Lights shining brightly

World Youth Day (WYD) is a global event, bringing together millions of young people from all over the world to celebrate their faith with the Pope. It is a Pilgrimage, a celebration of youth, and an expression of the universal church.

This year’s theme, “Mary arose and went with haste” (Luke 1:39), was a call for young people to rise and be the light of the world. And with 1.5 million young people in attendance, their light certainly shone brightly.

44 Pilgrims from across the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, including Bishop Michael Kennedy, eagerly departed Australia on 22 July, bound for the first stage of their pilgrimage – a 9-day journey through the Holy Land - before heading on to Lisbon for a week of celebrations, followed by a period of reflection.

We followed the journey of four of these Pilgrims: Josh Latimore, Summer Harrison, Ellen Morgan, and Rory Dinnen-Griffin – and share their highlights here.

Journey through the Holy Land

Following in the footsteps of Jesus. the Pilgrims started their journey at Bethlehem, his place of birth, before heading to other sacred and historically significant sites: the Dead Sea, Jericho, Galilee, Nazareth, Cana, Mt Tabor, Caesarea Philippi, Mt of Beatitudes, Haifa, Mt Carmel, Caesarea Maritima and finally Jerusalem.

At Galilee, the pilgrims set out on a traditional ‘Jesus Boat’ to the middle of Lake Galilee for a private Mass. Unlike when Jesus calmed the storm, the Sea of Galilee was peaceful and restful, allowing the pilgrims to float quietly, reflecting on the miracles of Jesus.

“Galilee is an absolutely gorgeous area” and many parts of the visit to Galilee became highlights of the journey, including watching “the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee,” shared Pilgrim Rory Dineen-Griffin.

The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth was another significant site with its linkage to the WYD theme: “Mary went with haste”.

Pilgrim Josh Latimore reflected, “We got to meditate and contemplate Mary’s ‘yes’, which really is the most powerful ‘yes’ that has been uttered throughout history. It’s a really good time to take a moment to reflect on how we can say ‘yes’ to God every day.”

“I am in utter awe”, said Summer Harrison, of their visit to Nazareth, “and usually we refer to awe as one of the charisms to do with nature, but I am in such awe of the place as Jesus lived about 500m northwest of where I am standing right now and that is just amazing. He lived in these exact same streets that we are walking on right now”.

At the Jordan River the Pilgrims renewed their Baptismal promises.

Ellen Morgan shared, “It’s absolutely wild that we’re here in the same area that Jesus got baptised by John the Baptist”.

Their arrival at Jerusalem marked the end of their journey and as they departed the Holy Land for WYD celebrations, the Pilgrims were filled with awe, wonder and spiritual enrichment.

As Josh Latimore reflected on the journey, he shared that his highlight was ”absolutely the Holy Sepluchre”.

“That was such a special experience being able to be in the tomb that our Lord rose from, and being there in that prayerful space was really special to me and I don’t think I will ever forget it,” said Josh.

World Youth Day

Arriving in Lisbon, Portugal with a renewed sense of purpose, the pilgrims embraced the electric atmosphere with excitement.

Over the next six days, they began each morning with prayer, reconciliation, and mass. Days were then filled with youth festival events, featuring music, dance and dramatic performances from all around the world in small and large stadiums and venues across the city.

As Pope Francis arrived in Lisbon, the mood intensified with the sound of Pilgrims chanting ‘Esta es la juventud del papa!’ - this is the youth of the Pope.

The pilgrims immersed themselves in infectious atmosphere and the scorching temperatures did not deter many from walking the 11km journey with Pope Francis for the Way of the Cross.

The Vigil on Saturday evening was a time to come together with Pope Francis in prayer and song, to reflect on their faith, and to prepare for the closing Papal Mass. It was a powerful and moving experience that was a highlight of World Youth Day for the pilgrims.

Finally, on Sunday morning, Pope Francis celebrated Mass with over 1.5 million young people from all over the world. His message was clear: “No tengan miedo” - do not be afraid. He urged young people to be bold in their faith and to spread God’s message to the world.

The journey concluded for the pilgrims with a retreat in the Porto region, allowing the pilgrims to rest, unwind and process the amazing days of the Pilgrimage and
World Youth Day events.

“Coming here I thought I would find God more in the physical such as nature or the sacred sites we are visiting”, shared Summer Harrison, “however, I found out that God is really revealing himself through the people we have met and different Pilgrims”.

Ellen Morgan added “I have learnt that the Church is not dead”. She reflected how there were 1.5 million people at the Saturday night vigil, one of her highlights of World Youth Day.

“I learnt about the importance of prayer, and the importance of taking time just to get away from all of the noise and just be quiet and present with the Lord”, shared Josh Latimore. “I will be able to share my experience with others by giving personal testimony and witness of the things I saw”.

“One of the questions coming onto this was am I on the right path in my life. And I think I have learnt that I am on the right path, as I am embracing God’s will,” said Summer.

She encourages “Every young Catholic should at least go on one youth day. There are other young Catholics out there, and you are never alone in your faith”.

“If you are considering going to World Youth Day, definitely do it”, said Rory Dineen-Griffin. “If you have the opportunity, say yes”.

As the lights go down on a WYD journey the pilgrims will never forget, we know that their personal lights will continue to shine brightly.




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