Anna Arco meets the diverse young people who are preparing to join Pope Benedict XVI at this year's World Youth Day in Australia The old World Youth Day hands in Fr Dominic Howarth's Brentwood gang have been trying to save up since Cologne 2006. Fr Dominic Allain's bunch in Southwark diocese have also been hard at work fundraising all year. So has the group that Fr Daniel Seward and Fr Alexander Sherbrooke are taking to Australia. They've performed in variety shows, walked to raise money, had cake sales and boat parties, and been bagging in Marks and Spencer. Generous parishioners, parents and benefactors have also helped them raise the more than £1,000 to go to Australia. And now, after months of preparation, planning, filling out visa applications and compiling packing lists, over 2.000 young adults from England and Wales are heading Down Under.
Over supper in New Malden, Surrey, I meet five of Fr Allain's 32 young people. James, Josh, Kurt, Simonne and Oliver are in high spirits. There are only .a couple of days left to go 'before they fly for over 23 hours to join hundreds of thousands of other young people in Australian dioceses for the "Days in the Diocese". Their group will be in the Diocese of MaitlandNewcastle, where they will meet their Australian contemporaries and get to know them. From there they will travel to Sydney where the actual World Youth Day events kick off with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal George Pell on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 15 at Barangaroo.
During the five-day period in Sydney they will take pan in a Papal Vigil, Stations of the Cross, and a Papal Mass, as well as three days of catechesis run by bishops and cardinals from around the world. Running parallel to the major events are hundreds of workshops which range from learning Gregorian chant to learning about Humanae Vitae, opportunities to go to Confession and places around the city set up for Adoration and prayer. The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal are flying in the rapping friar, Fr Stan Fortuna, for a concert on Bondai Beach.
At 15. Simonne Rodrigues is the youngest in Fr Allain's group and probably one of the youngest pilgrims going to Australia from England and Wales. (The typical age range is between 16 and 35.) Simonne's older brother Josh, who wants to study development studies and Swahili at SOAS, is going to look after her, he says. She rolls her eyes. She's really looking forward to going to Australia. she says, having heard so many cool stories about World Youth Day.
Are they looking forward to seeing Pope Benedict? Yes, but Kurt Barragan and James Howe, who are World Youth Day veterans, saw him in Cologne in 2006. They were so keen to see the Holy Father from up close that they managed to bluff their way into the special area reserved for the seminarians. Two years on, Kurt is actually a seminarian at Wonersh. Fr Attain says teasingly that James, who is reading computer science at Cambridge and is the chairman of the Fisher Society, will become a seminarian after this year's World Youth Day. James shakes his head, laughing. "They're still working on me." he says.
James and Kurt say that the catechesis in Cologne was one of the best parts of the pilgrimage. They are really looking forward to it this year. The young pilgrims are divided into groups and a bishop or cardinal talks about the theme of the World Youth Day. In Cologne, the theme from Matthew was "We have come to worship Him" and their group heard the Australian Cardinal George Pell and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. "It really made the whole thing come together," says Kurt.
The theme this year is from the Acts of the Apostles: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses." Pope Benedict has called for young people to be witnesses of faith and evangelists for other young people through their witness.
A few practicalities still need sorting out. As we leave Fr Allain tells someone to remember to buy a First Aid kit.
rounded by Pope John Paul E in 1986, World Youth Day has grown into a huge international gathering, which takes place every two to three years in a different host city. The last World Youth Day was held in Cologne and in the past it was held in a variety of world cities including Toronto, Rome and Manilla. This year, organisers expect over 225,000 people to attend.
In the parish hall of the Oxford Oratory after Mass I meet Rosie and Jessica, who are heading out with Fr Daniel Seward, who looks like he probably could also still qualify as youth by the World Youth Day standards. This is a geographically diverse group. They are 53 people strong, with 25 youngsters from Oxford, some from Durham and the North East; and the St Patrick's Evangelisation School, shepherded by Fr Alexander Sherbrooke of St Patrick's Soho Square in Central London. Fr Seward says that there are even some former parishioners who are flying to London from the United States in order to travel to Australia with their group.
Rosie, who is a budding photographer and has just finished her GCSEs, has heard about all the World Youth Days and has always wanted to go. This year she can and she's looking forward to it.
"I think its going to be great we will learn so much more with people our age," she says. "I think it will be so amazing to be surrounded by thousands and thousands of young Catholics. You're in such a minority at school and you have to stand up every single day to really random and honible arguments with people questioning stuff. People see me as someone who has all the answers and I should be able to answer all their questions."
Jessica, who has just finished her ALevels, and is off to Leicester to study medical biochemistry, agrees and adds that that she is looking forward to making new friends with similar interests from around the world.
The World Youth Day in Cologne was such a good experience. Fr Seward says, that he was persuaded to take a group to Australia the minute the Pope announced the location, One of the girls he took to Germany is now an enclosed nun.
Their pilgrimage to Australia begins a week before the Days in the Diocese, which they will be taking part in too. The group is using World Youth Day as a chance to do some tourism and to work on their spiritual lives. They will attend Mass almost every day — both in the extraordinary form, celebrated by Fr Seward. and in the ordinary form, celebrated by Fr Sherbrooke — and Divine Office. Among sleeping bags, mosquito spray and sensible shoes, their packing list also includes the Magnificat daily prayer books.
Before they hit Melbourne for their Days in the Diocese they will have been to Singapore, Alice Springs and have stayed in a "swag" in the outback. They hope to meet some Aborigines and perhaps do some sort of constructive work in the community. which Fr Seward thinks could consist of picking plastic bags out of a river. After the papal encounter in Sydney they will head on to Marian Valley. south of Brisbane, for a retreat where prayer will be punctuated with a visit to Seaworld and the Gold Coast before they leave.
Fr Seward waxes lyrical about St Peter's Surrey Hill, the Sydney parish that is hosting his bunch of youngsters. "They sent us the sweetest welcome video and they are having a party for us on the night we leave, ' he says.
In these days of instant communication, the organisers of World Youth Day have become tech-savvy. YouThbe videos like the one from St Peter's, Surrey Hill welcoming the visiting groups of pilgrims are a common phenomenon. The official website has a ticker which counts down the remaining days to World Youth Day and a new social networking inspired by Facebook has been set up so that young people can get to know each other via the intemet before they go out to Australia. The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has pioneered a project which trains some of the youngsters going out to Australia as communications officers. They have learnt how to make podcasts, write articles and take photographs, so that they can communicate their experiences to those back home via the internet and the other media.
Matthew Kirrane, 27, Frances O'Leary, 22, and Gareth Talbot, 21, are from Brentwood Catholic Youth Service, which is run by Fr Dominic Howarth. Unlike the other two groups, these youngsters are part of a larger diocesan pilgrimage. Not only are they leaders on the pilgrimage to Australia, they are also being trained as communications officers. Matt works in the IT sector is well up on web design. Francis is training to be a music teacher and finished her postgraduate certificate in education this summer. Eloquent and organised, they have come to the youth service for different reasons, but they all share similar reasons for going out to Australia. Matt is another WYD veteran who took part in the Toronto as well as Cologne. He is one of the oldest in the group and his experiences in Canada and Germany were so positive that he wants other people to share the experience.
"It's just amazing to be out in different countries and to be with young people who are united with a joint purpose," says matt. "Living with host families also gives you a real insight into other cultures and people are so welcoming."
He adds: "When I went to Germany, it was because I had had such an incredible experience in Toronto and wanted to go again. I met some great people there. Now, I'm going because I want the other people to be able to have the experiences I've had.
"It's really difficult to explain to people what it is exactly about World Youth Day that makes it such an experience. They say: 'So you went to a Mass.' And yes, that's true. but the atmosphere is just so amazing. To be there with so many young people who are doing the Mexican wave, or chanting in support of the Pope or flying flags is so infectious. You are in a stadium with hundreds of thousands of people who all believe the same thing you do."
For Frances, who got involved with the youth service because f the parish Sister, World Youth Day is a chance to meet people who share her faith. The camaraderie and people's openness, appeal to her. The World Youth Day in Cologne took place just before she went to university. She says it was extraordinary to meet people on trains, in the street or on buses.
"'You knew they were pilgrims because they wore badges," she recalls. "So you would start chatting to them. I met an Australian girl from Melbourne when I was out there and I've been in touch with her ever since. We' ve arranged to meet up this World Youth Day again."
A few weeks after the pilgrimage to Cologne. Frances went to university. After the intensity of Cologne, she found it almost strange that people on the trains in London who were obviously fellow students didn't talk to her. As a result of their experiences at the 2006 World Youth Day, a first for Brentwood Catholic Youth Service, more youngsters have joined the youth service and are intent on getting involved. '
"It's really important to be able to engage with the Church in this way," says Frances. "I think it's sometimes hard for young people to keep going to Mass in their parishes. The Masses seern very regimented and stiff, and while there is a children's Mass there is very little for the youth, though this is changing.
—When I joined the youth service and went to my first youth Mass I was amazed to see people from my parish who had stopped going to the parish Mass, but found the youth Mass was something that engaged with them. World Youth Day does that too."
For updates from these pilgrims go to www.catholicherald.co.uldwyd08