World Youth Day was established by Pope John Paul II in 1986 as an annual event to reach out to the youth of the world. The Holy Father recognised that bringing youth on pilgrimage and taking them out of their normal environment, created a sense of freedom for them so that they would be uninhibited in giving expression to their faith. Inspired by massive gatherings of young people in Rome celebrating the Youth Jubilee in 1984 and the United Nations International Year of Youth in 1985, he wanted to bring together young Catholics from around the globe to celebrate and learn about their faith on a more regular basis.
Pope John Paul II saw WYD as away to reach out to the next generation of Catholics, to demonstrate confidence in them, to rejuvenate the Church and ensure that the core teachings of Christ are transmitted and lived. World Youth Day is a pilgrimage of faith, where young people from diverse backgrounds meet and experience the love of God.
Over the year’s World Youth Day has developed and today it has become a week-long series of events attended by the Pope and by hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the globe.
WYD takes place at different international venues every three years or so and is now the largest youth event in the world. This year WYD will be held in Sydney, Australia from Tuesday 15 to Sunday 20 July 2008.
A group of 36 young people aged between 18 and 35 from our Archdiocese will be among the expected 500,000 pilgrims who will travel to Sydney this year. Coming from 17 parishes our group has been preparing for this once in a life time opportunity for over a year. While the destination is important it is the significance which the pilgrim places on the journey which distinguishes the pilgrim from the tourist.
The experience which the young people from our diocese had in Cologne was very edifying. When they compared it with the experience of other groups from other dioceses who had participated in that pilgrimage to Cologne it was obvious that the preparation that they had undertaken had enabled to them to get so much more out of the experience itself and helped them to gel as a group. Much work was done with them over that time and it certainly was rewarded in bearing great fruit.
Over the past year the group that is heading for Sydney has met regularly and the meetings usually take on familiar format; activity, prayer and food. Besides the usual information type meetings they have experienced the major pilgrimage sites of our diocese and recognised how rich our Archdiocese is in terms of spiritual resources and Christian traditiosn. They have climbed Croagh Patrick and Máimean, they have visited Ballintubber, and they have done the Tochair Pádraig. They had an evening of prayer and reflection on Church Island in Ballintubber. In view of the concern for ecology and the environment they are aware of the carbon footprint our journey to the other side of the earth and have invited Fr. Seán Mc Donagh perhaps the church’s leading expert on climate change to come and talk to them. More recently the group walked the Killary walk in Leenane and celebrated Mass at the head of the Killary, a most spectacular setting! The preparation concluded with a visit to Knock on July 3rd.
They leave for Australia this morning and we send them off with our best wishes and prayers. In the past Irish people going to Australia probably have very little hope of returning. The age in which we live is so conditioned to mobility it is very difficult to imagine how Irish people would have felt when heading for Australia in years gone by. They fly to Brisbane where they will spend the initial two days acclimatising.
From Thursday July 10th to Sunday 13th they will be the quests of the Catholic parish of Southport just south of Brisbane. Hosted by local families our time there will be spent experiencing church life in a different culture. A festival called the Hearth of the City will be held on the Saturday when over 6000 pilgrims from around the world will gather for Mass in the city centre.
We travel down to Sydney on Sunday 13th to join over ½ million other young pilgrims. We hope that we will be hosted by the parish of St Patrick in Bondi where Fr. Tod visited last summer in preparation for the WYD pilgrimage. For the week the city of Sydney will be literally taken over by the catholic youth of the world. Events are organised everyday but the highlights will be Pope Benedict’s arrival by boat into Sydney harbour on the Thursday, the enactment of the Stations of the Cross on the Friday, joining 500000 others as we walk across Sydney harbour Bridge to the site of the Papal Mass an the Saturday and the all night vigil under the stars as they prepare for that Mass.
WYD ends on Sunday 20th and with a day to recover on the Monday we make the long journey home on Tuesday 22nd.
As an Archdiocese we are very proud of our young people. I have had the privilege of attending with different youth groups in Knock where they came together to express their faith and beliefs on different occasions in the past two years. I found it most encouraging and a very edifying experience to see the life, joy, enthusiasm which they derive from their faith and which they are prepared to share with others. It is widely recognised that they are so frequently subjected to enormous peer pressure and yet to witness to the courage with which they give expression to their faith is particularly edifying and gratifying.
Following on from the Diocesan Assembly which took place in our diocese in 2006 we now have a Diocesan Youth Council. I have met with them and they are in the process of addressing the question of ministry to youth. It is important that youth would minister to youth. So that the idealism, the language, the music of young people would be included in their liturgical celebrations. As older people we need to listen to their ideas and work with them so that they will become the leaders of tomorrow. In all of this I would like to acknowledge the great work which is being done by Fr. Tod Nolan in the area of Faith Formation. I know that Fr. Tod, Fr. Seán Cunningham and the group heading for Sydney have undertaken enormous preparation and have been most generous with their time, energy, expertise and experience. On your behalf and on behalf of the Church of the Archdiocese of Tuam I wish them every success, a safe journey, a wonderful experience and we look forward to hearing from them when they return.