Ahead of their departure to World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, Catholic Outlook spoke to six pilgrims from the Diocese of Parramatta about their preparations and what they are excited about experiencing whilst on pilgrimage.
Blake Bano, Year 12 Student and Marist Solidarity Leader – Faith and Formation at Parramatta Marist High School, Westmead, and first-time pilgrim.
Parish: Mary Queen of the Family Parish, Blacktown.
Catholic Outlook: How many times have you been to World Youth Day?
Blake Bano: This will be my very first World Youth Day pilgrimage with the Diocese of Parramatta. I am really excited to have been given the opportunity to not only represent my school community, but the ever-developing youth of this great Diocese.
CO: Why did you want to go to World Youth Day in Panama?
BB: For me, probably the main reason to why I wanted to go to World Youth Day in Panama was to really understand my faith in a more engaging and empowering way. World Youth Day unites the youth from all around the world and encompasses the riches of the Catholic faith to all of us.
I found the attraction to go to World Youth Day whilst discerning my personal vocation. The attraction and calling to the priesthood was something that made me sincerely consider attending this World Youth Day, so that I could discern this calling. I wanted to immerse myself in a pilgrimage of prayer, of discernment and of servantship.
The theme of World Youth Day was something that really attracted me – “I am a servant of the Lord. May it be it done unto me according to your word” (Lk 1:38) – we are all called to be servants and like Mary, we are asked to say yes to God’s calling.
I believe that World Youth Day in Panama will be a life changing experience for all those that are attending. Having the ability to be connected with hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from all around the world is something that will blow me away. World Youth Day brings to life the youth of the Church and unites them in Christ as one body.
CO: How many students and/or teachers from your school are going to World Youth Day?
BB: There will be three students from Parramatta Marist High School that will be attending World Youth Day.
CO: Are you involved with any youth groups either through school or in your parish?
BB: Yes, I am. Being the Marist Solidarity Leader at Parramatta Marist High School, myself and another student leader run the school’s ministry team and youth group. It is a great place to express one’s faith and grow together as a schooling community.
Being leaders of the Ministry team and Youth group, I run sessions which range from scripture to music to the church’s history. As a Marist school, we really emulate what it means to be a “Man of Marist”, both in school and the wider community and that’s what I try to teach and pass on to the younger grades.
CO: What has been the most interesting thing that you have learnt during your formation sessions?
BB: For me, I found that the most interesting thing that I have learnt from the fantastic formation sessions is the history, the culture and the spirituality of the Southern American Catholic faith. There are a lot of customs and traditions of the Mexican and Panamanians that sound really interesting, along with the foundations of the Catholic faith in Latin America through the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
For me, I found that learning their foundation story prior to attending this pilgrimage has really enabled me to reflect deeper on the country that we are going to and how the Catholic faith has impacted that particular country.
CO: What are you looking forward to most on this World Youth Day Pilgrimage?
BB: What I am looking forward to the most on this World Youth Day Pilgrimage will be attending the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and seeing the original image of Our Lady that appeared to the Bishop through St Juan Diego. The images that I have seen look breathtaking.
What I am most looking forward to, as well, is climbing the pyramid in Puebla [Great Pyramid of Cholula] where a chapel was built on the top.
Going to the schools in Mexico and being with the young kids and orphans will really make for me an emotional experience.
CO: What are you hoping to experience whilst in Panama?
BB: The week in Panama is going to be a great experience. What I am most excited about and hoping to experience is of course meeting or at least seeing the Holy Father.
For me personally, the night before the final and concluding Mass, where all of the pilgrims are on the beach kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament in complete silence will be a truly emotional and moving experience for me. That is what I am hoping to experience.
As well, the daily catechesis and activities that unite all of us together as one Church. With all that culminating in the final Mass, I am hoping to experience the Church wholeheartedly as we, the youth of the world, celebrate Mass together as one regardless of race, gender or country.
CO: Will you consider joining a youth group after attending World Youth Day?
BB: Joining after attending World Youth Day? Why not right now?
The formation sessions that are run prior to attending this pilgrimage really emphasises how youth can be connected with each other in the Catholic faith.
I have been blessed with being provided the opportunity to work with the youth of the Central Deanery though the youth Mass and gatherings and with Catholic Youth Parramatta at LIFTED Live and LIFTED Sports Day.
CO: What would you say to those hoping to go to the next World Youth Day?
BB: To those hoping to go to the next World Youth Day, this for me, I know, will be an amazing, breathtaking, empowering and life changing experience. I am sure that this pilgrimage will change all those that attend. For sure.
If you are hoping and considering attending the next World Youth Day, what I would say to you is to discern why you want to attend. What is your purpose in attending and what do you think you will get out of it?
If you want to deepen your faith and grow intimately with God and all the saints in union with hundreds of thousands of young people like yourself, I tell you, “Follow him, and he will make you fishers of Men” (Mt 4:19).
All you need to do is say “Yes” and open up your lives to Christ.
Most Rev Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, will bless pilgrims from the Diocese of Parramatta during the World Youth Day Commissioning Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta on Sunday December 9 2018 at 6pm.
For more information on the Diocese of Parramatta’s pilgrimage to World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, please visit parracatholic.org/wyd/