World Youth Day (WYD) is an international event for young Catholics. This year, WYD took place in Lisbon, Portugal from 1-6 August.
I was blessed to be one of the estimated 1.5 million pilgrims who gathered for the event. I travelled to WYD with the Sydney Archdiocese, and then completed most of the pilgrimage with the Maronite Catholic Youth.
We first arrived in Madrid, Spain after a trialling 37-hour flight which included layovers in Japan and Finland. From Madrid, we travelled to Avila, Spain and stayed there for a few days.
Avila is surrounded by jaw-dropping stone walls and was the hometown of Saint Teresa of Avila, also known as Saint Teresa of the Cross. I learnt that the differing names of St Teresa of Avila was a result of multiple Spanish cities’ attempts to claim her as their own.
Avila is rich with history, and we learnt about the crusades and St Teresa’s life. It became my understanding that our beloved Saint Mary MacKillop had a devotion to St Teresa and the more I learnt about her life and explored her convents and home, the more parallels I noticed. As the first woman to ever be deemed a Doctor of the Church, St Teresa was a pioneer like our St Mary. Both women were also named ‘of the Cross’ because of their devotion to Jesus and his suffering. They also both faced a lot of criticism in their time and had a strong devotion to Saint Joseph or Sao Jose. Over two-thirds of the convents St Teresa started, were named after him!
We also explored the beautiful Spanish cities of Segovia and Salamanca. All were filled with breath-taking Gothic-style cathedrals, colourful buildings and mountainous scenery.
After a scenic bus ride through the Spanish countryside filled with sunflowers, olive trees and vineyards, we arrived in Lisbon. Almost overnight, the city was bursting at the seams with energy from Catholic youth from all around the world. The streets were painted in flags and the air was filled with songs in a variety of different languages. I had never seen anything quite like it and the Holy Spirit felt palpable!
Daily train rides to Mass became opportunities to praise God in song and talk to a variety of different young people with different experiences. It was beautiful to know that despite all our differences, we had a joint reason for being where we were.
Pope Francis’ addresses were a comforting reminder to all young people that there is a place for everyone in the Church and that we’re all uniquely called to God and God’s love. We were reminded to be missionaries of joy and to listen to Jesus. The streets would shout “Papa Francesco” lovingly at each address. His wisdom and energy, despite his physical ailments, showed us that he really is the youth’s Pope. Archbishop Anthony Fisher reiterated this message of love and it was refreshing to be reminded that in society of labels, God loves us no matter who we are and there is a place for us – “come as you are”.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of this experience was seeing faith incorporated in informal ways. So often we had seen our love and service to God in a formal setting, however, joining members of clergy for ice-cream, listening to priests sing and Archbishop Anthony Fisher joking with Aussies, made me realise that God and fellowship can be incorporated into our lives in more than one way.
American Bishop Robert Barron gave an address at one of the Catecheses talking about the importance of prayer. He said that prayer can just be having a talk to God and should be as easy as breathing. I reflected on this with what I learnt about St Teresa who in her later life, wrote books and lived humbly talking to God.
Our last stop was the holy city of Fatima. Over the final days, we learnt about Our Lady’s appearances to the three children, visited the Basilicas, tombs and relics. It was a beautiful place to reflect after the jam-packed schedule of WYD. We also celebrated St Mary MacKillop’s feast day and it was awesome to represent and share our Australian saint with all the international pilgrims who joined us.
In Fatima, thousands of pilgrims joined in candlelight Rosary procession every night and took part in the “knee pilgrimage” in which people walk or crawl on their knees as an act of penance or a way to give thanks for their prayers to be answered. The humility of the individuals crawling for hundreds of metres inspired me to also complete the knee pilgrimage.
All in all, the two-week pilgrimage renewed my faith and made it feel more accessible to me. It gave me feelings of hope for the next generation of young people, who sometimes get criticised by some older people. It showed me that the Church is still very much alive in our youth and inspired me to learn even more about my faith and the blessed Saints.
View photos in the gallery shared below.