This time next year World Youth Day 2008 will have come and gone. The Days in the Dioceses of New Zealand will have been successful, we will have had the privilege of hosting young pilgrims from other parts of the world, the week in Sydney culminating in the vigil with Pope Benedict XVI and the Papal Mass will be over. But will anything have changed? Will more young people be involved in the life of the church? Will more young people be reflecting on the gospel, praying and reaching out to the world around them? Will some be pondering the question of a vocation to the priesthood and religious life?
If we all do our part World Youth Day will make an enormous difference to the church in Oceania. Last October the bishops wrote:
The days in Sydney are aimed at the young; the 16 to 35-year-old age group. But the Days in the Diocese that precede them are aimed at everyone. The Catholic Church in this country will host the world. The experience of past World Youth Days confirms that those who welcome young foreign pilgrims into their homes will emerge changed—reaffirmed in their faith. The freshness of youthful witness and the excitement of the celebration of faith is perhaps the greatest gift of World Youth Day.
We, the Bishops of Aotearoa New Zealand, warmly urge you to involve yourselves deeply in the preparations for the world’s visit. Make certain that you are a part of this unique faith experience by opening your homes and sharing in these days.
We are all invited to be involved in the preparation and the follow up to World Youth Day. That means we involve them today, invite them into parish and community ministries for which they were baptised, and in which they so much want to be involved. I quote again from something the bishops said at the Synod for Oceania in 1998 and which Pope John Paul later wrote in Ecclesia in Oceania:
The Synod Fathers wanted to assure the youth of the church in Oceania that they are called to be “salt of the earth and the light of the world” (Mt 5:13,14). The bishops wished them to know that they are a vital part of the church today, and that church leaders are keen to find ways to involve young people more fully in the church’s life and mission. Young Catholics are called to follow Jesus: not just in the future as adults, but now as maturing disciples. May they always be drawn to the overwhelmingly attractive figure of Jesus, and stirred by the challenge of the gospel’s sublime ideals! Then they will be empowered to take up the active apostolate to which the church is now calling them, and play their part joyfully and energetically in the life of the church at every level: universal, national, diocesan and local.
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I was immensely proud of the organisation around the diocese for the Journey of the WYD Cross and Icon. I take this opportunity to sincerely thank the young and the not so young who worked so hard to make that journey one of many rich blessings. I was also immensely proud and very privileged to accompany the six diocesan ambassadors and students from our three Māori colleges to Sydney to hand over the cross and icon to the church and the young people of Australia. Those young people were proof to me of the eagerness of the young to be people of prayer and to be drawn into the mission of the church.
The Journey of the Cross and Icon were days of wonderful blessings and the handover in Sydney were days of rich participation.
As we continue to prepare for Days in the Diocese in July next year, and to support those going to World Youth Day we do so in the certain knowledge that these young people have so much to offer and that they will enrich the church.
Our New Zealand Project Manager, David Mullin, has been saying of the effort and money being invested in World Youth Day,
‘We are building a cathedral – a living cathedral—we are building something that will last for years and years to come.’
We have witnessed the impact of the cross and icon already. Together we can contribute to something greater, something that will last as we all work together to build our living cathedral of young people. Our 2006 Synod called us to invest in youth and young adults, not just financially, but through prayer, time, encouragement and support. World Youth Day 2008 may be our greatest opportunity.