Mobile phones might be the ultimate in modern technology, but at Light to the Nations 2001 in the middle of Galong, NSW, not one was in sight. What better way to allow Our Lord to speak directly to our hearts!
On Thursday, 12 April, 900 young Catholics from all around Australia, Papua-New Guinea, the Philippines, Malaysia and Botswana, made their way to St Clement's Retreat Centre in Galong, to the place which would be transformed into a tent city. We gathered together to make an impact on the world, to declare "We are the Light to the Nations" and to take the message of Jesus Christ out to our friends and colleagues.
It was Holy Thursday, a good time to remind ourselves of the great love Our Lord has for each one of us, to explore the true meaning and message of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.
In preparing for such an event, we needed to visualise ourselves as if we were present with Jesus at the Last Supper, to renew our appreciation of the Eucharist. How would we feel, if we were to experience his loneliness later in the garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal by one of his closest friends, and the realisation of his imminent crucifixion as he journeyed on the road to Calvary?
After the Holy Thursday Mass, we had the opportunity to reflect on areas in need of our prayers: the Church herself, respect for life, youth, vocations, missions and evangelisation. It was an uplifting experience to pray together for these causes and be encouraged about the future.
On Good Friday - a day of fasting, prayer and reflection - we walked the journey of the Stations of the Cross, appreciating the excruciating pain and suffering of Jesus during his final hours. We walked - in our imaginations - with Mary and Jesus' disciples along the road, appreciating the pain in Mary's heart as her only son was led to his death. The Disciples Of Jesus Youth Mission Team dramatised this journey so well that we almost felt we were witnessing the original Way of the Cross.
During the three o'clock liturgy we visualised Jesus hanging on the Cross, our faith rekindled that he had truly died for our sins and those of the whole world. At the veneration of the Cross, some knelt and touched the wood, others kissed the cross and laid their head against it as a sign of reverence.
The atmosphere during the liturgy was at times electric, the silence almost eerie - with only the crying of children to be heard in the background.
Throughout the afternoon and in the evening we had opportunities for confession, for many priests had travelled to be with us and their presence was warmly appreciated.
Easter Saturday brought with it a pilgrimage up Rosary Hill.
Many years ago, Archbishop Polding (Australia's first Catholic bishop) had travelled to Galong, erected a cross on a hill, left his Rosary beads on the cross and blessed the area. Since then it has become known as Rosary Hill - a place of pilgrimage. Many people are able to make the pilgrimage to the top, spend time admiring the countryside while reflecting on what it means to be a pilgrim.
As we climbed the hillside, some remained silent, some prayed the Rosary, and others joined groups in singing or discussions. Once at the top, we prayed the Rosary together. Prior to our descent, we left a pair of rosary beads hanging on the cross, just as Archbishop Polding had done so many years before us.
The Easter Vigil began outside our marquee with participants standing in the dark as the Paschal Candle was lit, underlining our realisation that Jesus had risen. All 900 of us carried a candle and as we processed in, filling the marquee with light, symbolising the presence of Jesus himself - the Light of the World - amongst us.
The evening's homily encouraged us to live out our lives as Christians, proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Saviour. True, the enemy would prowl about trying to separate us from the message of Jesus, but the Lord's death and resurrection - and our knowledge he had won the victory for us - would strengthen our resolve to remain true to the Faith.
During Mass, three people were baptised into the Catholic Church: a mother and her young son, and an 18-year-old. The sight of the three of them standing there was very touching, the little boy in particular being so excited, he smiled from ear to ear. We then received the Eucharist and shared with each other the joy of the risen Lord.
On Easter Sunday morning, we gathered to hear talks and discussions about the Holy Spirit and Evangelisation, after which we were commissioned to go out among our friends and tell them about the Good News of Jesus Christ and to "not be afraid".
The Easter weekend at Galong was indeed spiritually enriching. All those who helped prepare for this pilgrimage are to be commended, as I know from first hand that many were touched by the experience. I saw many young people making a commitment to Our Lord for the first time as they joined with us all in declaring with conviction, "Alleluia, he is risen - he is truly risen".
Mary-Jane Donnellan is a young Melbourne Catholic writer who attended Light to the Nations 2001.