The Legacy of World Youth Day Colin McLeod
Every experience leaves a legacy. Experiences of loved ones, school, church, holidays, injuries, parties and hugs – the moments of our entire life – all weave through us, forming us into the people we become. We are not designed to be static; we are fundamentally dynamic, despite sometimes great personal effort to be otherwise (“I don’t like change, I’m too old, I wouldn’t cope with that…”).
We are made in the image of God, we are sisters and brothers in Christ. We are created to be questing, loving, touching, singing and ever open to Truth. And so, I discovered at World Youth Day ’08, is the church.
World Youth Day is an experience like no other and its legacy will be profound! Most of it will be personal, but my hope – and the hope of all the young people I travelled with – is that it will be allowed to have impact in parish and the wider community. As Bishop Pat Dunn commented in one of our catechesis sessions, young people need to share their faith, and their experiences of World Youth Day, “not just in the notices at the end but in the homily time”.
I was one of the 4000 Kiwis who travelled to Sydney during the week of World Youth Day. The Dunedin Kavanagh College group went with expectations of rain and cold, no showers and hard floors, Pope and crowds. We returned having experienced so much more. Make no mistake, the legacy has already begun.
Never again will those who attended WYD08 ever believe that being Catholic means being a lost minority. The sheer personal impact of thousands of people openly expressing their love of Christ and celebrating their belonging to church, is overwhelming.
Joining in the Jesus Chant – part of which goes: ‘ain’t no party like a Holy Spirit party ’cause a Holy Spirit party don’t stop! – or singing Alleluia on a packed train heading back to our host school and having another 50 people spontaneously join in, may not be as likely to happen back in Dunedin, but we now know that we are linked to our fellow singers throughout the whole world.
It’s not easy being Catholic in New Zealand, but it becomes easier knowing there are thousands of us! It’s wonderful to hear a 16-year-old cry out, “Awesome! I love Jesus T-shirts!” It’s even better when they feel confident to wear them back home.
I’ve come to realise that our young people expect joy to be expressed. Dour faces singing of joy just doesn’t cut it. A peace be with you without a smile and eye contact, and words of welcome without action all speak of an ungenuine community to whom most people, not just the young, don’t want to belong. The experience of World Youth Day was one of genuine engagement with one another. Smiles, hugs, communication, the legacy of which is the encouragement of new life.
World Youth Day touches the individual on an amazing number of levels:
• culture – languages, colours, flags, music, song;
• spirit – a sense of God’s presence, sometimes profound personal experiences, reconciliation, spontaneous religious conversation;
• church – traditional, evangelical, archaic, charismatic, hierarchical, ‘youth-full’, challenging, accepting, Eucharistic, spirit-filled;
• celebrity – Pope, bishops, famous singers/performers, grand buildings;
• physical – walking, walking, tiredness, waiting, cold, discomfort, illness;
• emotional – fear, claustrophobia, feeling lost, euphoria, empathy;
• relationship – deepening friendships, making new ones, seeing each other in a new light.
I loved the way the traditional church and faith-filled youth culture simply co-existed and overlapped. Prior to leaving for Sydney I was personally very nervous about how I’d cope with a sea of clerical collars, addresses by bishops, Papal processions and latin Mass parts. I wasn’t sure whether it was an image of church which would offer genuine hope and belonging to our young Catholics. Clerical distancing sits uneasily with my personal understanding of the Gospel.
But the WYD experience was all-inclusive, despite how it may have looked on TV. The black and crimson blurred with the crowds, even if they had the best positions at the liturgy. ...although, one bishop commented they couldn’t see anything, because they were sitting behind everything and couldn’t see any of the big screens! There were soutanes, habits, mitres, shorts, skirts, T-shirts, puffer-jackets and Mexican ponchos. Get over it, I said to myself! All have a special part to play, all are welcome, all are church. And what a wonderful kaleidoscope of traditions our Catholic Church has! I was surprised when one young woman from our group commented that it didn’t feel like we were in another country. I was surprised to find myself agreeing with her. The experience was completely multicultural because people were simply everywhere. The Australian volunteers were marvellous, but it was as though every pilgrim had claimed Sydney as their own. It could have been Auckland or Dunedin, London or Rome or Manila.
People had come from everywhere. The common language was Christ. How can this realisation not have a lasting impact on us? The words of St Paul leapt to life around us. Everywhere we walked, surrounded by myriad cultures, there was ‘neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we were all one in Christ Jesus’. (Gal. 3:28) Once seen, that’s a hard thing to forget!
‘ Young people’ are, technically, 16-35 by the WYD rules. This is very liberating and challenging! When the cry goes out from most parishes: “We need to bring in the young people”, we need to be thinking of our 32-year-olds as much as our high school students. Young people are not a commodity to be managed, enticed or tolerated. They want to belong. The sad truth is that their general experience in New Zealand is of not being needed or wanted.
Pope Benedict in his World Youth Day Mass homily called for the young people of the world to respond to the Holy Spirit’s call for them to belong and to participate in the continuous renewal of the church. Our task involves letting them. Perhaps even more importantly, inviting them and supporting them.
If ever there was a symbol of hope for a New Zealand legacy from WYD08 it would have to be the ability of young people to be patient and to wait. They waited for the week to finally arrive, and for customs officials at airports, They waited for two-and-a-half hours to get along with the crowd into the opening Mass at Barangaroo, and it took two hours to leave afterwards. They waited for trains and up to two hours for food – which sometimes never arrived – for group members to turn up, and for McDonalds queues to end. They waited for the Pope to arrive and for the Randwick Mass to begin. As unbelievable as it sounds, our young people have an amazing capacity to wait.
Thank God! It strikes me that many have been waiting a long time within our parishes – and many outside our parishes – for the call to come and to belong. A key question is how long are we prepared to make them wait now? Some have been waiting 50 years or more. The legacy of World Youth Day has begun. Just as was promised by Pope Benedict, those who attended received power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. And they are God’s witnesses. Invite them in, call for their stories, listen to them.
I am writing this, sleep-deprived, with still sore feet and a virus threatening in my throat, yet feeling wonderfully hope-filled. I’ve been a Director of Religious Studies for 14 years and involved in all sorts of ways at the parish level for most of my life. I’d like to think I’m not completely ignorant about the huge challenge that is posed to us ‘wrinklies’ by the expectations and vitality which the returning pilgrims bring back to our communities. I’m not suggesting an easy transition or radical change. I’m simply saying: let’s acknowledge the tremendous faith of so many of our young people. Let’s welcome, respect and encourage them. Let’s go to them and listen to them.
Great things can come of simple encounters. The young people do not only bear the hope of our church, they bear the hope of their church. We are one body and the Holy Spirit is at work – and never more so evident was it than at World Youth Day ’08!
Colin McLeod is Director of Religious Studies at Kavanagh College, Dunedin.
We were part of one family Linnea Helm
The golden moment for me at World Youth Day was the evening liturgy by candlelight at Randwick. You would turn around, and all you could see for miles and miles was a sea of candles. That vision will stay with me always. There was a sense of unity: everyone there for the same reason. We were part of one family. We realised how huge the church really is: everyone there in the Holy Spirit.
We saw the Pope in his Popemobile arriving and going to the stage. It had taken us most of the day to get there, but by this time it was dark. Then the World Youth Day song started and everyone sang it together. That was really cool! Everyone knew the chorus.
The Pope is a very warm person. We saw him picking up young children and blessing them. We could see it all on the big screen. When he did that, everyone started to chant Benedicto! and clap together. The passage from Acts 1:8 was read out: “You shall receive power... and you shall be my witnesses”. Then were reflections and prayers in different languages. Between each reflection we sang the chorus of the World Youth Day song altogether. One language used was Tongan, for the people of the South Pacific.
When the Pope was speaking, both in the evening and at the Mass on Sunday, he broke off in the middle and apologised to everyone who had been hurt by the whole sexual abuse scandal. He said: a few priests can do wrong, but that doesn’t mean that every priest or the whole church is bad. I really liked hearing that.
What was amazing at the Mass was the Pope’s homily and the fact that everyone was able to receive communion – we hadn’t expected that that could be even possible. Around us were people from all around the world: from Alaska and from the Philippines, I remember. And we met some really cool folk from Madagascar.
One day we met some pilgrims from Brazil who had just come off the train. They were chanting and singing, so we joined them. They taught us the tune, and we sang Alleluia as a chorus. They had drums and tambourines, and everyone danced down the street together.
The school where we stayed was amazing. They provided computers for us to email, and the teachers came in and gave us breakfast. There was a French group with us, and all the walls were covered with signs in French. Around the city we were always getting lost – but it didn’t really matter. There were lots of WYD volunteers with red jackets and fluorescent torches who would point the way.
Another very impressive experience was the Stations of the Cross. The action started at the Opera House, moved from place to place round Sydney and finished up at Barangaroo near where we were. We actually saw Jesus being whipped. He was first tied up by his hands and lowered behind a screen; then he came up held up by his feet, and covered with blood.
We saw Simon carrying the Cross and Jesus being dragged along the ground. But we also watched some Stations like the Crucifixion on the big screens. It was wonderfully done – it wasn’t at all tacky. When Jesus was taken down there was a long interval with Mary weeping, and it really touched your heart. You felt you were really present.
There was also the catechesis every morning. We had Bishop Pat Dunn from Auckland the second day. We all loved him. He made it very easy to follow. Then we had Mass. On the third day the Scottish bishop taught us about being witnesses. He said: “Preach the gospel at all times – and if necessary, use words!” That really stayed with me. The Sydney people were very friendly and helpful. All the time people would stop and want to help us – or they would pass by in a car and toot their horns and wave to us. They were really amazing. In fact the whole experience was really cool.
Linnea Helm is a Year 13 student at Kavanagh College