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.
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