liberia.

The first morning started with praise and worship followed by a less-than-10-minute reflection on integral ecology from Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis.

Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis speaks during a Rise Up Encounter during World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, on Aug. 2, 2023. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Thompson, together with Auxiliary Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen of Orange County, California, and Auxiliary Bishop Robert Lombardo of Chicago, then answered questions from young people. Among them: Do you have a particular devotion to Mary? How do we follow the call in the Gospel of John to be in the world, but not of the world? How do we put our whole trust in God?

The morning concluded with the celebration of Mass.

On Aug. 4, the focus was mercy. The meeting included confessions, eucharistic adoration, and Mass.

Mark Wang, 27, attended the session to support his archbishop, Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon.

“I really enjoyed it,” he told EWTN News. “I felt that the testimonies were really powerful, they really showed how well the Lord was working in the lives of our fellow young people.”

Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon, processes out of the Church of Our Lady of Providence after Mass during a Rise Up Encounter of World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, on Aug. 4, 2023. Credit: Giulio Capece/EWTN News

“Getting to have a time of adoration and just being able to spend some quiet time with the Lord after a lot of busy days has just been really amazing,” he added.

Gabriel Leblond, 25, from New York City, was the emcee and one of the organizers of the three Rise Up Encounters led by Emmanuel Community. He told CNA that local organizers gave the group a general outline to follow and themes to cover, but that they had some freedom to add or change things.

They added praise and worship, he said. He also noted that the local organizers told them which bishops would come to each session to speak.

Reflecting after the meeting and before Mass on Aug. 2, Thompson, Nguyen, and Lombardo thought the question and answer session went well but noted that they did the most speaking, while a direction they had from local organizers was to spend more time listening to young people. They considered switching things around on the other days to ask the youth questions instead.

Young people kneel during adoration at the Church of Our Lady of Providence during a Rise Up Encounter of World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal on Aug. 4, 2023. Credit: Giulio Capece/EWTN News

Father Paul Hartmann, associate secretary general of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), also noticed that a Rise Up session he attended with Cardinal Sean O’Malley Aug. 3, while great, “did not seem to completely follow what I understand as the WYD plan,” because it did not include small-group discussions.

The meeting was led by the Focolare Movement in a Lisbon park. “As I understand things, it was done more like WYDs [in the] past and more like their own movement’s style of meetings,” he said.

An Aug. 4 Rise Up Encounter with Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the USCCB and archbishop of Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, in the Church of Our Lady of the Incarnation began with prayer and included a guided meditation on mercy from a youth minister of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.

The morning also included a talk by Broglio, testimonies from a priest and religious sister on vocation, adoration, Mass, and opportunities for confession.

Claire Cataldo, 21, of Indiana, said she “thought the session was really great.”

“It’s actually our third day coming to this church, and it’s been really awesome getting to be in the same place,” she said. “And there’s a little side chapel in the front of the Church with Jesus in it, so that’s been really awesome because when we come in the mornings before the sessions get started we can spend time with Jesus.”

Gabriel Leblond, 25, from New York City, a member of the Emmanuel Community (far right), was the emcee for a Rise Up Encounter with Archbishop Charles Thompson in the Church of Our Lady of Providence in Lisbon, Portugal, on Aug. 2, 2023. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Twin brothers Jacob and Patrick Swierczek, 20, from Chicago, were chosen to bring up the gifts during Mass.

Jacob, who uses a wheelchair, said he felt blessed he was chosen “at random” to present the gifts. “God has a plan for everyone in their lives and little things like that definitely lead you towards faith and allow you to experience the presence of God in your life,” he said.

‘A little unfocused’

Some pilgrims reported dissatisfaction with certain aspects of their Rise Up meetings, especially logistics, while expressing overall contentment with the World Youth Day experience.

Elise Cloutier, 28, of Quebec, Canada, said her group attended a Rise Up at a local parish close to where they were staying, and overall it went well.

“Because we were so many people, the sound system was not as good or well-organized, sometimes we couldn’t hear properly,” she told CNA. “But otherwise I think it was very fruitful to learn a bit more about the faith.”

Stephen Guelda, 32, who traveled with a group from the Diocese of Louisville, Kentucky, noted that the Rise Up Encounters attended by his group were held outside, which at times “was a little hectic, a little unfocused.”

“It’s a different atmosphere versus being in a church where it’s a little more reverent. People probably have a little bit of a different attitude there,” he said, adding that “if you could get in close enough you could hear and focus a little better” and then “it was fine.”

Young people from the Netherlands, Poland, the Philippines, Ireland, Australia, the United States, and Liberia participated in a Rise Up Encounter with Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis in the Church of Our Lady of Providence in Lisbon, Portugal, on Aug. 2, 2023. The morning included praise and worship, a catechesis, a question and answer session, and Mass. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Father Harrison Ayre, who brought a group of 26 young adults from his parish in British Columbia, Canada, to World Youth Day, was also disappointed by the outdoor space of a Rise Up he attended.

“The space was not conducive for prayer,” he told CNA.

Several U.S. bishops described last-minute schedule changes and a general lack of organization and communication about where they were supposed to go for Rise Up meetings during the week.

Archbishop Sample of Portland, Oregon, was notified as he was in a car on his way to a park for an Aug. 3 Rise Up at which he expected to speak that Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia, would be taking his place.

Ayre, who went to two World Youth Days before becoming a priest, found the format and content of the Rise Up his group attended on Aug. 3 to be “disappointing,” and he missed the simplicity of the morning sessions he experienced at the past gatherings: just catechesis and Mass.

The priest said he and his group also did not care for certain aspects of the program, including praise and worship, obligatory small group discussion, and an activity involving pasting an answer to a question onto a cardboard house.

The young adults, ages 19-35, Ayre explained, were hoping to learn more about their Catholic faith, while “it seemed the talk [by the bishop] wasn’t prepared” and “there were a lot of terms used that my young adults didn’t know like ‘throwaway culture’ and ‘integral ecology.’”

‘All-in-all great’

Pilgrims expressed the most satisfaction for the Aug. 4 Rise Ups, which focused on mercy and usually included eucharistic adoration and opportunities to go to confession.

Despite the Rise Up Encounter not fitting their expectations, Ayre said his pilgrims are having a great overall experience at World Youth Day. “It has been eye-opening, joy-filled, and a deepening of faith for them,” he said.

Guelda said his group was able to venerate relics of saints around the city and attend several events, including the welcome Mass with patriarch of Lisbon Cardinal Manuel Clemente, and the welcome ceremony with Pope Francis.

“There’s been frustrations, there’s been things that haven’t gone perfectly, stuff like that. But I would say, all in all … the whole WYD experience has been great, including the Rise Up Encounters,” Guelda said.

You can view a highlight reel from several Rise Up sessions below.

Giulio Capece and Claudette Jerez of EWTN News contributed to this report.

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