July 29, 2008

WYD 2008 Sydney: Benedicto and the “Generation Y”

One Pope – Benedict XVI. One City – Sydney. One gathering. 300,000 pilgrims from 172 Countries. 3.5 million meals were served to pilgrims. 8,000 volunteers took part in organizing the gathering. And I was there!

My coming to Sydney Australia for the 2nd time to help facilitate the MAGiS (the Jesuits’ pre-WYD program) has changed my idea of what pilgrimage is. Traditionally, pilgrimage is a journey of a group of people we call “pilgrims” to a well known holy or sacred place in their desire for renewal of spirit and healing as well. But the World Youth Day gave us a new idea of a modern pilgrimage. The Pope calls the youth to go to a very secular city like Sydney to gather together and the place becomes a sacred place. What specific reason and theme for the gathering? Nobody knows. The Pope’s invitation is like Jesus’ words to the new followers, “Come and see.” And so from all corners of the world, more than 300,000 youth and “young at heart” converged into the bustling city of Sydney and literally conquered all its streets and public places. The business district becomes a place of encounter, worship, singing and catechism, workshops, dancing, and informal sharing of life experiences. The Sydney CBD becomes a holy ground; a holy place because of the gathering of youth who were initially feared by the police will give a security headache, monstrous traffic, and chaos to a city known for its order and cleanliness. It turned out the other way, the thousands of youth who ruled the city for a week became a welcome sight to Sydneysiders who suddenly found a wonderful sight to behold … youth in action, praying together, smiling, welcoming, warm, full of positive energies, and loving. There is power in the youth. Youth are not misguided souls just waiting for an opportunity to create problem or mess everything. What they need is a direction from someone who can lead them, who can trust them, who can listen and understand them, who can love them, and believes in their capacity to lead. But all these things should begin in the spirit of love … in the spirit of gathering. If there is a gathering… there is love.

The spirit of the WYD was felt by everybody. Even the police, who seriously prepared for any untoward incidence that the youth may create, found the young pilgrims very orderly, cooperative and warm. The joyful spirit that ruled the city created an inward wave to many Sydneysiders and to the non-WYD tourists. Conversions took place. An old Aussie lady approached a Filipino priest and thank God for the WYD. She was so touched with the spirit of the celebration that she decided to return to the fold of God after being a prodigal daughter for many years. A WYD participant who suddenly revealed that she is not a Catholic but joined the WYD just to see Australia, was enlightened and had a new positive concept of Catholicism. A spirit-filled young Irish teacher eagerly returned to Ireland to do something to the marginalized and the poor. The Filipino community in Chatswood Parish who led a Magis Experiment had seen their potentials to do greater things for God and the value of allowing the Spirit to lead them. Food and hospitality overflow from the Sydneysiders. Muslim communities and schools provided shelters and food. Even the homeless from Canices’ Kitchen offer tea and biscuits. Unlimited free train rides to all pilgrims. Public parks and schools became venues for catechism and faith sharing. The Sydney CBD for a week had shed-off its business atmosphere and became a loving and welcoming host for all the pilgrims. The Australian government spent 160 Million dollars for the affair. Plus the fact that even nature cooperated well throughout the week by giving us a sunny day in the middle of winter.

In the midst of all the informal and spontaneous street celebrations like dancing, praying, singing and chanting, catechisms, the traditional Catholic liturgies like the Stations of the Cross all over the city, confessions at Hyde Park, and Holy Masses, the Pope lovingly delivered his message of hope to the youth. The world the Pope is seeking is one in which, “love is not greedy or self-seeking, but pure, faithful and genuinely free, open to others, respectful of dignity, seeking their good, radiating their joy and beauty. In God, we find the answer we are seeking, we find the goals that are truly worth living for, and we find the strength to pursue the path that will bring about a better world.” The pilgrims then realized that any spiritual pilgrimage should end in finding the will of God. Real happiness is in finding and doing the will of God.

The Final Mass on July 20, Sunday at Randwick racecourse, was a Catholic display of great faith in the Eucharist. Approximately 400,000 faithful attended the Mass including the 3,000 priests who concelebrated with the Pope, the biggest gathering in the history of Australia.

But all gathering must come to an end, after all the celebrations and fellowship, time will come to go home and spread the Good news. Pope Benedict reminded the youth, “Dear young friends, the Lord is asking you to be prophets of this new age, messengers of His love, drawing people to the Father and building a future of hope for all humanity.”

By this time, everybody should be home, brought with them their pictures of the picturesque Sydney, its lovely people, and its tourist spots. But like me, most of the pilgrims went home with memories of newly found friends from different cultures who broke bread with them for a week, as they shared their own stories of faith and how God touched them in different ways.

World Youth Day celebration is a planting moment. The seed has been planted throughout the celebration, catechisms, immersion and workshops. Nobody knows what really happened to each pilgrim. But our role is just to plant the seeds of faith, hope and love to the “Generation Y”. Pope Benedict did it well. We should do our part also.

Everybody is filled with the Holy Spirit and they received the power to do something for the world. It’s not an easy task for the youth, but to know that there is somebody like Pope Benedict who trusts them, it becomes challenging and worth the risk…for there is power and hope in the youth.

If you wish to be young, seek Christ.
See you in Madrid in 2011.


If you want to see pictures of WYD and MAGiS 08 experiment in Sydney:
Visit my multiply site at : http://willysamson.multiply.com/

Fr.Willy Samson,SJ
Spiritual Director
Magis 08 – NSW2 – Amazing Race

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