Vol 42 No 3
WYD08 an unforgettable event:
DAVID GEORGE AND CHAKRI CASTILLO
I WAS LUCKY enough to go to World Youth Day in Cologne back in 2005. I travelled with some seventy students and teachers that came from Catholic schools all around Sydney. My highlight there was not in Germany but in the Czech Republic, during our pilgrimage towards the German city. After visiting a Cathedral on top of a tall hill, we ventured down into the town which was quiet during its siesta. As I’m just walking normally an Italian man heading towards me notices that I’m wearing a crucifix around my neck. He stopped in his tracks, looks at me stunned, and gasps, ‘ Ha! Are you Catholic?’ To which my mortified self answered: ‘Yes’. The man, so truly amazed to have stumbled across another Catholic, opened his arms out and gave me a hug. Now, being in a foreign country and being hugged by a complete stranger did raise my suspicions but, after checking my pockets, and everything being there, the man was legit. He honestly felt exalted that he came across another Catholic; I think I made his day too; he was quite stoked from the whole occasion. While I thought one bloke embracing another on the basis of their Catholicism wasn’t something I’d ever expect to see in Australia, the act of someone simply being filled with joy from another person’s common beliefs was one that was quite humbling, to say the least.
Now, in 2008, a wave of youth has sprawled through our city, and I saw this simple act being repeated hundreds of times a day, day after day for that whole week. And it was normal! We all prayed together, sang together, ate together, danced together, went to catechesis, Mass and received the Eucharist together—all in the name of our beliefs. Crowds of crowds were joined together and it was beautiful to see everyone that was young getting into the spirit of things, like nothing I or the Church in Australia has ever seen in Sydney.
We as youth, as a whole, don’t need to be scared of what we believe; WYD has truly opened the eyes and the hearts of the youth. We can own up to being Catholic without feeling put down when asked about it. We don’t need to keep it to ourselves and it is something we are all proud of. While there’s still a lot more work to do, there’s a lot of dust that the WYD broom has swept away. During that week I definitely saw the fruits of what the new Pope Benedict exclaimed to masses around the world from the final Mass in Cologne: ‘ You will receive the power!’ And that we have.
ON SUNDAY the 19th of July, I stood, bleary-eyed alongside 150,000 other pilgrims at Randwick Racecourse, at the final Mass with Pope Benedict. It had been the longest, but by far the best week of my life. I had come into World Youth Week, not expecting to get back as much as I did. Actually, I was one of those pilgrims—the ones that registered five minutes before the deadline, much to the annoyance of my group leaders. I’d spent most of the previous week mulling over whether or not I should go... I was reluctant to because it was such a different experience—one beyond my spiritual comfort zone; I believed in God, but I wasn’t one to proclaim my faith to the world. Until after WYD, many of my friends thought I was agnostic; I’d never volunteered my religious beliefs in fear of being criticized.
Such were the thoughts running through my head but, obviously, I ended up joining most of my youth group, Antioch, as we trekked around the city for five days, attending catechesis, going to youth festivals, listening to talks... There were the special events; like the Opening Mass, Stations of the Cross, and the Receive the Power Concert.. And who could forget mealtimes? Picnics at Darling Harbour and Hyde Park, dining on a lunch feast of canned tuna, baked beans, bread rolls, and Tim Tams; followed by a dinner of various stews and more bread rolls…And after a long, cold windy day, that dinner is more than welcome.
As the week went on, I became more and more enthused about the entire event—the Spirit was flowing through me. It was just such an unbelievable atmosphere to witness and be a part of. I remember walking back from the CBD into Darling Harbour, and hearing a lone voice singing a beautiful, yet unfamiliar melody. The voice seemed to be headed the same direction as I was, and as we got closer towards the harbour, I could hear more voices joining in, singing along to a song that they had recognized. And someone with bongos joined in, and before you knew it, an international choir seemed to have spontaneously materialized out of nowhere.
But what I think truly spoke to me at World Youth Day, or Week (or whatever you choose to call it) was the sleep-out at Randwick Racecourse. I remember walking around, at some indiscernible time of night, with some New Zealander pilgrims I had just met and experiencing so many different ways of praising God. There was a large mob yelling ‘Benedetto!’ while all around the racecourse, candles had been arranged into small shrines. Everywhere you looked, the Holy Spirit seemed to be at work. There were groups dancing, while other teens meandered about with a pen and a smile, asking you to sign their shirt/bag/leg/wobble board. And there were stacks of us wearing ‘Free Hugs’ signs, sharing our own happiness without asking for anything in return. There was such a joyous feel to the entire weekend, joy which was based on our singular faith in God. I think it was then that I—and hopefully many others—fully understood the true meaning of what it is to be a witness to God’s love.
World Youth Day added a dimension to my faith that it didn’t used to have. No longer did I just believe, I was proud that I believed. WYD taught me that my faith and the faith of so many others was so wonderful that it deserved to be proclaimed and defended, and that I should not be afraid to be part of it.
I started wearing my WYD backpack to school. Every now and again, someone will come up to me and say: ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were Catholic.’ And every time, I answer them with my chin held high: ‘Yes, I am... And I’m damn proud of it.’
David George is twenty years old, a Freelance Web Designer and Industrial Design student. He is a leader of the Antioch goup in the parish of Kensington, NSW.
Chakri Castillo is seventeen, a Year 11 Student at Sydney Girls High School. She is a Leader of Kensington Antioch