Sydney School Students Return from WYD Filled with Faith

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
8 Aug 2016

World Youth Day 2016 had plenty of young Sydney-siders in the crowds, thanks to the commitment from Sydney Catholic Schools to take its biggest ever delegation of pilgrims to an overseas WYD.

654 students, teachers and staff journeyed to Krakow for WYD after travelling on three different pre-WYD pilgrimages to Italy, the Holy Land and Poland.

Sydney Catholic Schools Youth Ministry Coordinator, Mark Smith, says he's delighted with the big turn-out for Krakow.

 "The response from our students and families was enormous," he says.

"I would suggest two key reasons for this would be the witness of past pilgrims and the culture of WYD participation that has been developed across Sydney Catholic Schools."

Mr Smith says pilgrims from the last WYD in Rio de Janeiro were part of information nights for students and their families in Catholic schools across Sydney.

"Their personal testimonies had a powerful impact on many of our students. I also think that families across our schools have a strong understanding from their school being involved in previous World Youth Days of what WYD involves and they feel comfortable in support their daughters and sons in participating."

Sydney Catholic Schools Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation, Anthony Cleary, agrees that personal witness of past pilgrims played a big role in encouraging young people to attend WYD.

"I would say that since WYD Sydney in 2008, the whole notion of WYD is more present within the psyche of young people," Mr Cleary says.

"After Sydney, we took a very large group to Madrid and then a group to Rio and you then immediately have within school and parish communities a group of young people who go, experience WYD, and come back and talk about it and share it with their friends and siblings."

Mr Cleary says the pre-WYD pilgrimages are also an important part of the whole experience.

"Before Rio, we had groups who had the opportunity to engage in mission work in Peru and there was a real dynamism in that. This time we had groups visiting the Holy Land, Poland and Italy, with all of the meaningful history of the Church.

"I mean, in the Holy Land, you are actually travelling through that place that Jesus walked and seeing the reality. It's very powerful.

"And then, of course, the pilgrims are plunged into the very frenetic week of WYD itself, an event with millions of people, showcasing the universal nature of the Church."

In a first for Sydney Catholic Schools, the WYD contingent to Krakow included a group of about 200 staff pilgrims and 27 Youth Ambassadors.

"The idea of the Youth Ambassadors is that we have two young people on each bus who are active in parish and Church life - university students mostly - and their role is to be good role models for these school students and to share their active faith," Mr Cleary says.

"We have sponsored this group of young adults, knowing that we would get the benefit back. Before WYD they had been meeting the students and visiting the schools.

"If you have young people who are active in their faith life, they are able to share their faith in ways that teachers can't. It's a very positive youth to youth witness."

Mr Cleary says it's hoped the experience of the teacher pilgrims who travelled to WYD deepened their personal faith - an experience they can now bring back to the classroom as well as their own lives.

"It's a sign of our commitment to the importance of their formation for the important work they are doing," he says.
"WYD brings the rich tapestry of the Church into one place at one point of time and when the teachers and staff see so many young people involved in the life of the Church, it's a joyful experience."

Mr Smith says that the hope and prayer of Sydney Catholic Schools is that the Krakow WYD pilgrimage has provided a faith experience which will have a transformative effect which will last long after the young pilgrims arrived home.
"Many past pilgrims have spoken of the difficulty of translating their WYD encounters and experience in to the local context when they get home," Mr Smith says.

"We developed the Youth Ambassador program to help address that. These young ambassadors are active in their faith in the local church of Sydney and their mission is to encourage and invite the student pilgrims to an active involvement in our local church when they return.

"We pray that these youth ambassadors may witness to our pilgrims that they too can continue to nourish and support their faith through an active involvement in their local parish after they return home and indeed for the rest of their lives."