The Diocese of Parramatta’s journey towards the 2023 World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, has taken another step forward, as the 170 parish and school pilgrims begun their seven-week formation program.
Despite marking the end of the school holidays, the room was abuzz as pilgrims, small group leaders and chaplains gathered for the first time as a pilgrimage group at the Novotel Sydney Rooty Hill on Monday 24 April.
“This is an exciting start,” Mark Smith, Pilgrimage Coordinator and Head Mission, Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese, told the group.
“Thank you for all of the effort, all of the organisation, all of the discernment that has led you to being here in your chair. You are a gift to us.
“You are the heart and soul of tonight and this whole journey. All of the planning and preparation beforehand is to make the space for you to have the encounter, the adventure, the journey of faith that will be unique to you but connected to others.”
Meeting the pilgrims for the first time, Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, shared that being a part of the World Youth Day pilgrimage is an exciting and “spiritual invigorating experience” for him.
“We have a strong tradition in our Diocese of organising World Youth Day pilgrimages and that is because we are a young, vibrant, multicultural and bold diocese. We are ready to go into the deep, we are ready to venture to the peripheries, as Pope Francis would say,” he said.
“We want to showcase a united, joy-filled, outward-looking and mission orientated Catholic community by means of this World Youth Day pilgrimage. You, as pilgrims, are the showcase of this Diocese.”
In thanking the pilgrims for their willingness, Bishop Vincent explained that World Youth Day is an investment into the future of the Diocese.
“There is a huge monetary investment into the pilgrimage, but also your spiritual growth and your character formation. We are investing in your so that there is a personal transformation, and that will translate into action and to an invigoration in your local communities.
“We are not going on pilgrimage as mere individuals, but as representatives of our faith communities, so our mission is to share that experience, that transformation, what we have learnt through the WYD pilgrimage with them.“
Bishop Vincent then encouraged the pilgrims to be open to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit throughout the pilgrimage.
“The World Youth Day experience will be an opportunity for us to broaden our perspective, to learn from other people, to be companions on the journey, to walk in solidarity with the people around us.
“Let’s make this experience a truly invigorating life-forming experience, and I am very honoured to walk with you and be a companion on the journey.
“I hope we are all enriched by World Youth Day and bring that experience and that personal transformation home for the mission that we are entrusted with.”
During the formation session, Fr Greg Jacobs SJ, one of the pilgrimage chaplains, taught the pilgrims about the lives of St Vincent de Paul and St Catherine Labouré – two of the pilgrimage saints.
Four pilgrims were also invited to share about why they said ‘yes’ to the World Youth Day pilgrimage.
“It is an experience unlike anything else,” group leader Lisa described. “When you have that experience, you want to do it again.” She hopes that World Youth Day provides the opportunity to develop young leaders across our Diocese.
For Kieran, pilgrimage gives us an opportunity to focus on our faith, and our World Youth Day pilgrimage gives us ways to grow and express our faith which will continue into our daily lives. He also hopes that pilgrims seek to grow in living a Christ-centred mission.
Having gone on two previous World Youth Days, teacher pilgrim Nikki said that she hopes to bring the sense of community and love and belonging witnessed on pilgrimage back to her school. “I’m really going to try and absorb as much as I possibly can, try and learn and find new ways to learn from each and every one of you, and how I can bring the energy that’s in this room back into our schools.”
For Andrew, attending World Youth Day in Poland in 2016 gave him a sense of welcome and belonging and where he first knew he was loved by Christ and it lit his heart on fire with his faith. “My hope is that everyone knows that they are loved by God. God loves you. His love is never-ending for you. Once you know that, it changes everything.”
Over the coming weeks, the pilgrims come together on a regular basis to prepare spiritually, get to know each other and learn more about the saints accompanying the pilgrimage and the significant sites they will visit.
The Diocese of Parramatta pilgrimage will travel over 22 days from 21 July to 11 August 2023 that will include visits to France, Spain and Portugal before a time of retreat in Assisi, Italy.
View images from the first WYD Pilgrim Formation Session here or below: