Watch the Australian National Gathering, LIVE from the VivoRio Centre during World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Watch the Australian National Gathering, LIVE from the VivoRio Centre during World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Life is about our journey towards heaven. We are made for eternity. Our life on this earth is very short and this world in which we live is not our home. As St Thérèse so beautifully puts it, “let us see life as it really is… it is a moment between two eternities.” A pilgrimage reminds us of this reality taking us out of our comfort zone and throwing us into the unknown.
Heaven is our goal and as we strive for the finish line on earth and the starting line of heaven our desire for eternity increases. With this desire comes a deeper awareness, a stronger conviction and an unquenchable urge to detach from the world as we know it. But too often in the busyness, distractions and chaos of life we loose sight of the beautiful reality that this world is not our home. We can become so preoccupied with self and caught up in our ‘own world’ that our minds and hearts become cluttered and our vision for life becomes blurred.
A pilgrimage allows our soul to be taken out of the ordinary and into the depths of faith being immersed in the heart of God. A pilgrimage is also a unique journey and a graced gift that gives us the opportunity to detach from the temporal and hold on to the eternal allowing us to once again see what the vision of life truly is- our journey to heaven.
Pilgrimage reveals the Christian life in all of its beauty and in all of its hardship. It reminds us that we are called to constantly climb the staircase to heaven, never stagnating but always progressing closer to God, going neither sideways or down but always one step closer to God. As in the Christian life pilgrimages may not always be easy. Our physical limitations may be stretched, our minds challenged and our hearts tested, but it is always for the glory of God and to reach our destination. A pilgrimage provides us with the opportunity to leave our cares, worldly attachments and concerns behind leading us into a new and greater realm of freedom to walk more closely with God.
There is a great grace and a special blessing that is given to a soul setting out on pilgrimage. It is completely up to the individual pilgrim as to whether they are open to receive all the grace on offer. Going on pilgrimage with an open heart, mind and hands will give God permission to work wonders in your life and allow His glory to transform your heart. When you come to Him on pilgrimage with empty hands, with nothing but a searching heart, longing to discover His heart, He will speak to you and give you the direction you need in your life. Expect the unexpected.
As we make this pilgrimage together to WYD Rio lets go forth in hope and confidence knowing that if we open our hearts to God He will pour out great graces upon us to nurture us on our pilgrimage of life as we continue our journey to our heavenly home.
Thérèse Nichols is National Formation Coordinator in the Identity & Mission Directorate
at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia.
Photo credit: World Youth Day pilgrims are illuminated by candlelight as they pose for the photo after the prayer vigil with Pope Benedict XVI at Royal Randwick Racecourse in Sydney, Australia, July 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
- Bishop Prowse with pilgrims from the Diocese of Sale -
About a month has passed since WYD ended and I’ve had a chance to talk to pilgrims from various places. The one thing that inevitably comes up is the Cuatro Vientos Vigil. The two most asked questions: 1. Did you make it in? and 2. Did you get drenched? So when I recieved word that among the pilgrims on the field that night was the Bishop of Sale, Australia Christopher Prowse, I had to ask him those two questions…and “Why?”Here is what Bishop Prowse had to share:
Alicia: Why did you want to stay at Cuatro Vientos knowing that it’s going to be a long, uncomfortable night?
Bishop Prowse: Thanks be to God I am still fit and young enough to be able to endure the uncomfortable aspects of “spending the night” at WYD Vigil venues. I was determined to stay with my diocesan pilgrimage group as much as I could. The Vigil with His Holiness and the overnight stay at Cuatro Vientos are an important part of that. For some of the pilgrims it is one of the highlights. I wanted to share that with them.
A: The electrical storm was a total surprise to everyone, especially the locals. What did you think when you saw the storm clouds approaching and how did your group fare?
BP: We could see the storm approaching us from afar. There were large bolts of lightning too. Some groups seemed to panic somewhat and were making fast for the exits. Our group simply prepared for whatever may occur. There was some rain. However, given the heat of the afternoon we were happy to be drenched by God! People were helping each other to find some waterproof shelter. The strong wind though was a greater issue. It seemed to become dangerously strong. We were so happy to see the patience and sense of humour of the our beloved Pope Benedict XVI. His smile and patience helped us not to panic. The digital screens were very good and we saw the Pope all the time during the storm but we could not hear him for a period as the amplification stopped. Suddenly, the brief storm passed and we all settled down again. Indeed, the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the fresh air that now prevailed was so refreshing in soul, mind and body! And we shared it all with the Holy Father. It helped the Christian family atmosphere in the pilgrim crowds to deepen.
A: By the end of the vigil the worst of the storm has passed. How did you and your group spend the rest of the night and what do you consider to be the highlights of that night?
BP: After the Prayer Vigil, our group settled down for the night rather quickly. We were all so tired after such a long day. People were very co-operative. Space was found for everyone. We simply continued to pray quietly and give each other the space and opportunity to rest. Some groups seemed sing all night. Fortunately, there were quite some distance from us! We shared food, water and snacks together. It was like one huge family under God. We were comfortable with the stillness and the silences deepening within us all as the night progressed. We felt close to Jesus alive in His Church. Personally, I had a deep feeling that Blessed John Paul II was with us all in a special way.
A: The next morning you concelebrated at the closing Mass. How did the experience of the night before enrich that Mass?
BP: I only slept a few hours. That did not matter. My priests joined me and we started moving towards our places for the Mass at 6am. I joined my brother bishops to con-celebrate the Closing Mass with His Holiness. By now the weather had cleared. It was a bright and sunny day. Staying the night with my pilgrims and now joining the bishops of the world and the bishops of Australia with the Pope gave me a deeper sense of the Catholic Church universal. Catholics are diocesan, national and universal in locality. The theological principles were now lived out in a pastoral experience of a lifetime.
There were 41 pilgrims representing the Diocese of Sale in Madrid. Despite the heat the group – along with Bishop Prowse- walked from from downtown Madrid to Cuatro Vientos air base and was able to get access to their assigned sector on the field.
Performances by Fr Robert Galea (Diocese of Sandhurst), Gary Pinto (co-writer for the WYD Theme Song), and testimonies from young people from around the country. The gathering has several special announcements and moments which you should not miss!!!
“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt 19:14)
It is our first full day in Madrid as a complete team – all 13 of us! This morning began with Mass (well. . . after this priest began with a cup of café con leche!) in which we hear the above passage. . . . how appropriate.
In the days just before World Youth Day, things always get rather hectic and can easily lose their focus. After a few of these events, I have begun to see some of the same patterns emerge from one “Day” to the other. In the quiet days before the pilgrims arrive, the local media usually highlights the problems, the cost, the expected delays and street closures, etc. . . However, what they cannot see yet is exactly what Jesus highlights the Gospel today – all of that is to come belongs to the youth and young at heart.
When I served on the long-term staff for Sydney ’08, I saw the same pattern. In the final days just before the pilgrims arrived, the press was very critical; but then the pilgrims arrived and it all began to make more sense. When the Pope arrived, there was even more excitement (though the press still had their criticisms). Then the Way of the Cross illustrated the real purpose of this gathering – then the articles changed. No longer was World Youth Day about costs, delays and closures; no longer was is it a massive gathering of young people who were going to mess up the city. Now it was a celebration. Now it was connected to something that could not be seen earlier. Now it was about a relationship with Hope itself.
So I understand the criticisms, because until the pilgrims arrive, all of this makes little sense, and there may still be criticisms afterward. However, the very practice of our faith should remind us that God has done great things in the past and thus, will most certainly continue to do so in the future. World Youth Day is a wonderful manifestation of that faith. As the pilgrims come, they will bring with them a hope and joy that will overshadow the negativity that lives in the now quiet streets; for it is to them that this celebration belongs.
From: Fr. Chris Ryan, MGL
To: Every Australian prilgrim traveling to World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid
I‘d like to think that right now you are thousands of metres up in the air, and that far below you the lights of Dili, Delhi or Dubai are winking up at you. Everyone else on the plane is asleep, and you have picked up your World Youth Day Journal and have begun to thumb through it (ok, so I know that you may actually be reading this in your bedroom before you leave, or maybe even after you have arrived home from Spain. If that’s so, humour me a little and pretend that you are on your way to Europe, and the whole adventure still lies ahead of you). I hope you have a lot of fun! In fact, I’m sure you will have an amazing experience. And you never know, it might just change your life.
No doubt that even before you left Australia, your group leader had already fed you the line: ‘you’re a pilgrim not a tourist’. It’s one of the things group leaders say to prepare you for the worst that your journey will bring: long queues, big crowds, cold showers, school floors,. It’s more than just a line though. You really are a pilgrim. You have joined a countless queue of people throughout history who have made a journey to a sacred place. So welcome to the club. Here’s the thing though: you are currently travelling thousands of kilometres in order to visit breathtakingly beautiful and important places, but the most sacred journey a pilgrim undertakes is actually a journey of the heart.
In the past, people went on pilgrimage for lots of different reasons. Some definitely took it all very seriously, and prayed the whole way, and no doubt got really excited when they arrived in Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago de Compostela, or whatever shrine or religious hotspot they were aiming for. We know from the history books that lots of other people went on pilgrimage because it was really the only form of tourism that they had available. They wanted to see the world, and pilgrimage was a respectable way of leaving everything at home behind in order to check out somewhere new. Not much has changed. There are some of you who know exactly why you are going to World Youth Day. You are hanging out to go to Mass with a couple of million other young people and the pope. That’s great. But there are others who somehow also got the chance to come and it seemed like a great opportunity. You might not be all that sure about all the religious stuff that’s going on. My tip, whether you are a WYD groupie or a complete WYD newbie is this: pay attention to your heart. As you experience all that this 21st century pilgrimage has to offer, listen to what the deepest part of you is telling you.
That’s because you aren’t on this plane by accident. God got you here and whether you know it or not, God has some very definite purpose in mind for you over the days and weeks ahead. So, as you have a fantastic time experiencing all that Spain (and whatever other countries you visit along the way) has to offer, keep listening to your heart, and keep paying attention.
In particular, listen to what your heart is telling you when you hear the stories of faith from the other young people in your group, and when you meet other pilgrims from other parts of the world. Listen also to the witness of the stones, stained glass and art of the cathedrals and churches that you visit. They are ‘words’ set in stone and sand and paint that can speak to you of previous generations’ faith and love. When you take a moment on the bus to write in your journal, when you stop for a moment’s silence in a church, as you sit in a plaza (that’s Spanish for ‘square’) and have a coffee, when you are speechless at the sight of the natural wonder and beauty before you, and even when you find yourself in conflict or struggling with someone or something on the journey, stop again and listen to your heart.
And when you’re at the WYD vigil and everyone has lit their candles, and all you can see in every direction are flickers of flame held aloft by young hands from all over the world, and as you realise then and there that you belong to a universal family called the Catholic Church, listen to your heart then too. You aren’t alone. There are so many young people like you who are listening to their heart at that moment too.
I’m going to spoil the surprise and tell you what’s going on: In all those moments it’s someone knocking on the door of your heart that you can hear. That’s because your destination at end of your pilgrimage is not a place, it’s a person. The goal of this journey is a meeting, an encounter with Jesus Christ. He is alive, risen from the dead, and that means he is the answer to the deepest questions, the deepest desires and longings of your heart. He wants to be the source and foundation of your lives as you are planted and built up in him. He wants you to be firm in your faith in him, because he is the sure hope, the solid ground on which you can base your lives.
Vaya con Dios, peregrino (that’s Spanish for ‘go with God, pilgrim’). Vaya con Dios.
Fr. Chris Ryan, MGL, is the Rector of the Missionaries of God’s Love House of Formation in Melbourne, Australia. He served as the Coordinator of the Journey of the WYD Cross and Icon for World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia.
You can now visit the Madrid11 website and look for all the locations for the Catechesis Sessions.
The Catechesis Sessions traditionally take place from the Wednesday to Friday of WYD. In Madrid they will be on Wednesday August 17th, Thursday August 18th, and Friday August 19th, at 10:00 am. Every day there will be a different bishop at each location and the sessions are organised by language.
This year, rather than assigning Catechesis sessions to the registered participants, the WYD National Office invites pilgrims to go to the catechesis session closest to their accomodation.
The largest English-speaking Catechesis Site will be at the Knights of Columbus and Sisters of Life-sponsored Love and Life Site, housed in the Palacio de los Deportes (Av Felipe II, s/n, 28009). At the Love and Life Site Catechesis sessions will be led by three bishops, one from Australia, one from the U.S. and one from Canada. These Catechesis Sessions will be broadcast live at WYDTV on www.wydcentral.org on those three days, and on S+L TV’s digital cable network, August 17-19 at 9am ET (6am PT). Each Catechesis Session ends with daily Mass.
For more information about S+L TV’s WYD coverage visit www.saltandlighttv.org.
You can now find out stats and figures from each country participating in WYD. Just go to http://www.madrid11.com/en/cifrasand use the interactive map. The WYD Madrid National committee reports that there are currently 420.508 registered participants for the 6-day event. Many of these (133.961) will also be participating in the Days in the Dioceses, preceding the week of WYD.
The 10 countries with most participants are: Italy (86,287), Spain (82,119), France (49,730), USA (26,282), Germany (15,639), Brazil (13,472), Poland (12,536), Portugal (11,996), Mexico (7,917) and Argentina (6,484). There are also 5,628 registered participants from Canada and 4300 from Australia.
You can also send your photo and answers to the questions below, and you may end up on the Madrid11 website.
Simply fill out the questionnaire and that’s it:
What’s your name?
How old are you?
Where are you from?
Describe yourself in 5 words or less
What most attracts you about Spain?
Why do you want to come to WYD?
What do you want to learn at WYD?
There is this energy that is dawning upon me right now – the energy that comes mixed with anticipation, excitement, overwhelming preparation, restlessness, and gratitude. I had the same feeling when I was sixteen, nineteen and twenty-five years old. I know that it is the work of the Holy Spirit and I don’t know what to do with it but trust it. I choose to trust it like every other time before; let it work within me.
So I breathe, and smile; breathe, and smile. And all of a sudden, things start to happen before my eyes. One tangible thing I can tell you about this feeling is the joy that it brings me. My heart feels like a balloon filling with air too quickly – so much that it might burst.
World Youth Days has always been one of those things that I have jumped into with my heart, well before it begins (to be processed in my head). It has never been an identifiable moment where I can say I was on board with the planning process, but more like a perpetual YES, even before the destination was announced. Sooner or later I find myself sitting in the streets of my own city with thousands around me on their knees witnessing the Passion of our Lord; or I find myself halfway around the world shouting praises for God in 4 or 5 different languages. This time I will be leading a group of young people to Madrid, most of them for their first World Youth Days experience. And I need to trust that they are just as much in it as I am.
The Holy Spirit is a game changer. There is no way around it. All the questions, worries, anxieties, fears and misconceptions that we pack with us in our luggage when we leave Toronto is emptied, and with us we bring home a different type of fullness, a completeness that is lighter; filled with memories perspective, friendship, gratitude, love, and a greater awareness of the work of the Spirit.
Stefanie Romano is a Team Leader for the Office of Catholic Youth in Toronto.
By Stefanie Romano
On my last international WYD, I visited a sheep-shearing station in the countryside; it was an odd day-trip but Australia is known for these vast properties of land where they would raise sheep for their wool and meat. We spent the afternoon learning how to crack a whip, throw a boomerang and then, before a traditional Australian meal at suppertime, we went to a sheep-shearing demonstration.
I have always been fascinated by the parable of the lost sheep, telling the story of the shepherd who goes out to find a stray lamb in order to lead it back to the rest of the flock. I know that I often feel like the sheep that takes detours. I am sure we all experience that feeling of separation; it’s a feeling of anxiety and restlessness. Every time I hear the story, I wonder how long the stray sheep is away from the clan. Is it an hour? A day? Or simply a few minutes? While on the farm, I saw a sheep get away from the clan, and it was amusing to say the least… Since the rest of the flock was in the stables for the day, the farmer let the sheepdog chase it back towards the others; it did not want to come home. We must have the two of them circling the property for half an hour before it finally made its way back into the stables
At the sheep-shearing demonstration, I was in awe of how submissive this animal can be. The shearer was squishing its legs together, turning its head to one side against the ground, sticking its bottom up in the air; all in order to sheer all its wool. Not once did the sheep show restraint, nor did it whelp in pain. The little lamb was at the full mercy of the shearer and trusted that he wouldn’t hurt it. When he was finished, the lamb was free to join the rest of the others – (and I’m sure he was a couple degrees cooler, a few pounds lighter and more content than before).
Before we left the farm I was able to hold a lamb in my arms, and I was so excited! It was a very new experience to me and I felt like I had made a connection with God on that day. Just as the parable of the lost sheep tells us that we will be saved by God whenever we stray from our flock, there is this important image of the lamb that we have to keep in mind. The lamb is malleable, trusting, and fully submissive; that is why it is able to be led back to the flock. If we use the parable with any other animal, it would not hold the same meaning. I would not have been led to my first World Youth Days experience if I didn’t share characteristics of the lamb. I know that each time I go on the pilgrimage to WYD, I am putting my own needs aside, trusting the shearer (God), and being led home with a lighter burden and happier heart.
Stefanie Romano is a Team Leader for the Office of Catholic Youth in Toronto.