Legacies of Hope

21 December 2010

What a blessing the Lord has given me by letting me to join the World Youth Day in Sydney in July 2008 and be a companion to hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims all over the world. It was an awesome and sublime experience !

Australia , this “great south land of the Holy Spirit” has been waiting eagerly and preparing itself physically, culturally and spiritually for this time of grace and blessings. The Catholic Church in Australia has never stopped offering prayers of intercessions for her young people, particularly in the last few years.

To prepare our young people spiritually for this “outpouring of the Holy Spirit”, continuous catechesis, bible studies, weekly Eucharistic Adoration, retreats, vocation discernment camps and various social-cultural-spiritual activities were organized by priests, nuns, and lay people involved in youth ministry. Parishes all over Australia, parishioners young and old, mums and dads, teachers and students are working closely together to raise funds to subsidize the young to attend WYD in Sydney. Most of all, young people were invited and encouraged to establish a closer and a deeper relationship with the Lord through the frequent receptions of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. You will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8)

There are so many, many scenes in WYD’08 which impressed me and which I shall never forget, but one of the most moving scenes was when our Holy Father Benedict XVI arrived at Barangaroo from a boat and stretching out his arms with a big smile to greet the World Youth Day young pilgrims in Sydney, my tears came streaming down because in my heart I saw in him the face of Jesus Christ – human, compassionate, gentle and loving. His paternal arms wide and strong, embracing all his beloved children! Little wonder the young people were thrilled with joy, jumping up and down in great excitement, screaming at the top of their voice: “Benedetto ! Benedetto!” ; “Viva il Papa! Viva il Papa!” Nowhere have I ever seen a more wonderful demonstration of childlike simplicity and unaffected filial love.

The nation too, was bursting with joy, goodwill and hospitality. This vibrant, exuberant joy of the young is infectious; it spreads from house to house, from street to street, from city to city, until the whole of Australia is simply lit with the fire of love and enthusiasm! Who caused all these ? The Holy Spirit!

The “outpouring” of the Holy Spirit was unmistakably evident. You don’t see in Australia when hundreds of thousands of young people gathered together can be so happy, fulfilled and contented, enjoying one another’s company, obviously on the biggest high of their life, yet without using any drugs, alcohol, or stereotypes. There is something pure, holy, spiritual and true that has captured their hearts and imagination! They are ‘drunk’ with the gifts of the Holy Spirit ! – the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, right judgment, courage, piety, wonder and awe in the presence of the Lord. How rich and confounding are the legacies the Lord has bequeathed to these young pilgrims!

Quite often young people give us the impression that they are too easy-going, sometimes irresponsible, always acting at the spur of the moment, extremely idealistic but never settle down or committed to a task. Perhaps this might well be some traces of imperfections demonstrated in our youth, but we forget that they too, have a better side which even they themselves are not fully aware of and which we often overlook. This brighter side can only surface when challenges are thrown upon them and responsibilities are entrusted to them. World Youth Day 08 has convinced me of this!

Young pilgrims all over the world have been entrusted by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to carry the most loved and revered images of the Catholic Church in the modern world – the World Youth Day Cross and the Icon of Our Lady of Snow – from place to place across continents, oceans, deserts, mountains and valleys. These young people are given the responsibility of passing these images from one group of young people to another in different states, nations, towns, cities and remote villages. They are called upon to be ‘custodians’ of our Lord’s and our Lady’s images. How uplifting, inspiring and edifying to see these young people living up to the expectations demanded of them and how faithful and committed they are in executing this noble task! It is an eloquent testimony of the generous and courageous love they bear for their Lord and for His Mother.

Throughout those months and weeks leading to the World Youth Day, I had been working side-by-side with members of the Youth Groups from various parishes, ethnic communities and schools and I can’t forget how deeply I was struck by their humility, and their willingness to learn, to co-operate, and to risk in order to seek and find their Lord and Savior. So many times I was moved by their yearning desire to be near their God and be shaped and formed by Him. In numerous occasions, in particular during the weekly Eucharistic Adorations organized by the Archdiocese of Melbourne, in our own Convent at Mentone, and during WYD when these young people were praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament with the Pope at the Vigil in Randwick, and in the evening when the Stations of the Cross were re-enacted at Barangaroo, the Domain and at Darling Harbour, I saw how they wept and watched their tears streaming down their fresh, repentant cheeks like raindrops… Their fervent piety convinced me that the Spirit was indeed within them and have been poured into their hearts, transforming and empowering them to be witnesses of the Lord’s presence, His merciful love, beauty and goodness…

In World Youth Day 08, I have truly seen and felt the earth “charged” with the grandeur and beauty of God. Will this beauty and grandeur remain as a testimony of God’s love and a monument of hope to the next generation of young people in Australia and beyond?

Our Holy Father posed some very poignant and challenging questions to our young pilgrims in his Papal Mass: What is the legacy you are leaving for the young people in future ? Is your life going to make a difference to them ? I think our young pilgrims have already left some tangible signs of hope for this generation and perhaps also to the next. Their youthful daringness and joy have given abundant vitality and life to the Church, making her forever young and radiant! Their courage to proclaim before the whole world their faith in Jesus Christ their Redeemer gives hope and direction to those who seek truth and meaning in life. Their readiness to enter into silence in the presence of God and pay homage to Him demonstrates to the world that God is real and is always present in our midst.

Who can deny but to acknowledge that the Church is one, holy, Catholic and apostolic when you see all these young people, so different in colour, race, language, and culture are assembled together, raising their voices in praise and worship to their Lord God in union with the Vicar of Jesus Christ at the Eucharistic Celebration. I believe with all my heart that whenever and wherever there are young people responding to the grace of the Holy Spirit and remaining pure, holy and faithful to the Lord , the Church will always be young, beautiful, hoepful and strong !

By Sr. Mary Joseph Sze (Melbourne, Australia)

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