Cardenal Americo Aguiar. Photo: WYD

New Cardinal And President of WYD Said “We Don’t Want to Convert Young People to Christ, to The Catholic Church,” But What Was the Context?

A video went viral in which he affirms that he wants young people from other denominations to participate in WYD, but what was the context?

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(ZENIT News / Lisbon, 12.07.2023).- The President of the Lisbon WYD Foundation, the recently appointed Cardinal Américo Aguiar, gave an interview to Portugal’s Radio Television on July 6 regarding the imminent World Youth Day. 

In a one-minute clip that circulated on the social networks, Lisbon’s Auxiliary Bishop and new Cardinal said that “The World Youth Day  is a cry of universal fraternity.” Then he said that the WYD “must be a pedagogical school to see the taste and joy of knowing what is different. What is different must be understood as a richness: Catholics, non-Catholics, with religion, with faith, with no faith; the first thing is to understand that diversity is a richness.” Subsequently, after talking about diversity, he made an affirmation that contradicts the original idea  of Saint John Paul II, the creator of these Days: “We don’t want to convert the young people to Christ, to the Catholic Church, absolutely none of that,” And he added: “We want it to be normal that a Muslim, Jew or someone of another religion does not have problems in saying who he is and that we all understand that difference is a richness. And the world will be objectively better if we are able to put in all young people’s heart the certainty that we are all brothers.”

In what context did the leader of the WYD organizing team said that? Three things must be clarified: that the Bishop did in fact say what he mentioned but that the context of the answer was another. Finally, that the video-clip circulated is only fragment of a wider interview. In the complete interview the Bishop responds regarding one of the hundreds of events that will be held during the World Youth Day. He was asked specifically about the participation of non-Catholic young people in events geared to Catholic young people and those that are not Catholic. Monsignor Américo’s words try to make non-Catholic young people note  that in this specific event of the WYD, there is no intention to convert them to Christ, perhaps as a way to help them overcome their fears. 

In an effort to clarify the controversy, Lisbon’s Auxiliary Bishop made statements to ACI Digital in which, however, he expressed the WYD’s no to “proselytism.” “The WYD has never been, is not, and must not be a proselytizing event. On the contrary, it is and must always be an opportunity to get to know one another and to respect one another as brothers.”

He added that the Church doesn’t impose — it proposes. It’s good that we are all willing to give witness of the living Christ and trust in the transformation that the living Christ alone can bring about in our lives.”

The new Cardinal Elect also said that “conversion passes through witness, not imposition. Conversion takes place in the heart, not in reason. Because it is based on the great mystery of the Incarnation and the Resurrection. We talk about God, we proclaim the Son, we experience the Spirit. And that all can be, are and try to be disciples of Jesus who continues saying to us to proclaim His Word, that we give witness of His love for all. To speak of Christ is to proclaim the Gospel and to proclaim the Gospel is to speak of Christ. Every WYD is an immense field in which the seed is sown. The seed of the Word, of witness, of joy, of peace, of encounter, of reconciliation . . .  we believe the earth is good and the seed will bear fruit.”

It was Saint John Paul II who created the World Youth Days in 1984. The Bishop who made these statements , Monsignor Américo Aguiar, was chosen to be created Cardinal, announced Pope Francis at the end of the Angelus on Sunday, July 9. At 49, he will be the second youngest member of the College of Cardinals and the fourth Portuguese Cardinal created by the current pontificate. 

For the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) of the 2023 Lisbon WYD, “the election by Pope Francis of Archbishop Américo  Aguiar as Cardinal is something of great pride for all of us who collaborate with him in the organization of the 2023 Lisbon WYD.” On the occasion of this appointment, the LOC thanks Monsignor Américo Aguiar  for his dedication, “his enthusiasm and determination to make our WYD a meeting of all and for all young people!”

Almost contemporary with the initial interview  of the new Cardinal to Portuguese Radio Television, it was made public that the young people taking part in the WYD will be invited to itineraries of other religious confessions. 

It is expected that some 700,000 young people will attend Lisbon’s WYD. A very low figure if one holds as precedent the more recent WYD’s: Panama (2019) with 800,000; Krakow (2016) with 3.5 million; Rio de Janeiro (2013) with 3.7 million and Madrid (2010) with 2 million. 

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Jorge Enrique Mújica

Licenciado en filosofía por el Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, de Roma, y “veterano” colaborador de medios impresos y digitales sobre argumentos religiosos y de comunicación. En la cuenta de Twitter:, habla de Dios e internet y Church and media: evangelidigitalización."

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