Hannah’s behind-the-scenes WYD extravaganza

I was recruited to be a workforce coordinator, a fancy title for someone optimistic enough to think it is possible to organise 8000 volunteers into some kind of workable schedule.

I used to think that there was a limit to the number of work-related discussions about toilets in one department. My experience behind the scenes at World Youth Day taught me that this is not so.

Intense discussions about the semi-famous ‘toilet cities’, power point presentations about biscuits and a certain fear of something called a Gantt chart (a timeline of things that ‘really should be done by now’) were all part of my 11 months working full time for the World Youth Day organising committee in Sydney.

I was recruited to be a workforce coordinator, a fancy title for someone optimistic enough to think it is possible to organise 8000 volunteers into some kind of workable schedule. I helped manage a call centre to get this job done. I tell you now that, when Mrs McSheila rings up telling you that she can’t do a Monday afternoon shift because she has to take her cat to the vet—the 378th volunteer to request a change in shift due to feline illnesses—the word ‘stress’ comes to mind.

For those of us who worked months or years towards this event, there was rich irony in the fact that this event was called a ‘day’. World Youth Eternity rang truer for us.

The weeks leading up to World Youth Day can only be likened to having a big assignment due. The only exception is in the penalty—5 percent for a late assignment, half a million disappointed and angry people for a late WYD.
Despite shared fears that this was an impossible task, World Youth Day was a miraculous success. Thousands showed up. The rain did not come. There was a feeling of wellbeing and enthusiasm; of faith and hope. Volunteers volunteered. Catholics catholicked—left, right and centre. There were no terrorist attacks, no bomb threats and the toilet city remained a functioning reality.

I enjoyed seeing every day young people have a laugh and grow closer to each other over their shared mistrust of the warmish meat pie they were served for dinner. I enjoyed seeing sleep-deprived staff have fun using the radio system: ‘Note to all staff, I have located coffee, I repeat, have located coffee. Over.’

I enjoyed finding out that Mum had ‘Sky’ installed so she could watch everything on TV. I enjoyed eating a caramel slice during the final Mass even though I’m not sure what part of the multi-translated catechesis says this is ok. I was inspired by the number of people who prayed hard for this event to happen.

I have to admit that some of the ‘Pope worship’ wasn’t exactly up my alley, and I can’t say I have a deep respect for the conservative groups whose motto seemed to be ‘pray loudly in Latin and let’s do own thing’. Catholics are a mixed bunch, that’s for sure.

The week itself is still a blur but I have some highlights. The venue where I was workforce manager had some stunning volunteers including an older couple who travelled an hour and a half each morning to be on time for their shift at the Domain. Other exhausted volunteers put their hands up to do extra shifts when we were short. People pulled together.
I snuck away from work and ‘took part’ in World Youth Day for only one event: the New Zealand gathering. There is something strangely pleasing to find yourself at home with 4000 young New Zealanders, even when you know you aren’t back in the wonderful land of the long white cloud. It was great to be home.

We had a small staff gathering with the Pope, who, referring to the preparation and hard work, said ‘I am sure, that at times, you would worry.’ It was the biggest understatement of his entire papacy.
I don’t know if World Youth Day will change the world. But if it does it probably won’t happen in a ‘live on Sky’ dramatic way, but in a quiet, person-by-person way.

Being back at Challenge 2000, looking through photos of inspired faces, hearing young people talk about their memories, and the ‘mean as’ time they had makes it 100% worth it for me.

The thing is, young people really are the future. That, and the ‘anything can happen, even toilet cities’ motto, is worth celebrating if you ask me.

Hannah Kennedy works with Challenge 2000.