July 16, 2008
Last night was the opening Mass for World Youth Day, presided over by George Cardinal Pell of Sydney. It took place at Barangaroo, a recently created outdoor site on the waterfront. . . .
Hundreds of thousands of people were there. (The newspaper reports vary. Some say 140,000. All I know is that there was a lot of people!). It was beautiful. It was the official opening ceremony of the World Youth Day week, yet it reminded me of the closing Mass in Cologne. It's wonderful to have that kind of enthusiasm so early on!
Groups from all over the world waved their flags and cheered regional songs. Such representation was also reflected on the ceremony stage and at the altar. Before the Mass, an Aboriginal group performed some traditional dances. Then the recently elected Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. Kevin Rudd, gave a welcome to all the people there. He greeted us in many different languages, welcoming us all to Australia and concluding with an 'Australian' welcome: "G'day, and have a great time Down Under." It was inspiring to see the nation's leader speak about the right and influential place of faith in the 21st Century. During Mass, young people representing each continent presented the gifts for consecration. There were many reflections of the diversity in our one Church.
It was amazing to be united with so many different people, together in prayer. Different speakers pointed out that, for this week, Sydney has become the center of the Catholic world. I thought to myself how amazing this is, considering Catholicism's history in Australia. The first Catholics arrived in Australia as convicts when Australia was a British penal colony. For a time, it was illegal to be Catholic, for fear of uprisings and discrimination against Irish and the lower English classes. In fact, Mass was sometimes celebrated 'underground' in house churches, much like the early Christians in Rome. But now, this week, Catholics from all over the world are uniting in Sydney. What an astounding reflection of God's grace in reconciling and nurturing our world over time!
My group had arrived at our camp late Monday night, and yesterday morning I sleepily walked out of my cabin to a stunningly beautiful scene. Our camp is right on a water inlet, with wide rivers and coves meeting beneath hills of tropical trees that house all sorts of fascinating birds. In the morning, the bright light shone through the blue mist on the water. It was breath-taking. There on the waterfront, I prayed Morning Prayer and the Office of Readings with two of my fellow students and one of our priests. What a blessing! We were really struck by the correlation of the readings with our surroundings, praising God for His creation.
Yesterday I also checked out the Vocations Fair in one of the large convention halls and happened to run into some of my friends (from Rome, France, California) at different places. That's what's funny about saying "See you at World Youth Day!" Among the thousands, it seems impossible, but God's providence provides for some funny 'coincidences'.
Today we had our first catechetical session in the morning. In the afternoon I checked out a festival at the Australian Catholic University. More about all that tomorrow...
Pax et Bonum!