50 Days; Melbourne Takes up the Cross

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Sydney Is Getting Ready for the Pilgrims

By Catherine Smibert

SYDNEY, Australia, MAY 29, 2008 (Zenit.org).- If they didn't know it before, the residents of Sydney now know that World Youth Day pilgrims will soon be flooding their streets, shores, shopping malls and media.

The city's consciousness was awakened last weekend when scores of young volunteers in Sydney gave up their Saturday to hand out postcards and balloons, informing the people of Sydney of the upcoming youth day.

The event is part of the archdiocesan Catholic Youth Service (CYS) strategy to engage the wider community in the activities to take place July 15-20. The mission is called "Operation Activate" -- or "Act1v8" -- based on the theme of the World Youth Day as taken from Acts 1:8.

Event coordinator of the CYS team, Vincent Haber, told me that the occasion was just one activity among many promotional engagements the group has been coordinating over the last couple of years.

"With this exercise though, we brought out the fresh face of World Youth Day, coupled with our enthusiasm for it, to the general public who could stop, ask questions, have a chat and get concise information booklets which aren't available online," he added.

Participant Monica Doumit, 26, felt the activity was vital in combating some of the negative secular press around the event. "There are people who have heard about World Youth Day, but many of them needed to have the facts clarified and be personally invited before taking that step toward volunteering or even registering."

Doumit's friend, Vicki Kassouf, added that she liked the chance to evangelize: "Some people were a little nervous about being open in their faith and it was so special when they stopped for a chat and talked about their past experiences and faith journey."

Corinne Lindsell, a 24-year-old homestay coordinator for her parish, noted that "the momentum was there, the excitement was there, and the reality that it is only seven weeks away hit home."

On Sunday, the Sydney bishops, priests and seminarians led the same youth team and general parishioners in a Corpus Christi procession.

The event attracted a lot of attention by passers by, and Sydney's youth were again on hand wearing T-shirts with the encouraging words "ask me" printed across them.

"Being able to use today as a trigger to discuss our faith with those on the streets is such a special witness we've given to our city," said 23-year-old World Youth Day coordinator for Franciscan youth, Ben Galea. "It's just a taste of what World Youth Day will do to our whole country."

On Monday -- exactly 50 days before the youth event -- the World Youth Day organizing committee held a press conference to unveil Benedict XVI's scheduled face-to-face encounters with young people.

These include the traditional lunch with 12 selected youth; a Mass with seminarians during which the Pope will bless and dedicate the cathedral's new altar; and a unique request made by Benedict XVI himself to meet with some of Sydney's disadvantaged young people.

"Those he will meet are young people alienated from the many positive messages that World Youth Day promotes," said Bishop Anthony Fisher at the press conference.

The coordinator of the youth day added, "This will be a beginning point that links them into the ongoing healing mission of the Catholic Church."

With 50 days to go, excitement is building, according to Activ8 volunteer, Monica Doumit. "Seeing the impact of those encounters last weekend alone, and recalling my experience in Cologne, now I can't help but engage everyone in World Youth Day conversation.

"I find myself talking about World Youth Day on the train, to the guy that I'm buying coffee from, at work and everywhere because we young people know its potential!"

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Blogging a Journey

If you didn't catch the World Youth Day cross, icon and Aboriginal message stick as they traveled through Melbourne from April 25 to May 10, check on line.

The World Youth Day symbols have been traveling all over Australia, touching the lives of many Australians, but the Archdiocese of Melbourne wanted to reach out to even more by posting the events of the cross, icon and message stick online.

Belinda White, communications manager for Melbourne's Days in the Diocese, says that it's vital to utilize modern technologies combined with these events with "the aim to encourage young people to embrace their spiritual identity, celebrate empowerment and spread the strong message of peace."

The blog for the Melbourne journey of the cross and icon is filled with up-to-date video streaming, photos and reports composed "from the heart," as White says.

White and her team are highly conscious to engage all the pilgrims destined for Melbourne's Days in the Dioceses to know what they're about to experience.

She tells the youth of the world to be assured of meeting many faithful friends in Melbourne as the numbers of the attendees to these cross and icon events over the first six days alone drew double the amount of young people as the Melbourne team originally forecast.

Tim Davies, Days in the Diocese project officer looking after youth engagement and international liaison, observed with interest how the occasions have "gone beyond just the usual group we expected to attend and it was refreshing to see new faces from all over."

He says that though many are turning up not knowing what to expect, the impact of the journey of the cross and icon activities and symbols upon them is noteworthy.

"I have literally watched transformations," the young leader insists. "Girls from a particular school began one event by standing by distracted and uninterested. I observed their whole demeanor change as it came to be their turn to take up the cross. The reverence it suddenly inspired was astounding."

He continued with the example of "another occasion which had the students from six schools reflecting on the charisms of their respective founders. And when it came to Marcellin College, 50 teenage boys broke into spontaneous Latin a cappella song."

Stylistically, the week's events of the Journey of the Cross and Icon is indicative of the Days in the Diocese programming Melbourne is planning for July 10-14, noted Brother Mark Connors who heads up the Melbourne Days in the Diocese offices.

"Our mission is to serve and inspire young people here on their way to Sydney," he told me, "and we aim to do this through celebrating our Catholicity in the living Church of Melbourne, providing generous hospitality for pilgrims and creating opportunities where the gifts of life and faith are exchanged."

Brother Connors said Melbourne is expecting 25,000 youth from all over the world to visit the city and that "they are all set to be treated to a smorgasbord of events -- the biggest youth event ever to be staged in Victoria -- to prepare them better for their pilgrimage to Sydney."

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On the Road

A common saying for youth day pilgrims is, "It's not the destination but the pilgrimage that counts." To that end, Sydney is gearing up to make journeying around the city as smooth as possible

The state government of New South Wales has created a World Youth Day Coordination Authority, and it is responsible for making all citizens aware of the events to take place this July. Large electronic road signs across the state have been programmed to count down the days to the World Youth Day celebrations, as well as call for volunteers to help out with it.

The authority has also created a system via their Web site "to provide the community -- participants and non-participants alike -- with the information they will need to plan and manage their lives, their businesses and their travel during the week of World Youth Day activities."

The Road and Traffic Authority will also provide detailed information to the site regarding detailed road closures, traffic flow alterations and additional public transport that will be in place for the events.

Apprehensions have been raised about the organization of roads and public transport for the pilgrims, but the World Youth Day organizers and the state of New South Wales assure that with just under three months to go, transport coordination for the mobility of both pilgrims and citizens is well under way.

When a journalist questioned Bishop Anthony Fisher, coordinator of the youth day, about the inconvenience of the event to citizens, the prelate stated, "When you have someone to your home to stay, it always puts you out a little from your average routine […] but that's the nature of hospitality."

"I'm sure that once the youth of the world are smiling throughout the streets of Sydney," he added, "we will forget about complaining."

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