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Last July our community, CFC-FFL, sent a delegation to the World Youth Day at Sydney, Australia. There was Aldrin, Keeshia, Giella, Joey, Telle, Rica and me. Looking back I now believe that our WYD experience was a pilgrimage of grace from the moment we filled up our application forms until the time our plane landed back in Manila. It is truly a journey with God all the way!

You see, at the initial phase of our WYD application, all of us had our own worries such visa approval, work leave approval and financial constraints. Everyday these three major concerns continued to taunt us in the way Goliath taunted David! Each day they became bigger giants that block our way to the WYD. But just like David, we believe that our God is bigger that any Goliaths in our lives and so we continued to put our hope in God and started to work hard at finishing all documents. Truly God is a faithful God! A week before the deadline we received our visas, work leaves and financial blessings! We were really going to Australia!

Our first stop in this pilgrimage was Melbourne, to attend a pre-WYD event called Days in the Dioceses (DID). In this event, we were to immerse ourselves in the life and mission of a particular parish in Australia. This meant that we needed to interact with the parishioners of that parish (especially their youth), meet their parish leaders, talk with the clergy and be involved in all the activities of that parish for one whole week. At first I was nervous because it was my first time to be in a foreign land and tolive with a total stranger. Before when I'm abroad I used to stay with a community member, and because we are in the community it was much easier to adjust since we had certain things in common. But to my surprise DID turned out to be a blessing for me in many ways!

It was my first time to be welcomed and loved by a stranger not because I am part of CFC but because I am a Catholic. It surprised me that the parishioners of the parish that adopted us really went out of their way just to make us feel that we are brothers and sisters in Christ! They offered everything for us, their cars, their homes, food, schools, everything! My host family told me that Catholics should be like this with each other! They believe that we are bits and pieces of each other, different body parts but one body under Christ. Hence we need to take care of each other! Amazing! It made me realize that our faith is not just buildings and teachings but truly it is a community built by relationships!

It was also my first time to see how being involved in a parish can bring growth and nourishment to its parishioners. Attending Mass as a community, praying for parish members, serving the different needs of parishioners, and receiving the Sacraments can truly lead you closer to God. Maybe it is because I spent most of my spiritual life away from my own parish that I failed to see it. But being in the DID broke most of my preconceptions about parish life. I now believe that you can really find a home in the Catholic Church.

After one week in Melbourne we moved on to Sydney for the start of the real WYD event. Again, we were adopted by a parish and were welcomed into a home of one of its parishioners, and we received the same treatment that we had in Melbourne.

Our first activity for the WYD was the opening Mass by Cardinal Pell of Sydney. It was quite moving how the Archdiocese of Sydney, together with the government of Australia, welcomed us! But what was really amazing was in that opening Mass I really understood what it means when we proclaim that we are a Universal Church! Being in that opening Mass you were drowned within a sea of people who have different colors of skin. You were deafened by the noise of different languages being spoken. You were stunned by the presence of the clergy from different countries. THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE UNIVERSAL!!!

We started our second day by going to our Catechetical Sessions (I guess these were the official talks for the WYD). We had these sessions every morning for the next three days. Our speakers were all lively, energetic and wise bishops! We had Bishop Tirona of Gumaca, Bishop Smith from Canada, and Bishop Buzon of Kabankalan. Our topic was about the Holy Spirit and how it molded and continues to shape Christians and the Catholic Church. They also explained how everything we have, and all that we do, is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

But the highlight of this day was the arrival of Pope Benedict at the WYD. He had already been in Sydney for the last few days but this is the first time he visited and welcomed the young pilgrims of WYD. It was an unforgettable event! The Pope went around Sydney in a yacht filled with young people and clergy on the way to the venue. When he arrived he then rode the Pope Mobile and went through the crowd. Finally he went on stage, welcomed all of us and led us all into prayer. Truly the Pope is one of our sources of unity as Catholics. You could see everyone in a frenzy when they saw the boat and the Pope Mobile. The crowd cheered when he spoke. The clergy flocked around Him, I think in much the same way that the disciples flocked to Jesus! It was truly amazing!

On the third day I had two WYD events that I consider as my highlights.

First, the Way of the Cross. I think it was very special for me because it was a re-enactment of the passion and death of Jesus done in the frm of a play. I used to do Stations of the Cross during the Holy Week. I went to one station after the other as I said the prayers. But in WYD since it was played by real actors I really felt what it meant to be saved by Jesus! It was just like watching the movie "The Passion" - only better!

Second, the Receive the Power Praise Concert. This praise concert was lead by top worship bands like Hillsong United and Matt Maher. It was a treat for me because I love these two worship bands. But what struck me the most about this praise concert was that the last worship leader was a Bishop! And after the worship, he led all of us in the adoration of the Holy Eucharist!

On our fourth day at the WYD we joined the pilgrims walk. It was a trek from Sydney Harbor all the way to the Randwich Horse Track where the final vigil with the Pope happened. It was a 4km walk with certain stop points to reflect on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

At nighttime we started preparing for the evening vigil. At this vigil, Pope Benedict led us in reflection about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He instructed us to ask God for the gift that we need as we continue to journey on in our spiritual life. He then asked us to pray for the world and to pray for young people so that God may use us to be His new disciples in this fast changing world, and that we should ask God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and make the WYD to be a new Pentecost experience for the world.

Another unforgettable experience for me in this vigil was that there were hundreds of priests all over the venue waiting for young people to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. It was amazing to see thousands of young people fall in line to the priest with the language sign above them to hear their confession. Also, after the vigil there were hundreds of adoration chapels constructed where young people could pray before the Holy Eucharist. It was a life changing experience for me on seeing how many young people were attracted to the Eucharist, and changed by it!

The next day the Pope led us for the final Mass. He emphasized that the Church is alive and the Church is young. He left us with the message to get to know the Holy Spirit more! He encouraged us to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And he challenged us to bring the Pentecost experience of WYD to our local churches and local organizations and asked us to set again the world on fire for Christ.

I am convinced that we, the young people, are the Church of today and not of the future. I am convinced that we, the young people, are the new evangelizers of this fast changing world. I am convinced that the spirit that moved the disciples thousand of years ago is the same spirit that moves the Church and me today. I am convicted that it is my mission to re-tell this message of WYD to as many young people as possible and to encourage them to live by the mission that the Holy Father, and God himself, has called to do!

Contributed by:

Dylan P. Reyes

"If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." Jn 15:5

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