Photo: Fr. Mark Baron, MIC
Some 150,000 youth were greeted by warm weather in Sydney on the opening day. And the young people got a text message from none other than Benedict XVI. The Pope's message said: "Young friends, God & his people expect much from u, because u have within u the Father's supreme gift: the Spirit of Jesus -- BXVI."
In Sydney: Embracing the World Youth Day Spirit
Our own Fr. Mark Baron, MIC, has traveled to Sydney, Australia, to cover World Youth Day '08, the largest youth event in the world, which runs from Tuesday, July 15, to Sunday, July 20. We invite you to read his first dispatch:
By Fr. Mark Baron, MIC
It's only Wednesday‚ 24 hours after it began, and already we can say that World Youth Day 2008 is the most successful event held in Sydney, Australia, since the 2000 Olympics.
This is how the editorial began in the Daily Telegraph newspaper in Sydney:
Yes, World Youth Day has begun. It officially began Tuesday with a light schedule of activities that culminated with the opening Mass celebrated by Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney. There were over 150,000 pilgrims that crammed into picturesque Barangaroo Harbor for the Mass. It sure felt like a lot more, but that is all they say this beautiful location can hold. So it has begun.
It is hard to put into words what I am seeing this event already do for Sydney. Admittedly, I have never been to Australia before. All I really knew about this country prior to coming for World Youth Day is that it played a weird brand of "football" and it was the birthplace of people like Olivia Newton John and Greg Norman and that Mel Gibson's family moved here when he was a boy. Oh, yeah, and they have a lot of kangaroos and koalas and a place called the Outback — which is not a steakhouse, by the way. So I have precious little knowledge of Sydney and its personality to be an expert on what an event such as World Youth Day is doing for Sydney.
But there is something happening. I hear it, and I feel it.
The run up to World Youth Day was filled with‚in one sense‚ your typical cynical attitude that comes upon the secular media and culture when a big Catholic event comes to town. I saw this in America in anticipation of Pope Benedict XVI's visit this past spring. I sensed it here in Australia as well. I spent the week before World Youth Day down in Melbourne, and there were more than a few stories on Cardinal Pell and clergy abuse in the Australian Church. I have heard that the locals weren't really sure what they were going to be getting with all those "Catholic thumpers" coming to invade their beautiful city — and it is beautiful. What's it going do to the traffic after all?
Just like in America, though, the people — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — are getting hit with something totally different and unexpected and, well, of course, beautiful! They are beginning to be overwhelmed by a spirit of love and joy that only the Spirit of God can produce. On a national morning news show, for example, one of the anchors actually commented that the youth here are not intoxicated on drugs or alcohol but with love. Another story, in the Daily Telegraph, actually mentioned how Sydney hasn't had this kind of natural high since the Olympics — only it is better.
What the people of Syndey are getting, actually, is a supernatural high. They are experiencing Catholics visiting their city who are filled with — and are seeking — the love of God in the person of Jesus Christ. What they are getting, then, are witnesses. Jesus told His disciples to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. And you can't go much more end than Australia. So this is what Sydney is getting — witnesses. Joy-filled witnesses. They have come from all over the world to experience their faith and to genuinely let it shine for their gracious hosts. It's the "Catholic World Cup," as one article proclaimed, but "minus the hooliganism, unaffordable tickets and soccer matches."
This is already the effect of World Youth Day on Sydney, Australia, and this is only after the first day!