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!