It’s 10pm and finally I’m lying on my inflatable bed chatting to nine pilgrims – my room-mates for the rest of this week. Today was an extremely busy day.
Our group of 52 pilgrims spent all day travelling to Sydney, and are already exhausted despite today being only the beginning of the week. Our home for WYD08 is Our Lady of Dolours Parish and primary school in Chatswood, 10km north of the Sydney CBD. The community of Our Lady of Dolours has already been so welcoming.
Tomorrow we officially start our WYD events with the Queensland Gathering.
TUESDAY, JULY 15:
This morning before we began our day, we gathered as a group to pray. It really put things into perspective for us, and reiterated our purpose for being in Sydney.
After prayer, it was off to the Hordern Pavilion for the Queensland Gathering.
At the Queensland Gathering we heard numerous faith testimonies, watched highlights of the Queensland leg of the Cross and Icon journey, and sang and danced together for two awesome hours.
My two favourite moments were when I got a photo with Archbishop John Bathersby (how cool is that?!) and when Mutto, a singer from the Gold Coast Christian rock group Soulframe, sang “Beautiful”, my favourite song of his.
Mutto implored the crowd to, “… take the hands of the person next to you, look them in the eyes and sing ‘You are beautiful!'”
So, as I took my partner’s hands, and looked into his eyes it was hard to keep back the giggles whilst singing “You are beautiful” to none other than Fr Adrian Sharp. I’m sure it’s a moment we’ll both remember forever!
After the Queensland Gathering, we made the journey through the streets
of Sydney to Barangaroo for the Opening Mass and concert.
This was the first taste we had of the sheer magnitude of WYD and the large number of pilgrims attending.
My highlights of the Opening Mass were the beautiful choral music and receiving Communion. It was so special to be gathered together with 140,000-plus pilgrims from all over the world to celebrate Mass.
I am still amazed that Communion was distributed to all the pilgrims.
In a way it’s symbolic of Jesus with the loaves and fishes.
After the Mass, the official opening concert was held. A small number
from our group decided to explore Barangaroo and take happy snaps with
pilgrims from other countries, which was so much fun!
Everyone we met was so friendly and filled with joy … it was just infectious.
You couldn’t help but smile, sing your heart out and feel totally and completely happy amongst so many youth gathered together for God.
The best part of the night for me was when I bumped into the two Canadian pilgrims who’d stayed with my family the week before as part of BrizStay. Despite the short time we’d spent together we formed close bonds, so much so that emotions spilled over during our chance encounter.
I believe God was gracious enough to allow the paths of Sara, Jenna and me to cross one final time despite the enormous odds of meeting amongst hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 16:
This morning we gathered in Our Lady of Dolours Church for our first
catechesis session, run by Bishop Crispian Hollis, of Portsmouth, UK.
He talked to us about his life, and his decision to join the priesthood.
Part of his address that really stood out for me was his comment that it took him 21 years to be certain he’d made the right decision to be a priest.
I felt reassured by his comment, because in today’s society young people are so rushed when making important life decisions, such as choosing a vocation.
It was comforting to know that it’s okay to change your mind or take your
time to decide what you want to do with the life God has given you.
THURSDAY, JULY 17 (My 19th birthday)
This morning we gathered together again for catechesis and Mass, then headed off to The Domain for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI.
As live footage of the Pope came on screen cheers and chants of “Beneditto!” were heard from the many thousands gathered there.
After hours of waiting, the pilgrims welcomed Pope Benedict at The Domain about 5.30pm.
This is was the moment they had been anticipating. There was a buzz of excitement and everyone flocked to the barricades.
We knew the Pope was close when the cheering grew deafeningly loud, setting off a sea of camera flashes.
And then all of a sudden “Here he is … there he goes?” I think the driver thought he was doing a circuit of the F1 Grand Prix.
We got a two-second glance, kind of an anti-climax. Everyone at The Domain was quite disappointed, but nonetheless we saw him in the flesh.
What an awesome birthday present!
FRIDAY, JULY 18:
Today we had our last catechesis session and Mass at Our Lady of
Dolours. Out of all the Masses I’d been to this week, this morning’s moved me the most.
After Communion I prayed and reflected on my WYD journey so far, especially during the past two weeks.
I began to recall all my memories of preparing for WYD, Days in the Diocese and BrizStay, and the magnitude of what had happened hit me.
As I knelt I prayed for my family, my pilgrimage group and for the wonderful friends I’d made through WYD – especially Sara and Jenna – and I was filled with emotion …
Then the musicians started to sing “Here I am Lord” (my favourite childhood hymn) and I began to cry … It was a moment I’ll never forget.
My heart was aching with sadness for having parted with two amazing girls whom I’d grown to love as sisters, and yet at the same time was rejoicing and thanking God as it was by His grace that I’d had such a wonderful WYD experience.
It was in that moment that I felt God’s arms around me, comforting me. And it was in that moment I realised His love for me.
Later this afternoon we journeyed to Barangaroo for Stations of the Cross.
I’ve never seen a live re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross before, and I found it deeply moving to watch the final stations leading up to Jesus’ death on the Cross.
I and a few other members of my group shed tears during the Crucifixion.
What I found beautiful was that, despite the thousands of young pilgrims present, there was silence.
Everyone had stopped what they were doing, and paused out of respect for Jesus and His sacrifice of love for us.
It was a simple yet moving way to honour our Lord and was a contrast to the loud singing and dancing that had been taking place throughout most of this week.
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