3,000 Aussie pilgrims celebrate World Youth Day, look forward to Year of Youth

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
28 Jul 2016

Pilgrims arrive for the Aussie Gathering at Turon Arena (Photo: The Catholic Leader/Emilie Ng):

Australia's 3,000 World Youth Day pilgrims in Krakow have joined together for the Australian Pilgrim Gathering during which they were challenged to return home from Krakow to light up their local church community with their faith and energy, and prepare for next year's Australian Catholic Youth Festival which will herald the start of the Year of Youth.

Director of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Office for Youth, Malcolm Hart, says the Aussie Pilgrim Gathering has become a feature of the WYD experience and is a prayerful celebration of the Australian church represented at World Youth Day.

"It's a time when all the various pilgrim groups from dioceses, religious orders, movements etc get together as one group, after their various pilgrimages enroute to WYD," Malcolm says.

"There was some powerful sharing of experiences that some pilgrims had on their way to World Youth Day. Some have done mission work, some have visited the Holy Land or Rome.

"There was also prayer and catechesis and input about the upcoming Year of Youth and how this group of pilgrims can return to Australia inspired by World Youth Day and how they can help with making preparations for the Year of Youth. And we also issued an invitation to parishes to get ready to help young people into the life of their parishes after experiences like WYD, but also to go out and engage the whole Church, especially those on the fringes, just as Pope Francis has encouraged us to do."

Following the gathering, a press conference was held in which the "Year of Youth" was launched. Speaking during the conference after the gathering, Malcolm said, 'the Year of Youth utilises the anniversary of WYD08 to highlight the impact a concerted effort and focus on young people can have in the life of the Church'.

The Year of Youth will run through the liturgical year of 2018, which begins on the First Sunday of Advent, 2017. It is an initiative of the Australian Catholic Bishops designed to mark the 10-year anniversary since World Youth Day Sydney in 2008.

Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green addresses the pilgrims (Photo: The Catholic Leader/Emilie Ng):

The Year of Youth will begin with the Australian Catholic Youth Festival (ACYF), to be held in Sydney from December 7 to 9, 2017.

It was first announced by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the closing of last year's ACYF in Adelaide.

"Some years ago something extraordinary happened to Australia. Many of you were too young to be there. But your older siblings, parents, teachers, group leaders or clergy will remember when hundreds of thousands of young Aussies were joined by the Pope and the youth of the world. It was of course World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney. And it is etched in our minds as the happiest and holiest week in the history of our country," Archbishop Anthony said.

"WYD 2008 continues to bear fruit in youth ministries, in priestly, religious and married vocations, and in the evangelical mindset and youth focused outreach of our church."

Archbishop Anthony said the Year of Youth would be dedicated to reflecting on how young people can and do contribute to the life of the Church and society, and how the Church can best be there for them, and he invited all young people present at the ACYF in Adelaide, their peers, siblings and friends to join him for the ACYF to be held in Sydney in 2017.

Bishop Mark Edwards OMI, who is the interim ACBC Delegate for Youth, says the Year of Youth will be an opportunity to ensure the legacy of WYD Sydney lives on and continues to bear fruit in the life of the Church.

"The Year of Youth will highlight WYD08 as a powerful example of the impact and difference a focused effort on young people can have on the life of the Church," he says.

"It will be an invitation for us to reflect on how we are supporting young people and inviting them into the Church's life and mission."

3,000 pilgrims from around Australia gathered for the event (Photo: The Catholic Leader/Emilie Ng):

The Year of Youth will be modelled on the Year of Grace that was held in 2012-2013, with the primary focus being on the local faith community. The Australian Catholic Youth Council will work to support existing initiatives and to supply resources for reflection and discernment to empower ministry teams to capitalise on the Year of Youth throughout 2018.

It aims to prayerfully discern 'Anointed and Sent', the Australian Bishops' vision for ministry with young people; to enable authentic and personal engagement by Church leaders in the challenges and successes in young people's lives; to acknowledge the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of young people and young people acting upon the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church; and to uphold the dignity of young people, ensuring a safe environment from physical, emotional and spiritual harm.

Bishop-Elect Richard Umbers, who is travelling with the Sydney Archdiocesan pilgrims to WYD Krakow, says the WYD experience will help prepare young pilgrims for the Year of Youth by deepening their faith and empowering them to provide witness to their peers.

"Young people teaching young people is the most powerful witness," he says. "Seeing many other like-minded young people is very encouraging because in day to day life, even within one's circle of friends, you encounter few people who share your Catholic values."

He says he has enjoyed getting to know the young people of Sydney who have travelled to WYD.

"People do tend to see priests as otherworldly beings, but meeting young religious and seminarians shows you that they are normal people who have a faith that is quite inspiring," he says.

You can view highlights of the Aussie Gathering and the media conference below.