She pondered these things in her heart…

I’m not sure if anyone is reading these posts any more, but I do hope so. I haven’t written about the end of the vigil or the Papal mass intentionally. Spending the night at Randwick and celebrating mass with the Holy Father leaves a lot for one to think about. Out of sheer exhaust and also in order to truly digest the entirety of the week, I haven’t written. I know that this post will not do justice to the enormity of World Youth Day, but I will try.

I long to go home and read all of the words of the Holy Father from this blessed event. Staying up all night for the vigil, keeping watch for Christ, lends one to a tired, but happy heart, which makes paying attention very difficult. I can not wait to go home and read through the Holy Father’s homily once more to make sure that I relish in it.

World Youth Day is an entire entity all its own. I was amazed to see what happened at World Youth Day. To see an entire capital uprooted with joyful singing, happy laughter and true devotion to Christ made me cling to all that is true, beautiful and good. Being my first pilgrimage and taking 10 kids with me, it was interesting to see how each teen came to cherish a particular part of the week. For some, it was the closing mass, for others, the earth shaking words came at the vigil and still for others, to see pilgrims from around the world gather for what is true in the world brought them to their knees. I am humbled and in awe to have seen 10 kids take in, process and love God through the entire week. We are still on our pilgrimage, but already, to see how they’ve taken away the bits and pieces of the week and will weave them into their lives. Sydney will never again be the same and I think the same is true for all 212 of us from the Diocese of Arlington. Yes, some will have their lives completely uprooted from the week and others will not, but I know that each one will carry with them from the week.

World Youth Day is all about an emptying of oneself. Just as our Lord pours himself out by becoming human, we too are called to pour our selves out for love of him. I’ve poured, pushed and worked harder this week than I think that I ever had in ministry. At the same time, I’ve seen kids do the same. I’m touched by the kindess they showed, by the fact that they don’t mind being shoved onto a train platform, or the fact that walking back from the closing mass took 3 hours. In so many ways, World Youth Day strips of selfishness and makes us run back to him and for that I am thankful. It’s been a long couple of weeks and I’m eager to be home. When I look back at the pilgrimage, I know that the things I’ll remember the most is the small moments, when in the midst of a crowd of people, the 13 of us came to be loved by God, love God more and love each more. God is so good and I’m so lucky to have had his cup overflow onto me this week.

Over the next few days, I plan on posting a few more things, some tidbits I learned and some of the things I’ll ponder in my heart. I pray for much peace and joy for each of you. Please pray for our safe travels home on Monday.

LATBA…I love you.

Final thoughts: in pursuit of a saint

As 200,000 candles lit up Randwick racecourse on Saturday night, it occured to me that it was possible–likely, even–that future Saints were in our midst. Would not Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati have brought a cadre of youth from his hometown? Couldn’t you imagine a younger Blessed Mary McKillop among the joyful religious on the field?

I roamed the Southern Cross Precinct in view of meeting this future generation of WYD patrons. So to conclude my CNS blogging, here are three remarkable individuals who made an impact on me this past weekend.

Meet Craig AshbyIllitterate just seven years ago, this 21-year old Australian Aboriginal credits a parish priest with changing his life. Ashby had begged Fr. PJ O’Neill to send him to an exclusive boarding school (in part because he liked the uniforms). Though far from the outback where he had been raised by his grandmother, he thrived there and is now pursuing a teaching degree from Sydney University.


Ashby hasn’t forgotten those in his former position, however, as he has partnered with corporate donors to raise millions of dollars for boarding school scholarships. For his accomplishments, he was rewarded Saturday with an invitation to lunch with the Holy Father.

Meet Francine Bell“Hey pilgrim!” hollered a woman behind me on Sunday night. Turning around, I immediately recognized her to be Francine Bell, the soulful performer of “Amazing Grace” at Friday’s Stations of the Cross. She had spotted my orange WYD backpack and wanted to talk to a pilgrim from the crowd, as she had been confined all day to the stage area.


As we exchanged stories, I was surprised to learn that Bell was not Catholic, but Seventh Day Adventist. She explained that after seeing the WYD Cross on TV, she asked God whether she should somehow participate in the gathering. Sure enough, she received a call from WYD organizers the very next day. Bell is now thrilled to have witnessed a week of grace for her country.

Meet Anton AntonovDespite being fellow members of the International Liturgy Group, I only met Anton during the Saturday evening vigil. The gruff Russian is one of those men who remind you how easy it is to be a Catholic in North America.


Growing up in war-torn Chechnya, the constant military presence “was like toy soldiers” to a young boy. This innnocence was shattered the day Antonov witnessed a man destroyed by a rocket. For years he recalled the scene in terrible nightmares.

Now living in a safer region, Antonov has found healing for his dreams and, with zeal for Christ, has chosen the path of peace. Still, he speaks of the onoing challenges of the Catholic Church in Russia, where the Russian Orthodox Church continues to exert pressure against its expansion.

NOTE: Did you miss some of the enduring images of WYD? You can still catch all the highlights on Salt + Light Television, Canada’s Catholic TV network. Click the ZOOM link to watch daily reports online.

on papal flight

during flt 2 darwin pope thanked media 4 sharing info re wyd with world. also he applauded me, really, on my birthday.

It’s all over. Or is it?

Yes, WYD08 has come to a glorious end, but our mission is only beginning.

We, as a group of 7 very special pilgrims gathered last night for our last opportunity to pray together and discuss our experiences. What we collectively realised was that although we’d imagined that World Youth Day would answer a lot of questions for us, it seems to have challenged us too, beyond or knowledge or experience. Our group consists of pilgrims between 15 and 55 years of age, and for each of us, we now have a special task of answering the Lords call in our lives, URGENTLY. There is no more room to shift responsibility. We have all met God face to face this week, we’ve seen hints of heaven and experiences like these are never ends to stories, experiences like these help us find courage and direction, to live our lives for the single purpose of Knowing, Loving and Serving God & each other.

I have learnt my own significant lessons, every pilgrim in Sydney this week has – It has been spectacular, tiring, intense, tough, inspirational, cold, challenging and there’s been so much love in this city.

Next time we’ll be in Madrid, and I plan on taking a very special lady with me… Big smiles.

Thank you God for this Lovely week, Thank you Sydney for allowing your hearts to be moved by the truth in your city, and thank you to every single Pilgrim – As Pope Benedict XVI said, the church is not old, it’s young, and we are all at a new begining. Lets keep waving the biggest flag we’ve waved all week, Love!

The Morning After

Pope Benedict XVI makes his way up the altar during the final mass

Pope Benedict XVI makes his way up the altar during the final mass

The people of Sydney are now returning to the normal routines, but that does not mean that things are the same as they were before.  While there are still pilgrims walking the streets, and roads still remain closed around the Cathedral, WYD has come and gone leaving an indelible mark on Sydney.  WYD08 is a conversion story — not simply for pilgrims, but for all who witnessed it.  How very appropriate the theme for WYD08 has been as the people of Sydney have found new reasons for hope and joy because of the power they have witnessed.  Reporters, headlines and personal remarks all speak of the before and after:  cynicism and hope; disillusionment and transformation; negativity and optimism.  Everyone has been a part of WYD here, regardless if they did or did not register or even attended an event; and it is sure to be the topic of conversation for many months to come.  “The final mass was very beautiful.  I am Catholic, but if I was not Catholic or even Christian, I think I would be after that mass.  To see so many young people, at one point so quiet in prayer — how can you ignore God or your faith after that,” said the cab driver who brought me home this morning.

My own experience of WYD has been extraordinary — all four months of it.  Like so many of us, I will be processing the moments for months to come.  Communion with the Cardinal at the opening mass, the unbelievable success of the Vocations Expo, MC-ing the Papal boat on Super Thursday, meeting and speaking with the Holy Father, the prayer and joy of the vigil, the beautiful words of Pope Benedict at the final mass and the many, many wonderful moments with pilgrims and friends during the week all stand out as momentous highlights.  Truly my perspective was a unique and privileged one.  After the final mass, the staff of WYD08 was granted a special intimate audience with the Holy Father during which he, Bishop Anthony, Cardinal Pell and the WYD CEO Danny Casey each expressed their heartfelt gratitude.  Both Cardinal Pell and Bishop Anthony seemed nearly moved to tears as they presented us to the Holy Father, as I imagine a father would present their children; for indeed, we have become family, sharing a perspective and an experience of service most likely unmatched by anything else in our lives.  As I write this, I wonder if this is the legacy WYD08 will leave in my own life — an extraordinary confirmation of the joy that comes through service to others.  WYD has demanded every ounce of energy, fight, determination, resolute, and optimism that I could muster, and to extent that I have poured myself out, I have been filled with a joy and hope ten times over.

As for what happens now?  The clean-up begins and, at least for me, lasts for ten days before I go on vacation/retreat.  Afterwards, I profess final vows, move to Las Cruces, New Mexico where I will be ordained a deacon and priest while serving as a Chaplain at New Mexico State University.  Though life will never be quite the same after this experience, I look forward this new ministry — something a little more local and a lot smaller!  However, I don’t imagine the work will be any less intense or difficult.  Seeds that are planted do not grow without careful cultivation.  For each of us who have experienced the intense grace of WYD08, we are now called salt and light for the world; to be witnesses to what we have seen and heard; and to be a conduit of the power supplied by the Holy Spirit to our local parishes and communities.  For this, I ask your continued prayers — for all of us!

Many blessings, many thanks, and one last final G’Day!

Sore feet, soaring hearts

St. Michael's pilgrims sing the World Youth Day 2008 theme song "Receive the Power" one last time at the end of Mass, July 20, at Randwick Racecourse.

Hawaii pilgrims sing the World Youth Day 2008 theme song "Receive the Power" one last time at the end of Mass, July 20, at Randwick Racecourse.

Darling Harbor is still tonight compared with the noisy, cheerful sounds of the crowds that filled the area throughout this past week. You can still see the occasional cluster of pilgrims walking about, the empty medical and food tents, and the light and stage set-ups leftover from concerts, but it’s nothing like a day or two ago. I’m sure Randwick Racecourse looks even more barren, and I have that withdrawal feeling you get when your days have been filled with one, all-consuming thing and suddenly it’s gone.

But even though there are far fewer pilgrims walking around with flags, wearing their bright orange, red and yellow World Youth Day backpacks and chanting “Benedicto,” I think those now-scattering pilgrims have taken with them the spirit and encouragement that WYD and Pope Benedict XVI strove to instill in them this past week.

If sore feet are any indicator of the World Youth Day effect, than it’s certainly impacted me. Most of my Hawaii pilgrim group left at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning to walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge to the Domain, where the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsored a Mass and gathering for all U.S. pilgrims. I met them there and we and other dioceses got to “claim” our bishops at the end of Mass for a quick chat. Then we were on the move. We made the pilgrim walk to Randwick Racecourse by about 2 p.m., most of us lugging sleeping bags, mats and warm clothes for our outdoor sleepover, and with aching feet and backs found our assigned camp-out spot.

The pre-Vigil concerts, particularly the Matt Maher Band (I’ve still got “Your Grace Is Enough” stuck in my head), got us pumped for the evening. During the vigil with Pope Benedict, the racecourse shone with the light of pilgrims’ candles and their own impassioned hearts. The pilgrims kept up their spirits despite the freezing nighttime weather. I was up between 12 and 4 a.m. and there were groups dancing and singing — some chanting, “Pilgrims wake up!” — and a full adoration and reconciliation tent even at those late hours. Soup and hot chocolate were hot commodities at the food booths and Randwick was a sea of Mylar blankets, sleeping bags and tents.

We woke to a cloudy but warmer day. My group once again was lucky enough to be situated close to the popemobile’s route, this time on the dirt course around Randwick, which it circled twice before heading to the altar for Mass. It was neat to see all the people that came for Mass with Pope Benedict and I talked with two Italian expatriates, Leo and Giuseppe, who had come in particular to Randwick to share in the Catholic unity and see the pope. A highlight of the Mass was seeing on the jumbotron the luminous faces of 24 young people as they were confirmed by the Pope.

When the Holy Father announced that Madrid would host the next World Youth Day in 2011, I thought ahead to three years from now. Where will I be? Will I once again travel to a place that is transformed into the world center for Catholic youth for one unforgettable week? While I don’t know the answer to that, I do know that I feel ever so blessed to have participated in World Youth Day as both a journalist and a pilgrim and to have been able to share it with others through this blog.

Words from the Holy Father at the vigil

We just finished up the vigil with the Holy Father and it was truly awe-some. He spoke about the gifts of the Spirit and about St. Augustine being THE saint of the Trinity. He is the perfect example of someone living for the world, then going on to repent and become not only a saint, but a Church doctor. Woah! This is quite the message for all of us, but especially to youth. They can move away from their sinful ways and make a life worthy of God. The pope also spoke alot about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and also about the gifts that each one of us has. Being able to offer these to God, helps us to see how we fit into the picture.

After the Holy Father’s remarks, we had some time in adoration. This was one of the first time in the whole week where it was really quiet. There I was in a field of a ton of people, who were able to be quiet immediately, yet it took longer for me to quiet my own heart. I really relished this time. It was good to be to spend time with Sweet Jesus. I can not wait to take my Godson Artie and his brother Timmy to World Youth Day when they are in high school. I can not wait to share it with them.

On a separate note, a good WYD survival tip: bring a roll of toilet paper, it is worth its weight in gold.


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