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.
Melinda Koutsoukas, secondary school religion teacher and World Youth Day veteran.
Parish: Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes.
Catholic Outlook: How many times have you been to World Youth Day?
Melinda Koutsoukas: This is my third time going to World Youth Day, with Sydney in 2008 and Madrid in 2011 being the other two I attended.
CO: Why did you want to go to World Youth Day in Panama?
MK: I wanted to go because I thought it would be an opportunity for me to deepen my faith in a way that is difficult to do during everyday life.
CO: How do you think Panama will differ to other World Youth Day’s you have attended?
MK: This is the first time that I will be doing mission work going to a World Youth Day, so I think that will be a very different experience. I also think that being older and now working full-time will see me look at things in a different light.
CO: What has been the most interesting thing that you have learnt during your formation sessions?
MK: The importance of taking time out in the busyness of daily life to reflect. Sometimes we get caught up with what’s happening around us we forget to stop and reflect on how God is working in those moments.
CO: What has been your highlight on your World Youth Day pilgrimages?
MK: For me, the highlight of World Youth Day have been the friendships that have been created while on pilgrimage. The people you travel with become lifelong friends that you will always have a connection with.
CO: What are some unique moments you have experienced whilst at World Youth Day?
MK: I remember being in the back of the bus travelling from Spain to Portugal (a surprise trip organised by the diocese we were staying with), but what was really unique was the conversation happening with a bunch of young adults.
It saw us be vulnerable and speak about things that meant a lot to us, but it wasn’t just any conversation – it was the fact the conversation was in light of our faith. Something like that doesn’t happen too often.
CO: What are you looking forward to most on this World Youth Day pilgrimage?
MK: The opportunity to see my faith being practised by thousands of young people from around the world in their own unique way. It’s a reminder that my faith is universal and goes beyond language and culture.
CO: What are you hoping to experience whilst in Panama?
MK: I’m not exactly sure what it is, but something that helps me experience my faith in a real and tangible way. An experience which I can bring back and share when I return to Australia.
CO: Do you have any tips or advice for first-time pilgrims?
MK: Be open-minded. Things may not always go to plan, but it’s in the chaos and changed plans you’ll experience the joy and wonder of World Youth Day.
The other is ensuring you look after yourself. World Youth Day is such a full-on time and it’s important to look after yourself because if you don’t, you’ll miss out on the events of the weeks.
CO: What would you say to those hoping to go to the next World Youth Day?
MK: Be brave and take the first step and apply. Sometimes that’s the hardest part. If you keep putting it off, you will never go and never realise how amazing the opportunity is.
Also start fundraising and saving early – it helps with the costs.
For more information on the Diocese of Parramatta’s pilgrimage to World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, please visit parrawyd.org