Overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit, Our Lady arose from the comfort of her home and “went with haste” (Lk 1:39) to her cousin in joyful anticipation of what God had in store.
The spirit that sent Mary on her mission was present in Sydney as hundreds of World Youth Day (WYD) pilgrims prepared to depart for Portugal, and the adventure of a lifetime.
Held at the Waterview in Bicentennial Park on 28 June, the Fidelis WYD event was attended by over 370 adult pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Sydney who, along with those from Sydney Catholic Schools, will be part of one of Australia’s largest pilgrim groups ever.
With the journey to World Youth Day beginning this month, Fidelis was an opportunity for young adult pilgrims from the archdiocese and Sydney Catholic Schools to come together as a unified contingent, to receive formation from their archbishop and fellow pilgrim, Anthony Fisher OP.
Archbishop Fisher told pilgrims how to make the most of their spiritual journey by focusing on three tips—presence, prayer and purpose.
God is present to us, especially in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, he said.
So pilgrims must also find ways to be present to God and be in the moment, to let go of distractions and, “Attend to your own experiences, thoughts and feelings, especially in company with the divine.”
“Quietly let the beauty of the liturgy, the truth of God’s Word, the grace of the sacraments wash over you,” he said.
“Noisily jump for joy, singing God’s praises, delighting in being young and idealistic. Try to be in the present moment, like Mary who, ‘pondered all these things in her heart.’
The archbishop also invited pilgrims to grow closer to God in prayer during the pilgrimage, especially as they prepare to depart.
“Get ready for your pilgrimage by talking to God regularly in the weeks that are left, and I’m convinced you’ll find your time away more fruitful,” he said.
Finally, they should “know the ‘why of it all,” the purpose, even though every spiritual journey involves setting out into the unknown to meet a God who is “often elusive and always surprising.”
“When Mary said her ‘yes’ to her great adventure, she’s didn’t really know what she was saying ‘yes’ to, but she knew who she was saying ‘yes’ to, and the rest fell into place,” Archbishop Fisher said.
For Likisone Tominiko, a seventh-year seminarian at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, to travel to the Holy Land with the archbishop towards the end of his formation, “is quite unreal.”
“I’ve studied the biblical scriptures for seven years, but to be there, present where Christ walked, where he was crucified, died and resurrected—it will be quite phenomenal,” Likisone said.
“I hope this experience will continue to rekindle the fire of faith, the fire of love, for Christ and his church, and as a future clergyman I’ll be able to serve him and his people with such zeal and such great love.
“And of course I’ll be able to pass that onto the next generation—hopefully I can plant the seed of vocation in them and the seeds of hope and love.”
Many pilgrims echoed Likisone’s hope for spiritual renewal while in the land referred to as the “fifth Gospel,” looking forward to treading the ground where Jesus walked.
Just as enthusiastic about their encounter with the divine were those pilgrims who will be travelling with Bishop Richard Umbers, to WYD via Italy.
They will follow the paths of some of our greatest saints, whose holy and inspiring lives are etched into our faith heritage.
Monica Ribeiro, youth ministry coordinator at Domremy College, Five Dock, looks forward to seeing Blessed Carlo Acutis and “really bringing that whole idea alive to the students that you can be a modern day saint.”
“I hope that the faith of the students will be enlightened and set on fire for Jesus, that they can have that spiritual connection they haven’t been able to have here, due to certain distractions such as social media or what other people think about them,” said Monica.
“But rather, I hope by them going on pilgrimage they will be able to see that this is their faith and this is how they can live it, with the help of the testimonies of others.”
Jennifer John, an international student from India studying a bachelor of commerce at the University of Sydney, only came to know about World Youth Day a few months ago, as no one from her community in India was aware of the event.
“From my whole diocese back home, from my whole city and community, I’m the first person to have gone to World Youth Day,” said Jennifer.“I’m looking forward to meeting diverse people who share the same faith.
“This is what I want to take from World Youth Day—and to make my community aware of it so hopefully more will attend the next one.
“I can’t wait to share my faith with other people, wherever I go, not just with my Catholic community but with any person.”
To organise such an event for a diverse group was no small task.
Sydney Catholic Youth Team Leader Milad Khalil was struck by how well the pilgrims connected with one another.
“We witnessed an incredible atmosphere of energy, excitement, enthusiasm and of course a few nerves from some of the younger pilgrims who have never travelled internationally before,” said Milad.
“We had such a mixed bag of pilgrims, including uni students and young professionals, teachers and school leaders, catechised and uncatechised.
“But on the night, you could barely tell the difference between them all.
“They were all focused on one thing, preparing their hearts and mind for what will be an incredible and possibly even life changing experience.”
Giving the pilgrims the opportunity to hear from the archbishop, bishops, priests and pilgrim group leaders, who shared their wisdom and personal experience, Milad sensed that it “really penetrated their hearts and opened them up to what’s to come.”
“If this is the energy we’re seeing now, I can only imagine what we will see when everyone returns, and a major focus for me and the Sydney Catholic Youth team will certainly be to continue to support them all in their faith journey and keep that fire burning and spreading!”