A high school senior from St. Francis of Assisi Church was among the thousands of young people from around the globe who participated in World Youth Day this summer. In this enthusiastic essay, Katie McIlmoyle describes her experiences as unforgettable.
Mark Reamer, OFM, pastor, said that Katie was a “great representative of St. Francis to the Diocese of Raleigh and World Youth Day. When she returned and shared her experience — especially how being part of the universal church touched her — she had a great impact upon the rest of our youth as they discussed what it means to be part of the Roman Catholic Church.”
RALEIGH, N.C. — From July 12 to 21, I went on a pilgrimage to Sydney, Australia, to participate in World Youth Day with six other youth from the Diocese of Raleigh.
World Youth Day takes place every two to three years in locations around the world. Tens of thousands of Catholic youth from all over the world come together and celebrate their faith with the Pope. This year’s World Youth Day theme was “You Will Receive Power When the Holy Spirit Has Come Upon You and You Will be My Witnesses?” (Acts 1:8).
World Youth Day changed my life. It was an unforgettable experience. It put things in perspective for me and I feel like a calmer person.
For starters, it offered many opportunities and events to participate with other Catholics in. Our days began with Catechesis from 9 a.m. to noon, in locations around Sydney. My particular class had 200 students that met at St. Mary’s Church in Northern Sydney. During the class, bishops from around the globe discussed the Holy Spirit and how it affected our lives —from accepting the call to religious life to being open to welcome the Spirit in everyday life. We had the opportunity to ask questions and we closed each class with Mass. At lunch, we would discuss afternoon activities, including visiting the Sydney Opera House or going to a Christian concert. At the end of the day, we walked back to our hotel and hung out in the lobby, discussing our experiences that day.
My three favorite experiences at World Youth Day were the opening Mass, Stations of the Cross, and the papal arrival. Celebrating the opening Mass in different languages with 250,000 Catholics from all over the world was beautiful. From the opening song, to hearing the readings and Gospels in different languages, to praying the Our Father together – it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The welcome given by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Cardinal George Pell was particularly exciting.
For Communion, golden umbrellas adorned the venue. While I thought I understood the concept of the universal Church, it really made sense to me as I waited in line for Communion with youth from all over the world. It hit me — we were all Catholic and sharing the body and blood of Christ together at one table. The closing song was the World Youth Day song, Receive the Power, and everyone sang in different languages. It was truly amazing.
Stations of the Cross took place on another night. I have been to Stations of the Cross before, but this was different. It was acted out by members of the Sydney Opera House. The stations began at St. Mary’s Cathedral and moved around Sydney. Looking at Jesus being dragged by Pontius Pilate 15 feet away from me made me speechless. I was in awe.
After the Stations of the Cross, we stayed at Barangaroo for the Matt Maher concert. When the concert began, everyone was singing and jumping up and down praising the Lord. It reminded me of what a priest had said earlier that day about how Sydney had never really seen anything like this before. The joy wasn’t because of drugs or drinking, but rather, because of God’s love for us.
Arrival of the Pope
Before the papal arrival, we could purchase tickets at the vocations expo and be on a boat when the pope arrived on his “boat-a-cade.” The next morning, we waited anxiously at Darling Harbor for the boat to arrive. Once we were on the boat, Mass was held and lunch was served, and there were places to do reconciliation in the boat. As we waited for the pope to get on the water, we mingled with other pilgrims. I met two girls from Columbia who were easy to talk to. In fact, that was one of the coolest things about World Youth Day. You could start talking to strangers from a different side of the globe and it was no big deal.
As the pope’s boat came through the water about 50 feet away from us, we started singing “Receive the Power” and shouting, “benedetto -– we love the pope.”
When he landed at Barangaroo, we were able to watch his speech on two televisions. Hearing him speak was truly amazing I’ve always heard about the pope, but hearing him speak live was very different. He related to us and gave advice, even though he is much older than us. He told us to be more eco-friendly and to accept the call from Jesus. I truly took this to heart.
Throughout the week, we went sightseeing everyday and saw kangaroos. We also saw a platypus and sharks that were the size of cars at the aquarium.
The best event was a dinner cruise on the night we arrived. The boat served dinner as we cruised the harbor. From the deck, I could see all the World Youth Day flags.
The next World Youth Day will take place in 2011 in Madrid, Spain, and I hope to be there.
— Katie McIlmoyle is a senior at Durham, N.C., School of the Arts.