By Mark Lysaght
I was only a boy of 10 years of age when I first experienced seeing Pope John Paul II in Christchurch, New Zealand and I had little recollection of it other than the enormous excitement around it at the time. With 22 years having gone by I found myself preparing to experience seeing a Pope, in person, for only the second time, and attending my first World Youth Day; WYD08 Sydney. It could almost be seen as a travesty that having served in Catholic youth ministry for 13 years that all I had was other people’s stories about their experiences of a World Youth Day and homily notes from the late Pope John Paul II and His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI from previous WYD’s. As I experienced firsthand, World Youth Day is a phenomenon that cannot be compared. It is not something easily explained. World Youth Day has to be experienced, and this, was the profound experience of Australia as a nation.
For months and especially the days preceding Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival the Australian Press and Media did all it could to bring scandal to the event. On the 17th of July, 2008 Pope Benedict XVI made his first official appearance and the Australian Press and Media went ‘beserk’; meaning they couldn’t get enough, they fell over themselves to capture words and footage. Morning and evening news was dominated by the celebrations happening in Sydney and around the country. The week long celebrations of WYD in Sydney surprised many, especially some Catholics. The secular community, and civil authorities, especially the police were unprepared for respectful young people that went where they were asked all the while smiling and thanking them for the direction.
Since January of 2006 I had been working with the Archdiocese of Brisbane in a newly appointed ministry role from Archbishop John Bathersby to bring about a more relevant and heightened awareness of each person’s vocation, especially that of the ordained ministry. The role was entitled ‘Vocation Promotions Officer’ and the first of its kind in Australia. I had heard before being appointed into this ministry role that one of the most attended areas at any WYD is the Vocations Expo. The Archdiocese of Brisbane attended the expo combining efforts with the Queensland rural diocese’s of Townsville, Rockhampton, Cairns and Toowoomba under the banner of ‘Priest’s in Queensland’. I was blown away by the attendance; 2,500 people an hour! I was also blown away by the genuineness of the young men and women talking with me about whether they had ever thought about priesthood or consecrated life. For many this was the first time that they had articulated out loud to someone what they had been thinking about such a vocation.
Of the many things that World Youth Days do, one thing is very clear, they witness to the fact, in one single moment of time, that many young men and women are being called to witness to the world that Jesus Christ is worth a life-long dedication of one’s life to proclaiming and living out the Gospel. Especially if that call is to consecrated life or the ordained ministry. They want to live Jesus Christ; to act as messengers of hope; community leaders and spiritual guides for the people of God. Just like every generation that has gone before us we need good men and women that hear the call to answer it. World Youth Day in Sydney has been a Kairos moment for the Church in Australia and men and women as a result have begun to articulate what is on their hearts and I have been privileged to hear and witness this first hand. Prior to WYD, numbers in our Seminary were small, we have, within four years seen a dramatic rise in enquiries and those entering our Seminary. So much so, that the Bishops of Queensland, living out of faith in young men answering the call of God to train as priests for the future Church, built a new Seminary and subsequently have had to build extensions to cope with the demand. I also know that this is not a one off, from reports around the country and the Oceanic region many young men are discerning seriously with Vocations Directors. I also know that many young women are discerning with religious communities to begin formation in consecrated life.
This year I will attend WYD in Madrid as part of the Australian Catholic University WYD Pilgrimage ‘In the Footsteps of John Paul II’. There is much excitement on behalf of the pilgrims that are already in preparation for their pilgrimage. My prayer is that they experience the life and vitality that only WYD’s can bring and as a result experience transformation with so many their age coming together to share their faith. My hope for all pilgrims is that their faith would seek understanding so as to “be planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” and that Pope Benedict XVI’s words, in the preface of YOUCAT (English translation), would become a more vibrant reality than we already experience now “You yourselves are the Body of Christ, the Church! Bring the undiminished fire of your love into this Church whose countenance has so often been disfigured by man. “Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord!” (Rom 12:11)”. Ole´ Spain, we are on our way!
Mark Lysaght is the Campus Minister at Australian Catholic University in Brisbane, Australia.