Youth Coalition Rallies Pilgrims on Need for Reform

By Aisha S. Taylor

On Tuesday, August 16, as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims descended upon Cologne, Germany for the XX Catholic World Youth Day, 34 young activists, educators and volunteers from more than fifteen countries speaking eleven languages set out change the church. The group was called the World Youth Day 4 All coalition (WYD4All), and it was composed of progressive young people dedicated to raising awareness about and discussing important issues, like contraception, human rights, women’s role in the church and more.

The main organizers of the World Day 4 All coalition was We Are Church YOUTH, Homosexuals and Church, You Act – a European Youth Network on Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC). Women’s Ordination Conference was represented under the international organization We Are Church YOUTH.

“The emergence of the coalition represents an unprecedented new step forward in global activism, ” stated Ozzie Warwick, of Trinidad and Tobago and a member of the steering committee for the WYD4ALL coalition. “We are a powerful force that will live on in the struggle long after this week.”

The weekend prior, the coalition participated in a media training in Dusseldorf, facilitated by CFFC, which provided practical and personal media advice. The media training brought solidarity to the coalition, which was composed of many organizations each with its own issue area. It helped each participant realize like-minded people could come together with a common cause and work toward the ultimate goal of bringing about justice in the church and the world.

On Monday morning, the group headed to Cologne to launch the World Youth Day 4 All and host a press conference, introducing the coalition to the public.

On Tuesday, the first official day of the program, the group gathered near the Cathedral in the center of Cologne to hand out flyers and stickers for the Condoms 4 Life campaign. WYD4All continued raising awareness and obtaining visibility as a coalition this way every day until Friday. The coalition encountered enthusiastic support from the pilgrims, and camera crews and journalists sought them out for interviews and film shots.

In fact, a majority of young people at World Youth Day supported at least one of the following changes in the Catholic Church: ordain women as priests, allow priests to marry, life the ban on condoms, and/or accept people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT). When asked, “What is one thing you would change about the church?” the most common response was “allow women to be priests.”

In addition, their statements revealed that they see no conflict in cheering for the Pope and calling for reform. They came to Catholic World Youth Day to meet other young Catholics, grow in their faith, and see the Pope. At the same time, they believe women should be ordained, people who are sexually active should wear condoms, the church should welcome people who are LGBT, and/or priests should be able to get married. They do not see this as a contradiction because they do not think the current church teachings on these issues are fundamental aspects of being Catholic. They simply see the church as old fashioned and slow to change, but that change was inevitable and desirable.

The minority of pilgrims who did not want the church to change at all demonstrated the power of the Roman Catholic Church. When asked why they think condoms should never be used, or why women should not be priests, they responded, “because the church teaches it this way.” Imagine if the church taught it another way — the way that is in line with Jesus’ gospel teaching! Young people around the world would defend the rights and personhood of women, people of color, and LGBT people all over the world, because their church taught them to do so!

“We had fantastic reactions from most people we approached,” said Andrea Ramírez, a WYD4All member representing Catolicas por el Derecho a Decidir in Bolivia. “Our coalition knows the winds of change are blowing through the Catholic Church now more than ever. The young pilgrims were glad we were there spreading the word about HIV and condoms. One African nun was especially happy to see us telling the pilgrims that condoms save lives. She told me that the youth must do the responsible thing and use condoms if they are sexually active.”

On Wednesday, August 17 th, we hosted a press conference for We Are Church YOUTH, in which five panelists presented their vision of church. I discussed women’s ordination and outlined the main reasons women should be ordained, refuted the Vatican’s arguments, and presented a vision of a renewed priestly ministry. Many members of the press attended. A German television station played the entire uncut footage of the conference, and later aired my statement alone. In addition, National Public Radio, Deutsche Welle and other radio and newsprint journalists interviewed all five panelists.

Later that day, I facilitated a workshop on women’s ordination at the We Are Church Center, which was hosted by an Old Catholic parish. Over 50 people attended, including a few of the WYD pilgrims, many members of the WYD4All coalition, and members of We Are Church Germany. After I made an introductory statement, we had a conversation in English and German about women’s ordination, and the audience asked excellent questions. One woman asked, “What are the real reasons the Vatican continues to bar women from ordination, since there is no theological or biblical reason to do so?” Another woman asked, “How do we get more younger women involved in Germany?” She said she was glad to see a younger woman representing the U.S. women’s ordination movement, and I told her about the Young Feminist Network and its recent growth. From the workshop, there was renewed interest in women’s ordination, especially from the younger people who attended.

On Thursday, August 18 th at the Youth Hearing, an event organized by the Catholic World Youth Day designed to gather input from the pilgrims, WYD4All coalition member Adam Qvist of Denmark stated the following facts: currently, nearly 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS; 3 million people died of HIV/AIDS last year alone; and over 5 million people became infected with HIV/AIDS in 2004. He challenged the bishops by asking, “How can you justify the ban on condoms when people are dying of AIDS every day?” When he finished, the audience broke into thunderous applause for over a minute, until silenced by the moderator. Surprisingly, both bishops present endorsed condom use in the fight against HIV/AIDS!

On Thursday and Friday, YouAct facilitated workshops on HIV/AIDS, homosexuality and sexual health and reproductive rights. All three workshops were informative, and inspired open and honest dialogue among the participants, where there was room for differences of opinion and a free exchange of ideas.

At the end of the week, coalition members celebrated the support that most pilgrims gave the World Youth Day 4 All program and Condoms 4 Life campaign. The international media kept the issues that the WYD4All represented central to its coverage of Catholic World Youth Day. In addition, supporters from all over the world sent messages of encouragement and thanks to the WYD4All coalition on its blog: http://wyd4all.blogspot.com, which you can visit and read as well.

With a group of less than forty people, compared to the at least 400,000 pilgrims that attended the Catholic World Youth Day, our message resonated throughout Cologne and the world. The Catholic Church must change to become the church God desires it to be — one that integrates the gifts of all God’s people on every level of church and ministry and one that actively works to bring about justice in the world.

Aisha Taylor serves as WOC’s Program Director and coordinator of WOC’s Young Feminist Network.