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!

Infectious

In the wake of my little boat trip yesterday, I was asked to speak with various reporters and talk show hosts about the Papal Voyage.  As I was being introduced on one particular morning radio talk show early this morning, the host of the show commented, “Now I am not saying I am going to convert to Catholicism or anything, but I have to tell you — the joy and enthusiasm in this city is infectious!”  He continued to say that he has no doubt that WYD will leave a permanent mark on Sydney.

Those of us that have been to WYD before, know that this is always the case, but I feel quite confident saying that it has caught the people of Sydney completely off-guard.  Last night, a man recognized me as affiliated with WYD and mentioned to me that even though he was not Catholic, if his daughters ever wanted to go to a WYD, he would most certainly encourage it.  On a separate occasion, I was having dinner next to a group of middle-aged adults celebrating a birthday.  As they began to sing “Happy Birthday”, a group of pilgrims from Italy (they are never hard to miss) stopped to join them in song.  Afterwards one of the gentlemen ordered a whole cake for them and joined the pilgrims in conversation for quite some time.  I have seen pilgrims enjoying the hospitality of city merchants on seemingly every corner and I have not been able to pay for a cab all week.  It seems everyone in Sydney has been caught up in the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, we must not let it go unsaid, that while it is true that the pilgrims are the vehicles for which this joy is transmitted, today during the Stations of the Cross, we were all reminded that it is Jesus Christ is who the source of this joy.  At Barangaroo, I was able to watch the television commentary during the Stations and was struck at how they not only affected the pilgrims, but so many of the television personalities providing commentary.  If there was any doubt about the meaning and importance of WYD, I believe it was silenced here in Sydney tonight.  Yet as I write this entry with the sounds of concerts at Darling Harbour in the background, I think it is important to say that the experience doesn’t end with Jesus in the tomb.  At the end of the Jesus’ passion in Sydney tonight, there is no mourning — for WYD is a Pentecost experience.  Tonight every concert is a beacon of joy and a witness to the fruits of the Holy Spirit showering down upon Sydney.

Tomorrow, we will begin our walk towards the “Southern Cross Precinct” filled with so much hope and expectation.  We will be joined by many local residents who were not able to attend the entire week, but chose to spend one night under the open sky — no doubt with expectant and open hearts.  So tonight, I sign off until after the final mass asking for your prayer for all of those locals just joining the rest of us.  I ask your prayers for the staff and all those organizing these final moments.  I ask your prayers for the intentions of all those watching from all over the world, and I ask your prayers for all those who will be moved to take new direction in their lives because of the witness that is WYD.

Until next time, blessings and G’Day!

Did this just really happen???

The Holy Father boarding the Sydney 2000 at Rose Bay -- the last time I had a chance to take a photo!

The Holy Father boarding the Sydney 2000 at Rose Bay -- the last time I had a chance to take a photo!

When I first arrived in Sydney four months ago, I thought I would be working behind the scenes on various technical issues or something of the sort. As it turned out, I was asked to be the master of ceremonies for the Papal boat during the Pope’s voyage through Sydney Harbour. To be honest, I am not quite sure how this all happened, but today I was responsible for, what one Australian paper considered, “one of the most significant events of Australia’s history.” Umm. . . yes. . . that is a bit overwhelming, and truth be told, it was actually a whole team of people that made today’s Papal welcome such a huge success. I could not have imagine a better group of people to have worked with and feel quite blessed and humbled because of the opportunity to work with them.

The obvious question has been how I felt about coordinating the Papal boat, however, I must admit that I feel like I coordinated very little. From start to finish, God has this whole event under control — we overcame so many difficulties along the way and some rather large ones on the day, I believe, because of grace. At the end of the day, I admit that I am thrilled because of the response the Holy Father received from the pilgrims and people of Sydney. Even the Holy Father exclaimed, “Wow” as the boat rounded the coves filled to with thousands of people along the shore line. One of the Cardinals in the Entourage half-jokingly asked is there would be any pilgrims left at the site of arrival with so many pilgrims along the shore. I smiled and commented that I think he will be pleased with what awaits the Holy Father. No one was disappointed.

Today was a day that provided me with an opportunity to meet the Holy Father, but I confess that it was not the highlight (though it was a close second!) The true blessing of the day was coaching the 16 pilgrims that met the Holy Father prior to the Papal arrival. After all, I am a teacher (I have been a high school teacher for a few years) and part of my joy is providing my students with the opportunity to shine brilliantly through the fruits of their own labor. Today, the youth of the world, represented by these 16 people, took center stage with the Holy Father and made all our work worth every effort. My only regret is that the world did not get the chance to know them the way I did, even if it was relatively brief, for they are some of the most impressive, poised, uplifting people I had met in a while. This became especially noticeable in the comments they made to the press after disembarking the vessel. Their stories, like so many of the stories I have heard from young people during this WYD, capture the imagination. “It is the pilgrims who will evangelize the rest of us”, it is often said. Today, they not only inspired me, but helped me to remember that all happens according to God’s plan rather than our own. For this and the entire opportunity, I feel so very blessed and am so very thankful.

Blessings and G’Day!

Overwhelmed

Cardinal Pell makes his way to the altar at Barangaroo

Cardinal Pell makes his way to the altar at Barangaroo

Last night, at the end of a very long day, I sat down at my computer looking out over Darling Harbour from my hotel room trying to stir up enough energy to write. Alas, as it is now the following morning, it is clear that my efforts failed, but not necessarily because I ran of out energy; rather, because I could not find the words to sum up the events and emotions of the past day.

As one of the long-term volunteers on the WYD staff, I have been living WYD for the past four months. It is not hard to imagine how hard the work has been, nor the beating we have taken from the public through the media. Thus, you can understand the sense of triumph that was felt last night — not so much on my own behalf, but of the Church as the people of God.

The day began with the final preparations for the Vocations Expo, which is one of the projects for which I bear responsibility. As the pilgrims came streaming, all the hard work was lost in the conversations, joy and prayer. Everyone is thrilled with the environment and with the cross-section of the Church present. We are expecting about 2000 pilgrims every hour over the next few days and there is no doubt that many vocations will emerge in the Church in response to the relationships built in that room.

In many ways, the day was themed by vocations as I had two separate conversations with good friends of mine from the office who spoke to me about their own hunger for something more. One young women spoke of her consideration to enter a religious community; another about her desire to become a more active minister in the Church. Both conversations are but two of thousands that will occur here this week for this is the fruit of WYD. Every few years, pilgrims gather at WYD’s as disciples and leave as apostles.

Such was the case for me in 1993, when I attended my first WYD in Denver. During the opening mass, I recognized my own desire to be a part of this group of people (the Church) who made Heaven feel so close to home. In 1993, I was one of thousands of pilgrims looking out from the crowd onto a stage that was outside the limits of my imagination. Fifteen years later, during last night’s opening mass, I was asked to be on that stage to receive communion from the Cardinal in gratitude for my contribution to WYD and to the Church.

Fireworks over Barangaroo at the end of the evening

Fireworks over Barangaroo at the end of the evening

As I walked up to the altar, the communion song, “We are One Body” was sung invoking the many memories from Denver as it was the theme song from WYD ’93. As I looked on the capacity crowd of 150,000 pilgrims, overwhelmed by the blessings that have been showered upon me as a result of my decision to turn my life over to God, I said a prayer for those now looking at me — that they will have the courage to respond to God’s call with their own lives. At the same time, I said a prayer for myself, just weeks before my own final profession of vows with the Basilian Fathers and months before my own ordination to the priesthood; that I may have the courage to continually live my life prompted by the Holy Spirit.

And so it continues — this great journey through WYD, filled with hope and joy and the many gifts of the Spirit. Until next time, blessings and G’Day!

The Official Beginning

Barangaroo, also known as "The Hungry Mile" during the quiet moments before the spotlight is upon it.

Barangaroo, also known as "The Hungry Mile" during the quiet moments before the spotlight is upon it.

Through WYD has been in full swing for a couple of days now, Cardinal Pell will welcome the pilgrims of the world to Sydney later today at the official opening mass of WYD 2008.  This morning, I spent some time in prayer (with a warm cup of coffee) on the roof of my hotel overlooking Darling Harbour and Barangaroo, the site of the opening mass.  I have always loved praying in high places — perhaps because I feel closer to God or because of the quiet ability to see the “big picture” without getting lost in the details.  This morning, I was aware of the significance of the location of the opening mass.  At WYD, we call the site Barangaroo, but most people in Sydney call it the “Hungry Mile” because it is the one undeveloped spot on the water front (though there are big plans for this space after WYD).  I find this title, “The Hungry Mile”, so very appropriate since the audience later today has come from around the world to fill a hunger inside them.  In the quiet hours of the morning, it seems the whole city is bursting with expectation, waiting for the Holy Spirit to descend upon us during these next few days.  For this, and so many reasons, we pray — Come Holy Spirit, come, and grant unto us the power to be your witnesses to the ends of the Earth!

Blessings and G’Day!

Teach Us How to be Saints!

Pilgrims gather in St. Mary's Cathedral

Pilgrims gather in St. Mary's Cathedral

Tonight’s main event occurred at St. Mary’s Cathedral, where Fr. Tom Rosica, CSB lead a prayer service at the human remains of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.  Sponsored by CCO (Canadian Catholic Outreach), the event filled the Cathedral with pilgrims from North America, Italy, France, Chile and many others.  Many of the pilgrims present, like myself, were young men who have been inspired by Blessed Frassati.  “He had everything I wanted — good looks, athletic, wealth, lots of friends and every reason to live a life away from God — and yet he chose to live a life devoted to the poor,” said one young pilgrim.  Frassati was called the Man of the Beatitudes and once again as this Gospel passage was read, I was reminded of the beautiful simplicity of his life.  Through the evening, people continued to stream into the Cathedral as I listened to Fr. Tom speak recall stories like Frassati giving bus fares to the poor and then running home so he could make dinner with his family.  At the end of the evening, Fr. Tom spoke on our behalf to Blessed Frassati, “Teach us how to be Saints for the Church and the World.”

Yet the message of the evening was not the only part that left a memory.  Before the evening started, I was able to spend time with Frassati’s niece, who was present as a guest of WYD.  I spoke to her about how Frassati had impacted my life through his own joy and service to others.  As much as I wanted to ask her questions, she kept at me, wanting to know more about how Frassati had been a model for my life.   Afterwards, I was asked to show Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight for the Knights of Columbus, around the cathedral and the Frassati display.  As a Knight myself, it was a great honor to meet him.  However, the highlight of the evening was seeing many friends from around the world, some of whom I have not seen in quite sometime.  In fact, all day long I ran into to people I knew.  Now as I reflect about the day, I realize how blessed I am to be part of a group of people who share so many common values and who are willing to travel around the world to grow in holiness and share community.  There is no other way to understand this life as a gift — and what a gift it is!

Blessings and G’Day!

Journey with the Cross and Icon

The cross and icon just before it left the parish where it stayed for the night

The cross and icon just before it left the parish where it stayed for the night

SYDNEY — The journey of the cross and icon is nearly at an end as it made its last stop today before crossing into downtown Sydney. As it turns out, this last stop was not far from the parish where I live, so early this morning I joined the team to pray, walk and witness. Many people stepped from their houses or stopped along the street to watch us walk by. Though some were visibly moved to tears, most just stood there leaving me to wonder what thoughts crossed their minds as we journeyed with this cross that has seen the world.

The cross at its final stop before entering downtown Sydney

The cross at its final stop before entering downtown Sydney

Along my walk this morning, I spoke with some of the team members who have carried the cross and icon across Australia since January. They told stories of people who felt hope for the first time in years; stories of cynics converted to advocates; and many stories about the hospitality they had received. To their own surprise, they discovered that the cross brought people together who had never previously been able to gather as one community. “The cross was our excuse to travel to places we could have never gone otherwise, and the bring people together who previously remained distant,” one volunteer said. As we shared stories, we were struck how many times communities and individuals start interactions with each other identifying with their differences rather than their commonalities. I have seen this in my own life — how often we put up barriers rather than build bridges. All this demands is that we change our starting point — something I believe the cross communicates to us all too well. What better example can we have than the very icon of death that brought life. It changed how we perceive life and death. On the journey with the cross and icon, it also changes how we perceive the common values we all share.

As I listened to the many stories told this morning, I watched the cross just in front of me, noticing something I had never considered before. At several points in the walk, the cross had to be angled or turned to pass low-lying tree branches, fences and other obstacles. If you have never seen it, the cross is quite large, requiring about eight people to carry it. As the cross was maneuvered around difficult areas, the symbolism to me was quite clear — the cross does not change for it is wood, inflexible and constant. Rather, it was the people carrying the cross that had to bend and twist the cross to bring it to its destination. I had never seen such a clear metaphor about evangelization until this morning. As I listened to about the blessings of the cross, I watched people changing, not the cross, but themselves, so that the cross may reach others.

I finished the morning so thankful I took the time to be with the cross. At the of my time, I knelt before it, as so many people have done around the world, to give thanks and ask for the courage to allow my own self to be changed in the days to come.

Many blessings and G’Day!

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