The experience of World Youth Day was overwhelmingly one of living in a huge community where God often shone through the people one met yet, at other times, it was a challenge, as PN diocesan youth worker, Jonny Boon, wrote, ‘to see the face of Jesus in the members of your group’.
Many Palmerston North and Wellington pilgrims had to overcome a number of hurdles even before boarding the plane to Sydney.
Manawatu coordinator, Kathleen Field, wrote of the 80 from Dannevirke, Pahiatua, Hato Paora and St Peters colleges and the three city parishes driving through the icy dark to Hamilton airport.
On arrival in Sydney, the Hato Paora boys had to sing for their transport because they were not booked on local transport.
‘They entertained local press for half an hour with some of their magnificent singing until transport could be arranged.’
Elizabeth Perham has dismissed some of the inconveniences of ‘queuing for everything, going to bed late and getting up early, walking and walking and walking,’ in favour of a general ‘rave about how great it was.’
‘It was also useful for us, at the time, to bear in mind that challenges are part of pilgrimage and dealing with them did indeed make the experience all the richer, because it is often in facing challenges that we are most acutely aware that God is right there, helping us through.’
Kathleen Field cites one uncomfortable challenge for many pilgrims—that of coping with huge temperature changes in Sydney’s daytime warmth but nighttime cold and the close proximity to others which meant that flu bugs spread rapidly.
‘What hope did we have of a positive experience when (our host school) was forced to send us sickly on our way each day.
‘Up stepped the kind and caring Catholic community of Sutherland and soon all the sick were in comfortable beds in warm and caring homes.’
Jonny Boon suggests that a prerequisite for a group leader is to have the memory of a goldfish.
‘This is important because you MUST be able to forget what happened late last night, when one of your group decided that it would be really funny to wind up their very noisy kinetic WYD torch at 2am and at 3am and at 4am—you get the idea.’
When travelling with a group, nothing happens quickly or easily. ‘It is important to be able to forget that someone in your group has wandered off again and is holding your group up for the fourth time today.’
It can be a real challenge to see the face of Jesus within the members of your group.
‘The little things that people do that amuse us when we see them in small doses become like nails down a blackboard when you cannot get away from them.
‘It is because you cannot find any space to yourself sometimes, that a WYD pilgrimage can test your ability to see Jesus in those around you. Let us not forget that they are just as likely to be struggling to see the divine in you.
‘It reminds me of my favourite word from our prayer, “The Our Father”—As. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” I think that we sometimes forget that it is a two-way process. I believe that God does forgive us, as we are forgiving those around us.
‘WYD brings us closer to Jesus even in those moments when we are struggling. It is often those difficult times that teach us more about ourselves and others and, in doing so, we can learn more about God.’
Images: Top: pilgrims from St Peter’s College;
Middle: Pilgrims from Manitoba, Canada, visiting Himitangi Beach during Days in the Diocese
Bottom: Jonny Boon snatching a few more minutes before ‘getting up’ for Mass at Randwick Racecourse on Sunday morning of World Youth Day.