World Youth Day pilgrims from high schools in the Sydney Archdiocese will have the support of people near to their own age when they land in Krakow, Poland in 2016.
It is the first year the World Youth Day (WYD) Ambassador program will run, with the ambassadors – recent high school graduates and university students – to act as links to their local parishes and give pilgrims and outlet for their enhanced faith when they return to Sydney.
More than 560 student pilgrims in Years 10 and 11 will journey to Krakow via Italy, Jerusalem or Prague. Two ambassadors will be on each of the buses with the pilgrims.
World Youth Day ambassadors Louise Buckley, Francilia Gomes, Brie Lamblin, and Justin Story are among the first to take on the newly created role.
Holy Cross College Ryde Year 12 graduate Justin, 17, applied for the ambassador program during his trial HSC exams. A member of St Charles’ Borromeo parish in Ryde, he attended Sydney WYD in 2008 and WYD 2013 in Brazil. It was his first overseas trip.
“Both times I really enjoyed the experience of World Youth Day but I came back without much to go forward with,” he said. “You got back and were kind of left to go ‘Here’s this faith that they gave you, do your best’. Hopefully this program avoids that.
“I think making sure that people are in the right headspace for the whole trip to be able to properly appreciate it every step of the way … will help them to not lose touch with what they gain spiritually, physically and mentally.”
Seeing so many people come from so many places all for the one cause I think is absolutely beautiful.
Mount St Joseph Milperra 2014 graduate Brie, 19, is completing a teaching degree and is a parish youth coordinator at St Mary’s Georges Hall. “Going to World Youth Day in 2013 is what inspired me to become a teacher and to start up a youth group within my parish,” she said. “Doing the mission work overseas in Peru we were in this primary school, teaching the kids how to brush their teeth. ‘I thought this is what I want to do’.
“One of the things I’ve taken back is the friendships I made. Having those friendships, if you are ever in the dark about something, there is always someone you know that you can go to and ask religious things.”
Francilia, 24, is a member of St Declan’s Penshurst parish has just graduated from a double degree in Software Design and Development and Arts (English) at the University of New South Wales, where she is also involved in the Catholic chaplaincy.
“My World Youth Day experiences have been really fulfilling and I felt like it was time to go in a different context – the context of giving back,” she said. “The last world youth day I went on it was actually in sections. We did a mission trip in Peru and built staircases in shanty towns in Lima. It was absolutely amazing. You get so much perspective. You start to realise that some of the things you perceive as problems in life are not such a big deal after all.
Francilia described the World Youth Day week in Brazil as frenetic. “It rained the whole week and we got flooded out of our actual venue,” she said. “Apparently there were crocodiles in the venue we were supposed to have the vigil in.
“Seeing so many people come from so many places all for the one cause I think is absolutely beautiful. There are so many chaotic moments and challenges you face and yet you get to see beyond that to one reason for being there – constant communion with God. At the end we had a retreat, getting that time to reflect on everything we had experienced and trying to relate it back to ways we could take it forward at home.”
Archdiocesan Youth Ministry Coordinator Mark Smith told the youth ambassadors their ultimate challenge was to help and encourage young people on the buses to see themselves as a part of the Church.
“The experience doesn’t start at the airport,” he said. “A lot of the bonding and connections that happen in the bus groups starts back at the school level when you meet each other and get ready for the pilgrimage.”
Louise, 18, graduated from St Scholastica’s College Glebe in 2014 and is a member of the parish at St Patrick’s Summer Hill. The gymnastics coach, who will complete a degree in secondary education, said preparation began with an understanding of the WYD 2016 theme ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy’.
“Because my parish has a lot of older people, I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet younger people in this lovely context and to make new friends and learn more about our faith,” she said. “I think the whole journey throughout the year is finding out what mercy means for you rather than for this person or this person. First I would look up what it means to have mercy, both what the Church says and what others say. Then you’ve got to define it for yourself.”
Record numbers for World Youth Day 2016
568 students from Sydney Catholic schools have already confirmed their intention to attend World Youth Day 2016.
More than 100 students beyond the attendance record of 424 students set in 2011 at WYD in Madrid.
The students attending come from both System and Congregational schools, with the largest contingents coming from Trinity Catholic College Auburn (44 students), St Patrick’s College Sutherland (41 students), Good Samaritan Catholic College Hinchinbrook (35 students) and Clancy Catholic College West Hoxton (32 students). Another eight schools are sending contingents of more than 20 students.
WYD Coordinator for Sydney Catholic Schools, Robert Haddad, said the reasons for the extraordinary interest in WYD are many.
“I would say the popularity of Pope Francis has a lot to do with it,” he said. “There is also the attraction of travelling beforehand through Italy, the Holy Land or Prague.”
About 86 per cent of pilgrims have opted to go to WYD via Italy, prompting organisers to add a third route from Venice to Rome. More than 220 staff will also attend WYD 2016, many as Pilgrim Group Leaders who will supervise the students.
Originally posted on November 16, 2015.