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.

Papal fever

The author's shot of Pope Benedict at Barangaroo during the Papal Arrival, July 17.

My shot of Pope Benedict XVI at Barangaroo during the Papal Arrival, July 17.

It’s been several hours since my pilgrim group came within feet of Pope Benedict XVI’s popemobile as he rode through Barangaroo, but my group members and I are still riding high on the spirit of the Papal Arrival.

At first we thought there was no chance for a papal spotting as our group was assigned to Gate 14, Section H4, far south of the altar where the Holy Father was to say an opening prayer service. But after we spotted the popemobile further in front of us, some wondered if he might pass by.

Then the Sydney 2000, the lead boat out of 11 vessels that made up the Papal Boat-a-cade, came down Sydney Harbour along Barangaroo’s shore and docked just in front of us. We could see Benedict, tiny and surrounded by dozens at the front of the ship, but he was there. And then he disembarked, boarded the popemobile, and came right past us.

To get a good shot, I climbed up on the shoulders of Hawaii pilgrim and Sacred Hearts Father Johnathan Hurrell (thank you, Father Johnathan!) and had a great vantage point as the popemobile passed by. I was snapping away with my camera, but I failed in my journalistic duties when Pope Benedict was right in front me. I looked away from the viewfinder and right at the Holy Father as he smiled and waved through the popemobile glass. It’s hard to remain impartial to a papal sighting when you’ve never seen the Holy Father in person before.

The picture above is the best that I could manage under the circumstances. Luckily, another girl in my group got some terrific shots to include in the Hawaii Catholic Herald’s World Youth Day special section. This is far from an impartial journalist’s take on the papal arrival, but I am both a pilgrim and a reporter on this trip, and the pilgrim’s fever has a hold of me right now.

Catechesis, concerts and congo lines

The crowd at the Scythian performance, July 16, at Palm Grove, Darling Harbour

The crowd at the Scythian performance, July 16, at Palm Grove, Darling Harbour

Yesterday was the first of three days of catechesis for World Youth Day pilgrims. The Diocese of Honolulu’s group took the light rail down to Jubilee Park for their session at St. Scholastica’s College along with groups from Sri Lanka, Canada, Australia, Tanzania, and the Philippines.

After some ice breakers, prayer and a video of pilgrims talking about why they are participating in WYD, Bishop Denis Brennan from the Diocese of Ferns in Ireland gave a catechesis talk on the Holy Spirit. Pilgrims got to ask him questions, which those I talked to appreciated, saying it made it more like a discussion. Organizers gave him a cockatoo stuffed animal to take back with him to Ireland. He happily accepted it and said it might be the only cockatoo in his homeland. Bishop Brennan also said Mass and in his touching homily spoke about Iraqi priest Ragheed Aziz Ganni, who he had met before Father Ganni was murdered outside his church in Mosel, Iraq, along with three subdeacons.

To end the morning, we had Aussie BBQ along with lamingtons and Wagon Wheels biscuits and TimTam Fingers.

In the evening, I headed down to the Harbourside Amphitheatre at Darling Harbour to check out the two Hawaii groups performing in Youth Festival events. Holy Trinity School band has only been together for nine months and actually got started after the school received an general invitation from the Heritage Festival, sent out to schools, to consider performing at WYD. They decided to form a band for that purpose and there they were yesterday at the waterside playing with all their might.

Following them was St. Francis School’s Show Choir and backup band, who looked chilly in their Hawaiian muumuus and bare feet but got the crowd moving and eventually dancing to their upbeat Christian songs. The all-girls school group had one male member, a bandmate of one of the girls, and though he didn’t wear a muumuu (just an Aloha shirt), he played the bass guitar wonderfully. The Egyptian man sitting next to me shouted out to him, “You’re brave!” before saying to me that the guitarist played really well.

On a side note, I love the random encounters with fellow Catholics I’ve been having here, from an Australian Benedictine nun on the light rail headed to help at a booth at the Vocations Expo to a priest from Sacramento as I walked down the street, who spotted the Diocese of Honolulu flag I had on my backpack and asked about Hawaii. And there are the constant random, “Where are you from?” shout-outs and cheers as groups pass each other in the streets.

So it was great to see Hawaii groups representing in Sydney, and after dinner, I checked out another concert, this one peformed by Scythian, a Washington D.C. celtic rock band. They certainly rocked out the Palm Grove at Darling Harbour with hundreds of pilgrims cheering them on. There were ever-forming congo and kick lines, flags waving, people singing and clapping, and even a guy wearing flashing Christmas lights. It was one incredible Catholic mosh pit. I went home with Klezmer and Gypsy music in my head. It’s an indescribable feeling watching all these Catholic young people from countries around the world dancing and singing together. I think if you harnessed their energy you could power the whole Barangaroo facility and beyond for today’s papal arrival.

A personal encounter with Christ

Skywriting over Barangaroo welcomes WYD pilgrims to Sydney before the Opening Mass on July 15.

Skywriting over Barangaroo welcomes WYD pilgrims to Sydney before the Opening Mass on July 15.

It’s been a whirlwind of activity here since my group arrived on Monday evening. It’s sometimes hard to realize where I am and why I’m here when it’s a bustle of arranging meet-up times, hustling to get your meals, walking all over Sydney and trying not to get lost.

That’s why it was nice last evening at the Opening Mass at Barangaroo to here testimonies from people who have been to World Youth Days from Santiago de Compostela to Cologne. They talked about how WYD had affected their lives, from deciding to become a religious to meeting a future spouse to strengthening their faith. Hearing from Fr. Joe, who became a priest after going to two World Youth Days, about taking the time during this whole week to “have a personal encounter with Christ” helped remind me what the event is supposed to be about.

While all the thousands of us at Barangaroo sang the World Youth Day 1993 theme song “We Are One Body” at Communion and then this year’s theme song “Receive the Power” at the end of Mass, I looked around and got it – we’ve all come here for Christ and it really does feel like Sydney is the world’s center forĀ  Catholic youth right now.

Heading out

I spent the last two days getting final things done for the trip to Sydney. Now it’s the morning that we leave, and this will be short because I have to finish closing up my suitcases before heading to Honolulu International Airport. Right now, I’m a bundle of nerves but also excited to be going to my first World Youth Day and covering it for the Hawaii Catholic Herald.

On Friday, I dropped in on Aloha Spirit Youth Day, an event planned by the Diocese of Honolulu for 175 visiting pilgrims from Fort Worth and Laredo, Tex., and Rockville Center, N.Y. I saw a whole lot of lei-making, hula dancing, chopstick tutorials, surf lessons, shave ice (snow cones to you Mainlanders) eating, and more. And I also saw lots of enthusiasm and hope in the pilgrims.

Now here’s hoping (and praying) that my flight isn’t delayed! See you in Sydney.

Pilgrimage pit stop

WYD pilgrims praying outside of Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Honolulu

WYD pilgrims praying outside of Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Honolulu

Hundreds of Mainland pilgrims are coming through Hawaii on their way to Sydney and the ones I’ve met so far seem pumped to be in Hawaii before heading to World Youth Day.

On Sunday, I briefly spoke to a group of 25 pilgrims from the Diocese of Springfield, in Illinois, led by Father Daren Zehnle, as they visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in downtown Honolulu. They were here from July 3-7 and were trying to see as many of the sites as they could. They had just attended Mass at the cathedral and were headed for a hike at Diamond Head Crater wearing the shell leis given to cathedral visitors.

The Neocatechumenal Way has the largest group visiting here. Two hundred seventy-five people from Atlanta, Denver, Phoenix, New York and Newark will be in the islands at different times this week. Yesterday I sat in on the Newark group’s visit with Bishop Larry Silva and a talk on Blessed Damien de Veuster. One moment that seemed to especially touch them was when a first-class relic of Father Damien — several strands of his hair — was brought out for veneration. They also got a chance to see other artifacts of the soon-to-be saint. The presentation and veneration will be repeated two other times this week.

That afternoon, we got to to talk to 60 people (40 from the U.S. and 20 from Mexico) led by brothers and fathers from the Community of St. John in Laredo, Texas. They held their own Mass in the cathedral before posing for pictures in front of the Our Lady of Peace statue outside and doing a short adoration prayer. The statue was decked out in plumeria leis with purple and white orchid and ti leaf kahilis (a traditional Hawaiian symbol of royalty) on each side. They had a really quick trip – just one day on Oahu – before flying to Sydney!

The Diocese of Honolulu is organizing a big event tomorrow in Waikiki for even more visitors from the Dioceses of Fort Worth and Laredo, Texas, and Rockville Center, New York. Those 174 people will enjoy and all day “Aloha Spirit Youth Day” including Mass with Bishop Silva, Hawaiian cultural activities (a.k.a. hula, lei-making, etc.), talks on the history of the Church in Hawaii and Blessed Damien and Blessed Mother Marianne Cope, and a Sunset Rosary on the Beach. I’m looking forward to meeting even more of the visiting pilgrims then.

And my personal countdown continues – three days ’til takeoff. The Diocese of Honolulu’s group leaves Sunday! I wonder if I’ll run into any of our island visitors in Sydney.

P.S. As I was writing this blog post, two trolley cars full of cheering and chanting people just drove past the Cathedral here in Honolulu. I don’t know if they’re any of the visiting WYD pilgrims, but I can’t wait to see and feel that kind of on fire spirit at WYD.

Island hopping

When I started at the Hawaii Catholic Herald almost two years ago, the paper’s editor, Patrick Downes, mentioned that there was a possibility of sending me to cover World Youth Day in Australia. (After all, this is probably the closest World Youth Day will get to Hawaii besides the continental United States.) At the time, July 2008 seemed far off, this vague event I might attend.

But then payments were made for me to travel with the Diocese of Honolulu’s group, forms were filled out, and other details took shape. And now it’s just five days before I leave on a flight to Sydney! It would be hard to believe if not for all the little things that still need to be arranged before I hop from my island to a much larger one.

This is my first World Youth Day and my first time reporting and taking photos at an international event for our relatively small diocesan newspaper. I am thrilled to see a new country and a bunch of new people all brought together by a passion for God and the Church. And I’m looking forward to telling about fellow Hawaii pilgrims’ experiences.

In the next few days I hope to post about several of the Mainland groups stopping in Hawaii on their way to Sydney. But for now, here’s a recent article in the Hawaii Catholic Herald about island Catholics heading to World Youth Day.


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