By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Pope Benedict XVI announced today that the next World Youth Day will take place in Madrid, Spain, in 2011.
The pope made the announcement at the conclusion of his Sunday Angelus address, delivered after the closing Mass of World Youth Day in Australia, held at Sydney’s Randwick Racecourse.
The choice of Madrid as the setting for the next international gathering of Catholic youth was first reported by NCR earlier this week.
Though World Youth Day began life as a pilgrimage in the traditional sense, meaning a journey to a traditional spiritual center such as Cz?stochowa, today it’s better described as an “evangelical pilgrimage,” deliberately held in places perceived to be in special need of the visibility and missionary energy generated by the event.
In that regard, Madrid is an especially compelling choice. Not only does Spain reflect the broadly secularizing currents of Western culture, but church/state relations have been frequently strained under the Socialist government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
The 2011 edition will mark the second time a World Youth Day has been staged in Spain. The first came in 1989 at the historical shrine of Santiago de Compostela.
By setting the date in 2011, Benedict has, in effect, confirmed a shift in the World Youth Day cycle. From 1985 to 1997, and again between 2000 and 2002, the event was held every two years, with the idea being that local gatherings of youth would be organized in the off-years. As attendance at World Youth Day has swelled, however, and the organizational complexity of the event has grown, more recent editions have been held at an interval of every three years.
Despite his advanced age of 81, Pope Benedict dropped a strong hint that he expects to be in Madrid in 2011, telling the youth in Sydney, “I look forward to seeing you in three years’ time.” Instead of saying "goodbye," Benedict closed with arrivederci ... "until we see each other again."
Thanking Benedict for coming to Australia, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney said that Benedict's decision to continue World Youth Day after Pope John Paul II means that the gatherings "do not belong to one pope or even to one generation, but are now part of the ordinary life of the church."