RECENTLY I made the pilgrimage from Rockhampton to Cologne, Germany for World Youth Day.
To sum up my World Youth Day experience, I would use two words – the unexpected.
My attendance at World Youth Day was unexpected for a start and would not have been possible without my parish’s support.
The theme for this World Youth Day was “We have come to worship him”, reflecting on the story of the Magi.
They certainly would have encountered the unexpected on their long journey, including the revelation of God as a tiny baby in a stable.
In Germany I had the unexpected experiences of passing time on a packed tram instead of attending the opening Mass, eating breakfast for dinner and following an amazing candlelit Way of the Cross through the forest to a most magnificent church way up on a hill.
God was revealed at unexpected times through people who gave me food, directions or spare garbage bags to keep the dew off at the vigil.
At first, in the crowds and in the massive Cologne cathedral, I felt very small and overwhelmed, asking, “Why should I be here?”
However, throughout the week I came to see more clearly that the Church is a collection of very ordinary people like me who do have times of doubt and darkness but also keep God’s light shining.
As a young person in the Church, World Youth Day showed me that I am far from alone.
Apart from the wonderful Queensland group, I met young people from every continent, all drawn to Germany by the same faith as me.
The experience of sitting in Mass with people praying at the same time in multiple languages was very powerful.
With all these young people in one place, the energy often overflowed into spontaneous singing and dancing in streets, plazas and churches.
Sadly, this sense of freedom, joy and fullness of life seems to be rare in our society today.
My final highlight from World Youth Day was the experience of coming close to Pope Benedict XVI.
Being crushed in the crowd, going through a full security check and waiting for seven hours was worth it for our front-line position on the barricades as he walked up to Cologne Cathedral.
All up and down the Rhine the banks were packed with young people waiting to see and hear from their new leader, including thousands of Italians leading the chants of “Benedetto”! What a feeling of unity.
I think we can look forward now to a very special World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008.
It should be a great time for renewal in our community and I will be there for sure!
Emily Davies is a 25-year-old student who is working towards a teaching degree at Central Queensland University. She was one of 17 pilgrims who travelled from Rockhampton diocese to Cologne.
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