World Youth Day… Those few words alone bring up vivid memories of my first World Youth Day which I attended back in Sydney in 2008. Thousands of young people, many around my own age, coming together and having fun, building up their faith, learning about God and experiencing the wonderful culture of Australia. In fact, this was by far one of the biggest crowds I had ever been in and yet one of the first things that struck me about this event was how happy and friendly everyone was. The was no need to feel unsafe at all, and perhaps this just goes to show the spirit of the Catholic faith. Some claim that Christianity is ‘dying out’ amongst the young generation but an event like World Youth Day suggests the opposite, especially since Madrid is expected to be at least four times the size of Sydney.
I can recall, as if it were yesterday, the beautiful liturgical music, and that time when we were walking down the street, singing along with a group of New Guineans. I remember the bitter coldness and the dark, inky black, night sky during the Stations of the Cross. How the Sydney locals constantly remarked how welcoming and lovely the crowds were. And, of course, the emotional anti-climax after it was all over.
Like many young adults, I have the travel bug. Yes, I’ve always wanted to visit Spain; yes, admittedly, I do love “churros”; yes, I have a passion for all things European. However, there is more that fills me with the desire to be a part of this amazing event in Madrid later this year. I was not a Catholic back in 2008, and yet I still felt part of something special, both physically and spiritually. By traveling to Madrid this year, I am sure it will not only be a wonderful adventure, but, as the theme suggests, I will be “strengthened in the faith” and be “rooted and built up” in Christ.
Furthermore, the Australian Catholic University is running a pilgrimage which, compared to many of the other Australian groups, looks to be one of the best – dare I say, the best – as we shall be traveling “in the footsteps of John Paul II”. We shall retrace his steps through his native country, Poland, before visiting the eternal city of Rome and the Papal state. After World Youth Day in Spain, we then travel overland to the famous town of Fatima, in Portugal.
Students still have a number of things to do, despite most having now paid the full cost of this amazing tour. We will be holding a fun night soon in order to raise spending money and there is an information session in a few days. Some pilgrims who intend to stay on in Europe after World Youth Day are still planning additional travel arrangements. Aside from the physical side of things, students are encouraged to prepare themselves spiritually as well through personal prayer, faith activity groups and communal retreats. As we will be visiting Poland, the birthplace of Blessed Pope John Paul II, the two films Karol and Karol II both provide an excellent insight into the life of this beloved man. I am sure that not only myself, but every staff and student, are eagerly looking forward to this extraordinary adventure.