WORLD Youth Day project officer in Brisbane archdiocese Fran Byrne gained more than a taste for fine coffee on a recent trip to Italy as part of the Australian delegation to promote next year’s Sydney event.
Admitting that Australia’s “short blacks” no longer measure up, the 26-year-old’s trip began in Rome where she and 15 other Aussies spoke to “hundreds of young people at a time” to issue an invitation to World Youth Day and the countless activities around it.
They also visited dioceses in and around Loreto for the same purpose.
The group presented a DVD and then handed out souvenir koalas as a taste of “something Australian” for the locals to take home as a reminder of the invitation.
“They just went crazy for the koalas … we ended up being mobbed because the young people loved them so much and all wanted one,” Fran said.
This enthusiasm for “something Australian” and the delegation’s visit has notably boosted enquiries into the pre-Sydney event for Brisbane, Days in the Diocese, with a group of 100 pilgrims from Verona expected, along with 200 from Genoa.
On September 1 and 2, the second weekend of the trip, the delegation enjoyed Agora dei Giovani (meeting of the young people) in Loreto and participated in a prayer vigil with Pope Benedict XVI and 300,000 others.
The Pope was asked several questions during the gathering, one relating to young people fearing being “left on the margins”.
He responded by encouraging young people to see that according to “the divine plan, the world has no margins. … For God, we are all at the centre … equally loved and called to undertake great deeds … each using his or her own talents”.
“Dear young people,” he said, “in Jesus’ name I repeat to you tonight: Go! Live! Love! In God’s eyes each of you is important. You are important to your family and friends … to your country, to the entire world, to the Church and to Jesus Christ.”
Agora was part of a three-year pastoral plan led by the Italian Episcopal Conference to enliven the faith of young people.
During this, the first year of the pastoral plan, the focus is on “listening to youth” and addressing their need for inclusion, guidance and hope.
Next year will be dedicated to “the personal dimension of evangelisation”, and World Youth Day in Sydney forms a valuable part of various objectives for the year.
In 2009, there will be a spotlight on the “cultural and social dimensions of evangelisation,” linking into previous years.
Before Agora, Fran enjoyed some time in Assisi and Siena, and afterwards, the delegation journeyed back to Rome to visit the tomb of John Paul II.
Fran experienced the Italians as “vibrant, hospitable, open and good fun” saying that while the language barrier was a challenge, there was never any shortage of someone to talk to.
“Going to Italy was like a pilgrimage in itself. The sense of celebration that the Italians have in terms of their faith was inspiring,” she said.
The vivacious Brisbane-ite also found it helpful to meet with others in Germany who are experienced in a similar role to her own and who had facilitated activities before and after World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005.
She has been able to draw on their success saying, “I came home more energised about what’s ahead, realising even more that World Youth Day isn’t only about Sydney but also about the blessings both leading up to it and beyond it”.
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