The first steps of the Diocese of Parramatta’s journey to World Youth Day have been taken as hundreds of students, teachers, young people, youth leaders and chaplains who have said ‘yes’ to this experience gathered at Catholic Youth Parramatta’s LIFTED Launch at West HQ on Thursday 24 February.
Catholic Youth Parramatta’s LIFTED series is a unique and dynamic brand of large-scale experiences that inspire renewal and celebration of faith and mission in young people across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.
Alongside an evening of singing, dancing, prayer and witness, pilgrims from across the Diocese explored what pilgrimage is and how it changes a person.
Having travelled to Poland for World Youth Day in 2016, Anastasia from Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Kellyville, said she was able to experience how faith transforms young people all around the world, including her own.
“I went to World Youth Day when I didn’t know anyone and it was the first time I travelled overseas. I was able to form these great friendships and bonds with my group and to be overseas with thousands of other young Catholics from around the world is quite powerful.
“I remember having this conversation with one of our chaplains, and he said, ‘The Catholic Church is universal, it’s universal to everyone, it’s got so much opportunity and it’s all around the world.’
“When we visited all these places on pilgrimage, following in the footsteps of Pope St John Paul II, all of a sudden, this person pops into your mind, or a prayer intention that I didn’t even think I had.
“I loved the idea that all of the people that were in my life that I knew or didn’t know, I was taken them on this journey with me, and you do that through your thoughts and prayers.
“When I went to Poland, I was the only person from my parish to go. This year, I am one of 14 people from my parish, so to experience World Youth Day with my fellow young parishioners is huge.
“I’m looking forward to the most is not only the experience that we’re going to have at World Youth Day, but how we’re going to infuse that and be energised by that back at home.”
First time pilgrim Joshua said that he was inspired to go to World Youth Day by relatives and friends who shared their own experiences with him.
“I heard that it’s a great experience all around for youth across the world to deepen their faith and knowledge in God, and it helps you connect with the wider community of Catholics and put your faith into action. We not only believe in God, but act on that belief.
“My faith has been with me throughout my life. It’s brought me community, it’s brought me song through the youth choir, it’s been brilliant.
“I’ve heard so much about pilgrimage, but there’s only so much you can hear before you actually have to experience it yourself.”
Reflecting on her recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Qwayne Guevara, Manager, Catholic Youth Parramatta, said that even if we don’t get a pilgrimage experience, we have the opportunity to say ‘yes’ to God every day.
“Your everyday life is the gift that God gives you every single moment. There is an adventure that he invites you to, and we get to have the free will to say ‘yes’, just like Mary, and our ‘yes’ has the capacity to change the world.
“Our little ‘yes’ has the capacity to invite people who have never known the love of God into an encounter that changes their life.
“All of us going to World Youth Day and those who are staying here – parents, students, teachers, full time students, university students, 16-year-olds – we get an invitation from God every single day. How will we respond?”
Melbourne Catholic singer-songwriter Gen Bryant, who was the special guest at LIFTED, hoped that the pilgrims from the Diocese of Parramatta are present to the experiences of World Youth Day.
“Going to World Youth Day in Madrid [in 2011] opened my eyes to how many young people are out there with their hearts on fire for God, and I hadn’t experienced that before.
“I came away with this desire to find out more and wanting to have what they have, so when I came home, that’s when I started to really connect more with my ministry.
“One piece of advice shared with me over and over was you are a pilgrim, not a tourist, so put your phone away and just experience the moment before taking a photo or talking to someone about it.
“Know that there will be a lot of people there, but you’re not alone.”
View images from the CYP LIFTED Launch here or below.