WYD08 – 3 Years on
Today marks the third anniversary of World Youth Day 08 in Sydney. For me, as for most I suppose, it seems like those three years have flown by. I get asked fairly regularly about what I think WYD08 achieved, especially for the Church in Australia, and I think there are plenty of possible answers to that question. I’d like to highlight just one central point for us to give thanks to God for on this anniversary. It might also help to explain why WYD continues to matter to young Australian Catholics as many young pilgrims make their final preparations to attend the next World Youth Day in Madrid.
You have probably noticed that it’s not all that easy to be a young Catholic in Australia at the moment. The truth is, it never really has been. The first young Catholics in this country were Irish convicts, victims of repressive measures in their homeland. And for the first half of the twentieth century to be Catholic was to be a member of a vilified minority. In the early part of the twenty-first century young Catholics do not suffer outright persecution, but are all too often easily ridiculed, dismissed or mocked for their religious beliefs.
It is important to ‘read’ WYD08 against this cultural backdrop. World Youth Day was far from being a dramatic ‘in your face’ sort of challenge to the mockers and scorners, a sort of victory by sheer overwhelming mass of numbers. This wasn’t a moment of revived triumphalism where we stood down our detractors and got a bit of our own back. WYD08 was a moment where we recognised and celebrated, in large, loud and highly symbolic terms, that we are part of the Church universal. Again, this meant more than simply meeting pilgrims from other countries or simply being part of the largest Catholic crowd this country has ever seen. It wasn’t about safety in numbers, but was rather a reminder that here in Australia, we are not alone, but are part of something bigger.
More than that, World Youth Day helped to connect us to the universal Church not simply in space but also in time. We are a young Church here in Australia, and unable to trace our Christian roots directly back through several hundred much less a thousand years. But three years ago today we were made vividly aware through the identifying characteristics of our faith – such as the proclamation of the Word of God, the Eucharist, the presence of the successor of Peter, and the presence of peoples from lands that have an ancient Christian heritage – that our faith is not something that we hold alone, but something we hold with others across the world and in union with others who have gone before us.
For that week it was transparently clear that being a Catholic does not always mean feeling foolish or dismissed or rejected. Here was a moment where we belonged, where we were reminded that we share in a rich and substantial tradition, where people helped us to understand the rich intellectual vigour of our faith and where we deepened in our love for the Lord Jesus and his Church. It is not too trite to say that WYD08 encouraged us – it literally gave us new heart in our faith as Catholics as we were reminded that we are part of the Church of Jesus Christ. May the memory of that week in July 2008 give us renewed strength to give others a reason for the hope that we have.
As Madrid draws near I pray that the pilgrims attending this next World Youth Day will similarly find that their faith is richly confirmed. And I pray that those of us who were present at Sydney might also be reminded of Pope Benedict’s challenge to us:
Do not be afraid to say “yes” to Jesus, to find your joy in doing his will, giving yourself completely to the pursuit of holiness, and using all your talents in the service of others!
PS I know the photo is of Barangaroo and not Randwick. It’s just too good a photo not too share!