by Stephanie ManteyPublished in The Compass, April 27, 2009, vol. 4, issue 8
When I heard I might be able to go to Sydney, Australia for World Youth Day, 2008, I was ecstatic. What could be better than two weeks in a foreign country with a bunch of wonderful young Catholics, and celebrating mass with the pope? It didn't take much more than an hour for me to make up my mind that I was going. I decided that this trip would be great. Like Father told us, time and again, "this isn't Cancun guys", and he was right.
As soon as we set foot in Melbourne, we knew that just because World Youth Day was in Australia didn't mean we were immune to cold weather. No sun and surf for us, but I was okay with it. Until we got to Kilbreda College, that is. It was there that I learned what Father told us when he warned us of the physical hardships of World Youth Day. I started off my trip with an ice-cold shower, and set up camp in the chilly gym. Whether we were outside, in the gym, or in Church (which was all the time), we were freezing. The penance had begun.
However, our host principle and students nearly compensated for that by being more than hospitable. They took their time to show us the city, talk to us, set up and clean up after us, and feed us all kinds of delectable desserts. I started my daily regimen of drinking 2 to 3 cups of tea here, and was introduced to Picnics (one of the best candy bars ever) and Tim Tams. We also became accustomed to the many different foods: Sultana Bran (Raisin Bran), flake (shark), and Vegemite (ewww!).
Every day in Melbourne, we would go to Mass, adoration, tea time, and catechesis. During tea time, we would become more acquainted with our foreign brothers and sisters, and during catechesis, we discussed some of the greatest obstacles we, as young Catholics, encountered in our daily lives. Our group was led by Father Daniel, a South African-born priest from Oxford, England. Here, I first began to feel the Spirit of the Church, AKA, The Holy Spirit (which, by the way, was the theme for the WYD). We would discuss with others the fact that we felt alone in the world, trying to keep our morals in a world of agnosticism and relativism. We talked about Pope John Paul II, and his theology of the body. Even though I had missed the presentation due to a minor medical incident (I cut my head open on a faucet earlier and was getting it super-glued), I was still in awe to hear the testimonials from the Chinese. A couple of them elaborated on their experiences in Hong Kong. The communism in China, and the lack of open faith of its people, has led to abuse of the human body, commonly in children as young as 11 and 12, one girl said. After talking for a couple days with my peers and three great college students from Oxford about our troubles in evangelizing, here were two dozen Chinese, dealing not only with peers about troubles with as human dignity, but probably up against a government that is very against the Pope and everything he stands for. To know that they were there to go to World Youth Day, not for all a great vacation, but to meet the people who support and pray for them all around the world, and to see the Pope, the leader of our Church, was inspirational.
Even before traveling to Sydney, we met many great people. The Aussies were exceptional hosts. They were funny, great tour guides, and went out of their way to help us time and again (we're talking coaching Australian Football, making meals, cleaning up after us, and fixing broken heads). Our experience in the Days in the Dioceses prepared us greatly to meet all the people in Sydney, and also prepared us spiritually for our pilgrimage, the mass with our Holy Father, and our experience of the Spirit of the universal Catholic Church. Our trip to Australia definitely wasn't Cancun, but I think I enjoyed it more than I could ever enjoy Cancun, despite the wintry weather.