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 | By Carol Wiget

Protagonists of Our Faith

“Make them protagonists of an apostolate … of new evangelization.” These are the words Pope St. John Paul II wrote to Venerable Cardinal Eduardo Francisco Pironio about World Youth Day in 1996. Pope St. John Paul II asserted that “young people are not a problem to be solved, but a treasure to be embraced.” In his love letter to young people, the pope alluded to the reality that while youth is passing in all humans, there is always a generation of youth who provide an indispensable apostolic witness to the Church. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and His Holiness Pope Francis agree.

The protagonist is the hero of the story. While Jesus Christ is the Savior, young people are essential to advancing His mission because the future belongs to them. Revolution is necessary to defeat the permeating culture of death and advance a culture of life. Pope Benedict XVI at World Youth Day Cologne 2005 addressed the youth as revolutionaries whose mission is to initiate a revolution of love, to go forth into their culture, changing death to life, unbelief to belief. At World Youth Day Krakow 2019, Pope Francis declared the youth to be protagonists in history. He emphasized the necessity of forming and sending missionary disciples to the ends of the world to spread the Gospel. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.'' (Mt 28:19) We have not yet reached every corner of the world; therefore, the perpetuation of our faith relies upon young people to carry it forward.

All three of these World Youth Day popes have encouraged the Church to make youth a priority. Youth must be a part of the Church. These holy men have set an example by continuing the universal World Youth Day pilgrimages which provide a space, a place, and a time for young people to be themselves in the life of the Church and to encounter Christ. This can be our model on the parish level. Consider what your parish can do to create a space, a place, and a time for the youth.


Prayer is what infuses a space with what it should be: a continuous journey on the path to holiness where one is accompanied by a faithful community.


Provide a physical and spiritual (transcendental) opportunity for encounter with Christ where intentional presence enables the faith community to flourish.


Convert kronos (clock time) into kairos (God time) and the Holy Spirit will breathe life into passing time to achieve maximum impact and potential in the hearts of the faithful.

These three components change events into pilgrimages. Wherever youth are involved, make it a pilgrimage. All pilgrimages must be infiltrated with prayer and provide accompaniment. Faithful adults with a love for Jesus and a passion for sharing their faith with young people are exceptional models for journeying with teens. Accompaniment includes a true affection for the teens — before, during, and after they are a part of youth outreach and evangelization. A key component of accompaniment is dialogue. Speak through Christ and receive what is heard as Christ, conversing with Him to see and be Christ for one another.

Every parish can achieve involvement of youth and increase outreach to them. Youth ministry is designed to aid in the evangelization and missionary discipleship of teens (ages 12-18) so they can go forth and share the Good News. There is no “right” way to form young people into missionary disciples. Missionary disciples create more disciples! Youth ministry is about a person, not a program. A Christ-centered youth ministry must always be done in relation to holiness. Keeping Christ at the center nourishes young people via catechesis and promotes active sharing of the Gospel message of Jesus as Savior (kerygma). Faith education and ministry are organically integrated so the Body of Christ can thrive, educating the head while minding the heart of young protagonists.

It can, at times, be easy to slip into judgment and frustration when youth are not living the lives we desire to see them live. Yet, when we permit Christ to be our language, dictionary, and translator, we can behold the treasure that is a young person. Contemplate the face of Jesus in the teen as you draw close. Christ’s gaze is more powerful than any evil, and beholding such a loving look permits us to flourish in accompanying these young treasures into their adult faith. 

Being seen, known, and loved is the desire of every young person in our Church. This is the key to leading them to Christ, the key to youth ministry. This is what it takes to empower our teens to live out their vocation as protagonists of our faith and theirs.

For the first time, the Diocese of Birmingham is partnering with Verso Ministries to guide youth on a World Youth Day pilgrimage on Aug. 1-6, 2023. The experience will consist of 11 days and 10 nights in beautiful and historic Portugal. Preceding World Youth Day events, our group will explore Santarem, Sintra, and Fatima. Pilgrims will spend the remainder of the trip engaging in catechesis offered by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), praise and worship at the Youth Festival, and reconciliation. Pope Francis will lead the Stations of the Cross, a candlelight vigil, and celebration of the closing Mass. We will sleep under the stars with pilgrims from around the world on our final night.

World Youth Day is a pilgrimage of young people from all over the world gathering for a chance to foster a personal encounter with Christ in the “laboratory of faith.” Since its institution by Pope John Paul II in 1986, more than 10 million youth have attended World Youth Days. One million youth are expected to gather for the 16th World Youth Day celebration with His Holiness Pope Francis. 

Our youth are not simply the future of the Church — they are the present. Wherever young people gather, their passion and enthusiasm are infectious. When young people gather to grow closer to Christ, their passion can be transformative.

All youths and young adults interested can register at The total cost is estimated at $4,599 per person, including airfare. Other travel options include a land-only package (no flight), which saves $1,620 per person, and a single room supplement, which costs an additional $849. Upon registration, a $300 deposit is required. Partial payments will be due every three months, with the final balance due April 1, 2023. For more information, contact Carol Wiget at

Carol Wiget is the Diocese of Birmingham’s Director of Youth Ministry.