I can’t believe that this month, we will be celebrating the 10-year anniversary of World Youth Day in Sydney. Anniversaries are a great time to look back and reflect on how a particular event has affected us, and I imagine that many of those who attended WYD will be doing a bit of reminiscing in the coming weeks.
To be honest, I remember very little of the actual WYD week. Apart from Cardinal George Pell’s homily at the opening Mass – still one of the best I have ever heard – I can’t really say that the week itself had much of an impact on me. Despite this, I can confidently say that had we not had WYD in Sydney, I’d be a very different person today. The lead up to WYD, and the fruits that followed (and continue to follow) it, had such a profound impact on me and on so many others.
My WYD journey didn’t start in July 2008, but in 2006. I was a young lawyer who had just landed a job in a big financial services company in the Sydney CBD with cracking harbour views, so I was finally feeling like a real professional. Life was good.
Around the same time, every parish in Sydney had been asked to nominate a representative for WYD, which was happening two years later. I didn’t know much about World Youth Day, only that a friend of mine had gone to Rome in 2000 and another to Cologne in 2005, but I figured that I would be attending the one in Sydney, so I put a hand up to be involved.
I remember the first WYD meeting I attended like it was yesterday. It was for parish representatives from the Auburn-Bankstown Deanery and it was held at St Christopher’s Parish, Panania on a Sunday night following their youth Mass.
My goal was to get out of there as quickly as possible, because Australian Idol Season 4 was having its “Disco” night for the Top 8 contestants and I wanted to see it (don’t judge me!) I thought that if I wasn’t going to get home in time for the start of the show, at the very least I would be back in my car by the time the radio simulcast started. “Go in, don’t talk to anyone, get the information and leave,” was the plan.
It didn’t turn out that way.
Instead, by the end of the meeting, then- Bishop Julian Porteous had (intentionally or unintentionally) mistaken my offer to send a reminder email about the next Deanery meeting to be a sign that I wanted to be not only the WYD co-ordinator for my parish, but for the Deanery as well. Had the good Bishop have read my offer properly, he would have seen that it was motivated not by a love for youth ministry, but by a desire to see Dean Geyer’s rendition of Turn the Beat Around.
But you can’t say ‘no’ to a Bishop, especially one as lovely as Archbishop Julian, so I agreed.
At the time, I didn’t know that the co-ordinator role would involve supporting all the other parish youth representatives, organising information nights and talks at parishes, running youth events, co-ordinating the Journey of the Cross and Icon through the area, and much, much more.
I also didn’t know that present on that night were other young Catholics who would not only become my close collaborators in the WYD planning but would also be my dear friends and trusted confidants, even to this day. The ability to connect with them and so many other young Catholics during the lead up to WYD has been one of the greatest graces I have ever been given and I am and will be forever grateful to God for bringing them into my life.
Being a faithful Catholic is hard enough, but it is nigh impossible without good friends who are striving for holiness too. That’s why I think the great gift of WYD is not really the week itself. Big events, while they have their place, are rarely, if ever, life-altering because they come and go so quickly. But events like WYD have the ability to make our paths cross with people who we might never have otherwise encountered, and whose example and friendship can ensure that the effects of big events last a lifetime.
In the coming weeks, as you look back on WYD, I hope you get to reconnect with those who shared your WYD journey and share memories of that graced time. One great way to do this will be at the WYD anniversary event at St Mary’s Cathedral on Friday evening, 20 July. It starts with Mass at 5.30pm. Hope to see you there!