Deanery projects officer in Brisbane West Deanery MICHAEL DOHERTY prepared this reflection for a reunion of World Youth Day 2011 Queensland pilgrims at All Hallows’ School, Brisbane, on November 5
“REVIVED”, “refreshed” and “renewed” – these are three words spoken to me by one pilgrim to describe how she felt eight weeks after her return from World Youth Day Madrid.
These words describe feelings that we rarely have the opportunity to experience in our busy world.
I had the privilege of accompanying 25 pilgrims from our deanery throughout their preparation and formation for World Youth Day.
I did not travel to Madrid, but I have journeyed with our pilgrims over the past 12 months in the lead-up to Madrid and since their return.
Brisbane West Deanery was blessed to part-sponsor 14 pilgrims to attend WYD Madrid.
A further 11 pilgrims travelled to World Youth Day from Brisbane West either through parish sponsorships, Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE), St Vincent de Paul Society, the Australian Defence Force, or independently.
It was my joy and privilege to work with these 25 young people as they prepared for the “journey of a lifetime”.
It was indeed the “journey of a lifetime”, and I have received many emails and notes using exactly that description.
At the start of this year, many of the pilgrims had not met each other.
Some knew a few others; some did not know any of the other young folk in their parish or deanery. Some had experienced a previous World Youth Day – a smaller, less chaotic, more organised, language-friendly World Youth Day in Sydney.
Many had not even experienced Sydney.
From those first tentative meetings, I have watched this group grow, develop and bond into a strong network of friends, forming what will be life-long friendships that are deep and sound and based not only on a shared experience, but on a firm, uniting faith.
I watched them as they learnt the mantra that they were “pilgrims – not tourists”.
World Youth Day was the “time of their lives” – but it wasn’t all picture-perfect.
It was hard work. It was hot, it was crowded, it was at times upsetting and disappointing.
But that is when the mantra of being a “pilgrim – not a tourist” kicked in.
This was a journey with a difference.
This was not a holiday – it was a pilgrimage, a journey of the heart, a journey to discover Christ, a journey to become planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith.
It was a journey accompanied by 25 young people from our deanery, hundreds from Queensland, thousands from Australia, and millions from across the world.
While the pilgrims were away, I travelled with them via modern technology.
I was glued to my emails, the blog journals, texts and Facebook. I had my own Pilgrimage experience right here in Brisbane.
I received constant updates from the Holy Land, from the travels of the BCE pilgrims across the sacred sites of Spain, and from the amazing home stays at Pedro Abad – not to mention the events of Madrid itself.
I had realised that once the main events of the final weekend in Madrid had begun all communication from Spain would cease, as there would be no Internet connection from the Pilgrim Walk, the overnight Vigil or the Papal Mass, so I was not surprised when the last email I had received from Spain was on Friday, describing the incredible experience of the Stations of the Cross.
Eventually, after the weekend, one of the BCE pilgrim’s blogs updated me with stories of dust and rocks, poor organisation, lack of security, heat, exhaustion, overcrowding, and a ferocious storm, and yet from this almost devastating description, the same pilgrim noted that “he saw Charity, he saw Joy, he saw Hope, he saw Love”.
Incredible words – out of dust and rocks, rain and wind, overcrowding and discomfort, he noted charity, joy, hope and love as the enduring elements to be remembered.
From this description, I made the assumption that all of the Queensland pilgrims had shared the same experience, and that somehow through the turmoil, they had prevailed and made it to the Papal Mass.
As expected, I received no other updates until the pilgrims had returned.
Then the emails started again, thanking me, updating me, with so many using the same phrase, that they had “the time of their lives”.
There was no mention that many Queensland pilgrims had been turned away from the final event, that the gates were locked and that hard decisions had to be made to return to the university college.
No one told me this at all, until 10 days later one pilgrim mentioned it to me in passing.
To my astonishment, I then found out what had happened.
I was told repeatedly that it was totally disappointing at the time, but that Bishop Joseph Oudeman had celebrated the most amazing Mass for the Queensland pilgrims on the Sunday morning at the university.
Time and time again, I have been told of this most amazing Mass celebrated by Bishop Joe.
Somewhere in this journey, the pilgrims learnt and knew the true meaning of being a “pilgrim – not a tourist”.
I do not know what Bishop Joe and the Holy Spirit conspired that morning in Madrid, but from all accounts it was simply amazing and settled the hurt and disappointments of our pilgrims.
Somehow that simple Eucharist celebrated at the university matched the magnificence and majesty of the Pope, along with hundreds of bishops, thousands of priests, choirs and orchestras, and millions of pilgrims. But there is a lesson in that for all of us.
We cannot possibly duplicate World Youth Day in our own parish churches every Sunday.
However, the Eucharist we celebrate, in its simplicity, is just as rich, just as meaningful and just as nourishing.
No matter where we are, now matter how many people we gather with, no matter how good the music is or the flowers or the banners, we are still richly and abundantly fed at the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist.
And we must remember, that the two million young people who danced, sang and prayed in the streets of Madrid, who lined up for catechesis sessions, who crowded into the squares and arenas, who endured the storm; or who were turned away at the gates – each and everyone of them still share in the Sunday Eucharist with us every week, in their own language, in their own culture, in their own parish church.
The vibrancy of faith experienced in Madrid has been dispersed across the globe and continues in every Eucharist celebrated. And we are all part of that.
It is the pilgrims’ responsibility now, to bring this vibrancy, this firmness of faith, this experience of charity, joy, hope and love, in the face of adversity, to their families, friends, parishes and deaneries.
They were commissioned to go on pilgrimage before their departure; they are now commissioned to revive, refresh and renew.
The 25 pilgrims I was privileged to journey with over the past 12 months have indeed been empowered, and are firm in the faith.
They bring great joy and faith to me, their parishes and the deanery.
Upon their return they shared the experiences of their pilgrimage, they have joined or formed parish youth teams and several have joined the Deanery Youth Ministry Team.
Watching, listening, sharing and praying with the pilgrims and witnessing how they reacted to the good experiences and to the challenges of the pilgrimage have helped to revive, refresh and renew my own faith and my ministry within the deanery.
It has been an enlivening privilege and a joy to accompany these young pilgrims.
But the final words of this reflection I leave to one of the pilgrims who wrote from Spain:
“Pilgrimage is hard and difficult. It is filled with moments of angst and despair but what would pilgrimage be without those moments?
“It’s in all times, the good and the bad, that we can discover the awesomeness of God.
“I have definitely learnt lots and grown immensely.
Metaphorically speaking, I have climbed to the top of a huge mountain.
“I have survived dangers but prevailed to find something truly unexpected.
“I am now ready to come down off my mountain-top experience to reality and share my experiences with others.
“So Brisbane be prepared I’m coming back renewed and firm in the faith.”
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