Australia’s Pilgrims Launch WYD11 in True Blue Style

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
17 Aug 2011

Cardinal Pell gave the Blessing

At noon yesterday, 4000 young pilgrims from Australia joined the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell for a very True Blue Aussie launch of World Youth Day 2011.

Also attending the Australian Gathering were 24 of Australia’s Catholic bishops and more than 300 of our priests and seminarians who have also travelled to Spain for WYD11.

Held at Madrid’s famous entertainment venue, the Palacio de Deportes de la Communidad stadium, the Australians marked their arrival in Spain for the week long event with a two hour celebration of music, song and prayer.

Kari Groenveveld from Brisbane and Jack O’Sullivan from Melbourne, two of the more than 1.5 million young people from every corner of the globe who are making a pilgrimage to Madrid for WYD11, acted as MCs at the all-Australian event, which also featured two of Australia’s popular musicians, Gary Pinto and Father Robert Galea.

For many there, one of the highlights of the Gathering came when Fr Robert Galea performed the special tribute song he wrote in honour of Bishop Joe Grech of Sandhurst, who died suddenly late last year and is very much missed by all who knew him.

Indigenous dancers perform at the Australian Gathering

The two hour Australian Gathering also included performances by a group of Indigenous dancers and musicians with 21-year-old Mitch Firth giving a solo performance on the didgeridoo. A member of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, Mitch – or “Didge” as he is nicknamed by his mates – was one of the Indigenous dancers who performed as part of dramatic re-enactment of The Stations of the Cross at Darling Harbour during World Youth Day in Sydney three years ago. He also was one of the Indigenous dancers and musicians who performed in Rome last year as part of the celebrations during the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.

Welcoming the young pilgrims to Madrid, Archbishop Philip Wilson, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) urged them to take full advantage of the upcoming week of prayer and reflection.

Bishop Christopher Prowse, Bishop of Sale (Victoria) also spoke and told the joyful young Australians that it was “up to them to respond to the call of the Church in Australia.”

During the two-hour Australian Gathering at the Palacio, testimonies from pilgrims were also heard. These including a moving account from Cheryl Fernandez, a member of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Catholic Youth Services and CYS co-ordinator for the Randwick-Botany Deanery.

Australian flags waved above the crowd during two

hours of music, song and prayer

Prior to arriving in Madrid, Cheryl had been on an unforgettable pilgrimage where she and other WYD young people had followed the pathways of the ancent prophets across Egypt and the Sinai Desert before entering the Holy Land to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

She spoke in detail of the experience and also of climbing the rugged and extremely steep Mt Sinai in the early hours of the morning so she could join the other pilgrims and be at the summit as dawn broke across the desert. Admitting she was extremely nervous as she mounted a camel and was led with others also riding camels up the almost sheer slopes of the sacred Mountain, she said that her fears were calmed when the words of Christ came to her. “Do not be afraid,” He said.

Cheryl exhorted all the other pilgrims present at the Australian Gathering to take every advantage of the upcoming week where they will have the opportunity to meet other young people from every corner of the globe and to deepen their faith through prayer and reflection.

As the almost 4000-strong group of Australians waved flags and joined in the singing, the euphoria and joy swept the entire auditorium.

The final blessing was given by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell who later described the Australian Gathering as “absolutely fantastic” and a “great mix of music, song and prayer.”

The enthusiasm, pride of faith and joy felt by the pilgrims continued as they poured into Madrid’s streets and prepared for the open air Mass in the Plaza de Celebes at 8 pm (4 am AEST) which was celebrated by the Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, and marked the official opening of World Youth Day 2011.

Photography by Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu