When Pope Francis made his first foreign trip as Pope to Rio de Janeiro in 2013, he urged young people to shake things up in their local churches, even if it caused controversy with their bishops. Now, as he embarks on another edition of World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, Francis is taking his own advice to heart.
After 10 years as Pope, Francis is accelerating his reform agenda and making revolutionary changes in personnel and policy. Unencumbered by the shadow of Pope Benedict XVI, Francis is looking to solidify the changes he believes are necessary for the 21st-century church.
World Youth Day, an international rally launched by St. John Paul II in 1986, is expected to draw up to 1 million people for the first post-pandemic event of its kind. Francis will address his perennial social justice concerns about climate change, social inequality, fraternity, and the war in Ukraine.
Beyond Portugal, Francis has a multifold strategy for laying the groundwork for the future. In October, a synod at the Vatican will give direction on hot-button issues such as the place of LGBTQ+ Catholics and women in the church. For the first time, women and young people will vote on proposals alongside bishops.
To implement the vision that emerges from the synod, Francis has been appointing unusually young bishops for key archdioceses and elevating young cardinals. This ensures a generation of like-minded leaders who are willing to implement his reforms.
The youngest of these new cardinals will have three decades’ worth of local leadership and conclave votes to select future popes, indicating a generational and ideological shift in church leadership.
Francis’ most important young “legacy” appointment is Argentine Cardinal-elect Victor Manuel Fernandez, the Vatican’s new doctrinal czar. Fernandez sees his appointment as part of Francis’ longer-term agenda of a more inclusive and respectful church.
Another young churchman who understands his appointment as part of a generational turning point for the Catholic hierarchy is Portuguese Cardinal-elect Americo Aguiar, in charge of World Youth Day.
Overall, Francis is focused on the future of the Catholic Church and aims to create a world where love is at the center and all people feel a sense of unity and brotherhood. His efforts to shake things up and implement reforms are aimed to bring the church closer to the people and eliminate clericalism.