A joyful pilgrimage experience

You might be surprised to learn that one of my happiest and enduring memories from our recent Diocesan World Youth Day pilgrimage to the Holy Land and to Portugal is of our group of 44 young Catholics playing games, singing, and dancing together by the pool with childlike joy and enthusiasm on our final afternoon and evening together before beginning the long journey home.

We had spent eight days following in the steps of Jesus around the Holy Land. Visiting and touching with our own hands where Jesus was born, crucified, and rose from the dead. We reflected upon many of Jesus’ teachings and miracles in the very places where he gave and performed them. We prayed where he had prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. We encountered Jesus in the stony villages, along the dusty roads, and by the Galilee lakeside where he, two thousand years before, had encountered many other needy and sinful people just like us.

We had spent a week in Lisbon enjoying the many activities of World Youth Day – which is really a World Youth Week. With one and a half million other young Catholics from around the world we caught the infectious bug of joy which seems to go everywhere Pope Francis goes. We delighted in his presence as he delighted in ours. We listened to and pondered his teachings given to us over several days. We were inspired by the testimonies of other young people, marvelling at the many ways a person can come to God and share the Gospel with others.

We had received catechesis from Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals. Each one spoke differently, yet each one spoke of the love and mercy of God who loves us just as we are and who loves us so much not to leave us just as we are. Throughout the week we had also sang, danced, worshipped, and prayed with Catholic youth from around the world. We realized that we are far from alone.

We had also visited the historical city of Athens with its crumbling acropolis, and the visionary town of Fatima with its call to a peaceful world order founded on prayer and the love of God. And everywhere we went we prayed together (especially the Rosary) and we celebrated Mass together. These special Masses were usually one of the highlights of each day as recounted by our young people in our evening small group sessions held to reflect upon the day.

All these wonderful things we did were not just individual experiences for our own self-betterment or memories to be stored away like old photos in an album. No, they were things we did together. They were experiences which, as well as developing our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, also united us to each other and built us up as a community of disciples, as the body of Christ, as the Church.

So, on that last afternoon of our pilgrimage as we enjoyed a rare opportunity to relax, I witnessed a group of young Catholics who played and laughed together with the innocence and delight of children of God. I saw a group of young Catholics who loved and included each other, who were patient and kind with each other, who had forgiven each other the little hurts and annoyances caused along the way. I saw a group of young Catholics who were happy to have endured the heat, the blisters, the lack of sleep, and the crush of the crowds which are part and parcel of every World Youth Day pilgrimage because they had grown in the love of God and love for one another.

May our pilgrimage we call life be just the same!

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Bishop Michael Kennedy Image
Bishop Michael Kennedy

Bishop Michael Kennedy is the ninth Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. 

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