Pope Benedict has left our shores, at the ends of the earth as it were, but he left behind a generation filled with a passion for Christ. Everywhere Benedict went, crowds of young happy pilgrims hung on his every word. A media hostile to his visit before his arrival were turned around in one week.
Why? Not solely due to the personal charisma of the Holy Father, although he played a major part. Also significant was the enormous good will generated by happy pilgrims who reveled in their faith. On buses and trains and in the streets, pilgrims sang and chanted, leaving a lasting impression on Sydneysiders.
Campion College students participated fully in the events of World Youth Day, including the live Stations of the Cross, the spectacular candlelight Vigil, and the final Mass with Pope Benedict that was also attended by 500,000 other WYD participants. The Holy Father spoke to an attentive audience about deliverance from shallowness and apathy and called youth to be prophets of a new age and to serve the Church. His message entrusting to their care the environment where there are “scars which mark the surface of the earth, erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption,” also struck home to a young audience.
Some examples of how Campion College students were involved in WYD include:
Ruth Russell, our first year student, was in the media on three of the five days discussing chastity. Ruth appeared nationwide on “Good Morning Australia” as well as other programs, including some hostile interviews where the interviewer tried to paint her as somehow deviant because she did not support pre-marital sex.
Our schola, made up of both staff and students, joined the choirs in all of the events, with Bernard Kirkpatrick, Campion’s musical director, serving as the official organist.
Student Stephen Woodnutt was shown live to a world wide TV audience playing the part of a Roman soldier leading Jesus to his death. Camillus O’Kane, a former Campion student, played an apostle at the Last Supper in the Stations of the Cross.
Our debating team won the Papal Plate Debating competition, beating a team of Oxford University pilgrims by taking the negative to the topic “That God is dead.” The Papal Plate soccer and debating competitions were sponsored by Campion College as was Carnivale Christi, the gathering of university students at WYD.
One year old Claire Hill, sister of Campion student Sarah, was singled out for a blessing and kiss by His Holiness. The Hills have 11 children. Sarah appeared with Claire on the nightly news across Australia and in newspapers the next day.
But most of all, pilgrims were struck by the Holy Father’s messages of hope and joy, and that translated into joyful partying and well behaved crowds. Police officers commented that despite 500,000 people partying in Sydney, they had nothing to do. What an example to the world of the young of the Catholic Faith.
In the words of the Holy Father, “Our hearts and minds are yearning for a vision of life where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth and where identity is found in respectful communion. Let this be the message you bring from Sydney to the world.”
By Paul Abela, Development Manager at Campion College Australia. Mr. Abela also was a member of the WYD Sydney 2008 Education Committee.