The Catholic Church in Spain will benefit greatly from this week’s World Youth Day – and in ways that can’t be imagined yet, say Australian Catholics who hosted the 2008 gathering in Sydney.
“God works in many and mysterious ways - but God is at work,” said Cardinal George Pell of Syndey, after attending a rally of over 4,000 Australian pilgrims in Madrid on August 16.
“One of things we’ve learned in Sydney is that so many spontaneous growths and activities have sprung up themselves since World Youth Day. We haven’t really organized them, but when you plant seeds in the hearts of people they germinate and flower in very different ways,” he told CNA.
Today’s Australian gathering was held in the indoor Palacio de Deportes stadium in central Madrid. The event featured various testimonies from young people who had attended WYD in Sydney.
“Yeah, until I had to write my testimony I hadn’t realized just how much World Youth Day in Sydney has changed my life,” said 29-year-old teacher, Cheryl Fernandez, from Sydney.
She told the crowd of Australians how “it led me to know more about my faith and share it with others.”
Fernandez advised rookie WYD pilgrims “to take it all in this week. It can be really overwhelming so just let the Holy Spirit do his work.”
The two-hour celebration also featured indigenous Australian culture provided by didgeridoo player Robert Dann and several young aboriginal dancers. Time was also devoted to studying the life of Saint Mary MacKillop, the 19th century nun who last year became the first Australian to be canonized.
The whole Madrid event was hosted by two young Australian Catholics - Kiri Groeneveld from Brisbane and Jack O’Sullivan from Melbourne.
“World Youth Day in Sydney really opened my eyes to the universality of the Catholic Church,” said 20-year-old Jack, a youth worker with his local diocese.
“Not only the diversity in Australia but of the whole world; we come from such different walks of life and yet share something so wonderful in common in our Catholic faith.”
A similar story was told by Therese Nichols who this week is leading a group of pilgrims from the Australian Catholic University.
“The Catholic University took seven pilgrims to World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005. This week we’ve got 87 pilgrims here. So what happened in between? Sydney World Youth Day,” said Therese to CNA.
One of the final speeches today came from Bishop Christopher Prowse of Sale in Victoria who challenged the thousands of young pilgrims in attendance to go back out into the world with an “attitude of the Gospel and not the attitude of a world that’s so confused – the ‘me’ world.”
“The more you run away from the cross of Jesus Christ, the more you will become despairing,” he said.
“The more you’ll wake up in the morning here in Madrid and say, ‘the showers were cold’, ‘there were no cornflakes for breakfast – it was all these coffee and cakes,’ ‘my feet are sore, there’s too much walking, ‘my pilgrim leader is bossy’, ‘those people from New South Wales make too much noise.’”
“It was fantastic, a really great way to kick-off the week,” said 26-year-old Angela Moore from Melbourne, as she began to leave the stadium.
“We’ve had a fantastic time at this Aussie gathering. It’s been so wonderful for our young people to come here and experience a gathering with so many young Catholics from Australia,” said 30-year-old group leader, Fran Davis, also from Melbourne.
“Yes, there’s no doubt whatsoever that time and time and time again WYD gatherings have demonstrated the strength of the faith and goodness of young people,” Cardinal Pell stated.
“The mixture works. There’s no doubting the evidence. It’s one of the greatest legacies of John Paul II.”