Tuesday, 12 August 2008

First stop Sydney! Next stop Madrid?

World Youth Day. An event where hundreds of thousands of Catholic youths gather and celebrate with the Holy father. Is it just an event or an experience with Christ?

Looking back at the two weeks spent in Australia, maybe I was privilege to be able to spend the time with a different contingent, unlike the other brother seminarians who were all with the Catholic Students Society of the National University of Singapore. I was with the contingent from the Catholic Archdiocesan Youth Centre. Besides the 7 other pilgrims from my parish, most of the others were new faces to me. There were a lot of new faces to meet and a whole new 'community' to live in for the two weeks.

We had our Days in the Diocese in Melbourne and were hosted by the parishioners in their homes. This is an occasion where I felt the universality of the church, where I am in a strangers' home, sharing meals together and also having many conversations of our common faith. This is truly what being Catholic is all about.

We had two days of seminars where the ICPE mission group launched their youth arm, FireBrandz. We joined youth from Korea, Malaysia, America and India in this programme, proclaiming our one faith and one mission of evangelization.

As we moved from Melbourne to Sydney, we experienced a drastic change in our living conditions. From cosy homes, we were now living out of our sleeping bags, sleeping in the classrooms of a school. There were 3 shower stalls shared by about 100 males. This is a true test of patience and tolerance and we were challenged to persevere on in our pilgrimage, rather than checking into a hotel with all the modern facilities and comfort. The final night at Ranwick Racecourse (called the Southern Cross Precinct) was about the same, just that we did not have a roof over our heads.

Did I experience anything during all the events organised for the WYD? Sad to say, not much. The power of God only manifested on the final event: during walk to Ranwick Racecourse, the open air sleep-out and after we back from the final mass with the Pope.

On Saturday morning, I was with my brother Seminarians at the special mass where the Pope consecrated the new altar at St Mary's Cathedral. I did not join my contingent in the walk to the racecourse but made my way there on my own. It was a good 4-5km walk and I was just walking along with whatever group that came by. I was chatting with pilgrims from all over the world. Just being Catholic made you belong to their family, or rather, we all belong to a big family. Truly, Christ unites to himself, all those who believe in him.

There were rumours that the night was going to be a few degrees warmer than the usual. This has so far been a prediction by the meteological station but until the night comes along, no one can be sure. It may not be much but believe me, between 4 and 7 degrees, it is a world of difference. That night, I was looking up into the sky and I noticed an exceptionally large amount of cloud cover, something I had not seen since I arrived in Australia. That night was cold but warm enough for us to sleep comfortably. I guess the Lord knows what we need and will provide for us even if we do not ask of him.

Experiencing the warm hospitality of the Australians in the cold winter, I was often reminded of the drought Australia was facing. At the final mass, I made a special prayer to ask the Lord to bless this land with the rain they needed so much (and after all, so many of us were using up their precious water). That very night, it poured. Maybe it was also because the Holy Father also prayed for rain for the great land of the Southern Cross. For me, I see the might of the Lord to give to those who need it and he is just and fair in his rewards.

The two weeks were a real enriching experience for me. I had seen the might of the Lord and the universality of his church. I also see how much is needed to be done pastorally to feed the need for the youths, to help them have a personal experience of the Lord. I am also more convicted in my faith and my calling to serve him as a priest. May the Lord continue to draw all to himself.

Erm... one more thing.... Madrid 2011...... anyone??

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