Catholic Leader journalist PAUL DOBBYN is one of hundreds of Queenslanders preparing for a pilgrimage to World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid Spain. This is his report of a recent formation day he attended in Brisbane
IN my 60th year “towards heaven” – to appropriate part of a phrase from one of Dylan Thomas’ most famous poems – I’m about to embark on a pilgrimage.
It’s the most major of my intentional pilgrimages – the only others I can recall being an all-night prayer vigil in honour of Our Lady at Three Springs about 300km north of Perth in 1975, and a solo journey from Lismore, NSW, to Western Australia in a then 31-year-old “shovel nose” Toyota Corona in 1995.
A couple of years back, when I announced my intention to become a World Youth Day pilgrim to Madrid in 2011 to a fellow train passenger, he seemed baffled.
Quickly perceiving he felt my somewhat august years had removed me from the “youthful” category, I set him straight.
“In the eyes of eternity, my years are but a blink,” I explained. What could he do but purse his lips, ponder and nod?
As my knowledge expands of the event and who’s participating, I could have added: “We’ll also have the spiritual leader of Brisbane archdiocese conducting a tour of the Holy Land before he even gets to Madrid. And Archbishop (John) Bathersby will be 75 by then.
“Bishop (Joseph) Oudeman, spiritual leader of the Spanish Days pilgrimage I’ll be with, is well out of his teens, and then there’s the Pope …”
At any rate it was on Saturday, May 14, I found myself, along with about 85 other pilgrims, at the magnificently located Marist Lavalla Centre high on a ridge at Rosalie in Brisbane.
The gathering was entitled WYD Formation Day 3 – it was my first, so I was playing catch-up.
Among other things, I would come to learn my incredibly low knowledge base regarding things Spanish … but more of this later.
After an opening prayer, the pilgrimage’s pastoral support person Christine Anderson set the tone by inviting us to consider our places of special spiritual significance, giving a brief description of her own which turned out to be Kings Canyon in Central Australia.
Christine’s meditation launched what turned out to be an extremely well organised program including the handing out of maps of Madrid, the main gathering point for World Youth Day and Córdoba where the Days in the Diocese events will be held.
Quizzes were also held to test recall of information.
We were also to get an aerial glimpse of Pedro Abad, the little town where we Spanish Days pilgrims will be housed.
Pilgrimage co-ordinator Anita Hendrie gave a quick introduction to Spanish speaking, with the observation a bit of such knowledge would come in very handy as English is spoken far less in the south than elsewhere in Spain.
Alas, at this point all that remains of this lesson is the word “Soy” which means “I am” or in other words “my name is”.
The reason I’ve recalled that piece is possibly because of the entertaining thought that if my nickname was for some ridiculous reason “Sauce”, I could go up to a Spanish person and say “Soy Sauce”.
As the day unfolded I was also struck by the necessity for extremely good planning before embarking on such a pilgrimage.
Another pilgrim co-ordinator Michael Hart, veteran of four previous World Youth Days and appropriately full of vim and vigour, prepared us for the possibility that things may not always run smoothly.
“We are all pilgrims, not tourists,” he said, thereby clearly establishing accommodation arrangements we would encounter might not necessarily be five or even four-star.
He also threw in cautionary tales including one about the pilgrim who got on the wrong bus after the Cologne event in 2005.
It seems the chap soon realised there was a problem when he discovered most aboard could not talk English.
One of the passengers who did soon explained the bus had nothing to do with Australia … it was heading for Austria.
So by the end of the talk there was a definite sense of the need of the pilgrim to become abandoned to God’s will and prepare for the unexpected.
Michael also threw in some awe-inspiring statistics as to why this might be the case.
We are part of a contingent of more than 220 Queenslanders heading over to Madrid – groups included are Sacred Origins, led by Archbishop Bathersby; the Brisbane Catholic Education Office; the St Vincent de Paul Society; and others from the Rockhampton and Townsville dioceses.
In turn the Queensland contingent feeds into the more than 3000 Australians at this point booked to travel to Madrid.
So far, this was pretty small stuff, until Michael started to fill out the big picture. More than eight million meals will be prepared to feed pilgrims in the week of the celebrations at Madrid from August 15 to 21.
There’ll be as many as two million at the Sunday final Mass (when I turn the big Six-Oh!) celebrated by Pope Benedict at the Cuatro Vientos Air Base, Madrid.
Concelebrating this Mass will be 1600 bishops including 22 from Australia.
After lunch, Anita conducted some orientation on Pedro Abad and Córdoba, and Michael followed with more specific details on how to effectively prepare for pilgrimage in a foreign land.
There was a bit more on the overnight sleep-out at Madrid in the lead-up to the closing Mass, warnings on pickpockets, passport protection, health … the list went on.
Yet in the end the enthusiasm of participants won out.
This came from the organisers, the pilgrims at the formation day and from a video clip of the folk awaiting us in Cordoba.
Córdobians of all ages were calling to us from our Brisbane meeting room screen (fortunately with English translations attached) phrases such as: “So I’m waiting for you” and “The only thing missing is you”. Even Bishop Demetrio Fernández González of Córdoba joined the on-screen throng.
As the day’s program wound down, future events were flagged to ensure effective preparation for this significant undertaking – for example a walk from MacKillop Place, Rosalie, to JC Slaughter Falls picnic area at the base of Mount Coot-tha early next month.
Before I left the meeting room, I donned my Catholic Leader journalist hat to ask if one of the organisers could take a photo of Michael who had been enthusiastically waving a pilgrim’s backpack around.
In the background was a large colourful yellow-and-orange banner with an impressive coat of arms.
However, I wasn’t sure if it was connected with the Lavalla Centre or the upcoming journey abroad.
“Is that connected to the pilgrimage?” I asked, suggesting if it was it would make a nice backdrop.
“Yes. It would be quite appropriate. It happens to be the Spanish flag,” was the response.
Which brings me to a request to those reading this article as I prepare for what promises to be an exciting, inspirational and no doubt profoundly life-changing and spiritual experience – some prayers as I prepare, please.
Por Favor. (Praise the Lord … another phrase remembered!)