THOMAS MORE CENTRE PILGRIM EXPERIENCES
It is difficult to write about World Youth Day and still sound sane. Only superlatives seem sufficient, and yet, in overabundance, superlatives begin to lose their lustre. Nevertheless ...
When every street is lined with pilgrims, all clearly identifiable by their brightly coloured jackets, specially made hats, badges, scarves, and various insignia proudly proclaiming the faith, it is impossible not to be swept up in a rush of gratitude, faith and hope. Yes, the streets were awash with Catholics, and with grace, in a manner that few Australians will have the chance to experience again.
This festival, this World Youth Day, was a blessing for the Church in Australia for which we can only be grateful. It has served as a reminder - a vibrant reminder - that Christ is alive, is here, and is deeply in love with each of us. It was a reminder that his Church, which many claim is dying, is in fact alive and well, especially in its vitals. We need not fear defeat, only despair, for Christ has promised to preserve his Church, and World Youth Day was a vibrant reminder of the fact.
It is easy to forget, as Catholics in Australia, that we are part of a communion of saints. But in the aftermath of such a magnificent event, what was once easy to forget is now simply unforgettable. As we gathered at Randwick for the climactic prayer vigil and Mass, the enormity of the crowd had me imagining how much more vibrant it will be to stand amid the throng of all Christ's faithful, past, present and future, of all the angels and the saints, before Christ the King in the fullness of time.
One might suggest that any gathering of so great a number of like-minded people is likely to induce in the participants feelings of unity and joy. But the difference between this gathering and so many others, is that this festival, this celebration of a shared faith, was not centred around mere ideals, or the desire for a better world and a better future, but was centred around Jesus Christ: a real man, and really God, alive and present among us no less than he was alive and present in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago.
The real presence of Christ was made startlingly apparent to me in an unexpected way during my time in Sydney. Watching the broadcast of Pope Benedict XVI's arrival, I overheard one observer remark, 'I can't believe he is really here.' Indeed, wherever the Holy Father appeared in public, he was received with a degree of excitement usually reserved for A-list celebrities. It truly was a thrill to see this holy man in the flesh; to see him drive past in his pope-mobile smiling and waving; to receive his blessing.
But it was as Peter's Successor said the words of consecration that I received a special grace of faith, for suddenly it dawned on me: if the presence of the Holy Father can inspire such excitement in our hearts, how much more so should the presence of Christ in the Eucharist thrill us to our very core! If a visit from this benevolent pope warrants such a raucous reception, how much more deserving is Christ of a truly joyful reception each time we receive him in Holy Communion, if not in our outward behaviour, then at least in our hearts.
In a secular society in which many harbour a deep-seated resentment towards the Church, World Youth Day was a wonderful reminder for Catholics that Christ is truly with us in this land; that in every church, in every tabernacle, he is there, King of Kings, God of the Universe, at our bidding, waiting for us to visit him so that he can pour out his love for us. It is a wonderful consolation, and one which, inspired by the abundance of World Youth Day graces, we can now ever more confidently share with all Australians, especially those most in need of Christ's mercy and love.
Tim Cannon is a research officer with the Thomas More Centre in Melbourne.