Voice of youth

During a retreat in Poland’s Zakopane after official World Youth Day events, Sydney Catholic school pilgrims shared the highlights of their experience.

Marianna Conti, 15, Domremy College Five Dock:

How has the world youth day experience changed you?

“It has been really striking to me, the warmth. It allowed me to realise that people like refugees experience [conditions like on the pilgrim walk] every day and we have a home to go home to and they don’t. It also allowed me to realise how many people are in the same boat; they want to enrich their faith.”

What was the highlight of the journey?

“The walk had to be a highlight. Finally being in the presence of the Pope was amazing. I also loved how when we were at the actual World Youth Day and in Krakow I could go up to any Sydney person, or anyone in the world, and they would be willing to have a conversation.”

Lucas Baldacchino, 16, Marcellin College Randwick:

How has the World Youth Day experience changed you?

“It has changed my spirituality. I found out more about my faith and I’ve had a stronger connection to Jesus and God through prayer. The Holy Lands were amazing. We got to see where Jesus was born and lived and died. When I was in the Church of the Nativity and then St Catherine’s behind it I felt a real connection to God.”

What do you see as the main difference between a pilgrimage and travel?

“With a pilgrimage it’s more about yourself and finding a way through to your spirituality, whereas with a holiday it’s more relaxed and you do what you want. You have no specific thoughts in your head, whereas on this pilgrimage I was thinking about my faith.”

Rafael Candelario, 16, De La Salle College Ashfield:

How has the World Youth Day experience changed you?

“Even though we didn’t quite get to listen in during the final Mass because of the heat, we still had that merciful faith in us. We took turns at taking that heat when the rest of us most needed shade. All the Sydney groups worked together to make sure everyone else was under the shade, hydrated and that in its own sense is still what Pope Francis has been teaching us. That whole time we showed our own mercy as a group, and that allowed us to become better people.

People might look at WYD as a lot like a festival even though it has that religious element. How does that atmosphere impact on faith development?

“On the Monday during World Youth day week we went to this Youth Festival and people from different cultures were performing in different languages. Even though we didn’t understand what was being said we still had that faith growing within us. We also had this reflective time where everyone would just stand in silence, even after a lot of noise and non-stop music. These festivals just allow us to express each and every one of our emotions, our praises.”

Ema Lata, 15, Bethlehem College Ashfield:

How has the World Youth Day experience changed you?

“The time to reflect and pray is more beautiful than I thought it would be. Encountering Christ and experiencing that with other people from my school too was amazing. Fellowship around Christ is a big thing. I couldn’t believe that there were more than 100 countries there around me.”

How do you be calm and focused for reflection and prayer in all the excitement?

“Remember what I came here for. I came for my spirituality, for growth, to find purpose.

“We’re just so comfortable and I like the fact that following Christ you’re not comfortable. We learned about the saints and how radically they did things – they just disregarded all things that were materialistic, which is really hard now. What hit me was when Pope Francis said we waste our time. He addressed things like the Syrian war and refugees and he used that metaphor of ‘don’t sit on the couch’. I think that’s what will take with me. I’m going to try not to play so many games.”

Majd Wadee, 16, Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield:

How has the World Youth Day experience changed you?

“It has definitely opened my heart a lot more. It has proven to me that the presence of God is legitimate, that he is always there for you. I plan to say a decade of the Rosary every week day when I get home. That’s my way of keeping World Youth Day alive.”

What did you think of the Rome to Florence pilgrimage? Were there any highlights for you?

“The highlights for me were when we had adoration. We went to San Damiano church, where they have that special cross. We have that cross at home and I never understood why. The saint my Dad’s parents chose for him is St Francis of Assisi, so I saw the connection behind it.”

Sylvia Sullivan, 16, Freeman Catholic College Bonnyrigg Heights:

You were the only person from your school to choose the Holy Lands pilgrimage. Why take that option?

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I wanted to get the full pilgrimage experience, literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Although Italy has such a rich culture and history of the Church, nothing really could compare to the Holy Lands.”

How has the World Youth Day experience changed you?

“Sharing that experience with 2 million plus people from all over the world reignited my faith, strengthened it and brought me closer to Jesus. Definitely my faith has increased. World Youth Day week was so hectic and crazy. Having a chance to relax and reflect on our experience and faith in Zakopane let us realise what we all have gained from it.”

Michael Monk, 15, Aquinas Catholic College Menai:

How has the World Youth Day experience changed you?

“The experience has changed me definitely for the better. Seeing all of the amazing churches, having Mass with the Pope, and even seeing beautiful places in Poland has broadened my horizons. The main take home is to appreciate everything. At first the Mass every day kind of struck me as excessive, but it has been great. It brought me closer to my faith, even though I thought I was already pretty close.”

What has been the highlight of the journey?

“In Assisi we ended up underground at St Francis’ tomb. It was absolutely beautiful because soon as you entered the room everyone in there was peaceful and quiet. It felt different to every other time I prayed. Obviously St Francis of Assisi was a very peaceful man.”

Maria Strolla, 16, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart College Kensington:

How has the World Youth Day experience changed you?

“Now I get a feel that mercy is not just something we have to speak about from a divine perspective. The sense of community really overwhelmed me, especially at the final Mass and even when we were sight-seeing in Prague. In the chapel of the Black Madonna at Czestochowa there was a Spanish Mass and I realised that the vibe of the spirit doesn’t have a language.

“We went to a Rob Galea concert in Krakow one night and an old Polish man came up to me. He didn’t speak any English and when I tried to speak Polish to him he broke down in tears. I don’t know why, but it was at that point that the theme of the week really rung in. I’d never seen someone so vulnerable. That was what I learnt: you really need to be the mercy for other people to see.”

What did you think of Pope Francis’ words?

“They were very relevant. He talked a lot about being a couch Catholic and how you really have to be proactive in what you do to let people know the spirit. He also said how there are a lot of young people who are ripe for doing great things at 20, 25 and they’re kind of not doing anything, because I think sometimes our joy is cemented in the wrong things.”

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