It is now some weeks since Sydney's World Youth Day 2008 concluded but due to the vagaries of monthly journal deadlines, this is the first opportunity AD2000 has had to reflect on what actually happened between 15-20 July.
Many of the staff at our office, the Thomas More Centre, participated in WYD and several of their first hand experiences and impressions are included in the following pages. These confirm that WYD was an unforgettable, inspiring occasion. Indeed, it was the biggest religious event in Australia's history, in terms of numbers involved, the range of nationalities and presence of the reigning Pontiff.
For those present, it was a Pentecost like experience, one calculated to lift the spirits, deepen faith and sharpen resolve. Even those not of the Catholic faith - including the normally sceptical media - could not but be moved by the spectacle of thousands of courteous, well-behaved young people from all over the world. It was the best possible advertisement for Catholicism.
Beyond such observations, it would be instructive to know how many of these enthusiastic young people were the already practising minority whose commitment was no doubt enhanced by WYD's charge of spiritual electricity; and how far the euphoria has impacted on the 90 percent or more of Australia's non-practising Catholics.
Previous World Youth Days have had substantial impacts on belief and practice levels in the cities and nations where they were held. For Australia, the challenge will be to ensure there are similar measureable increases in average weekly Mass attendances, confessions, Catholic marriages, baptisms or numbers of priestly and religious vocations.
Given that the WYD concept has continued for almost 25 years, it is clear that Church leaders believe that such spiritual benefits have occurred and will continue to occur.
In Australia structures are in place to capitalise on the 'electricity' of WYD before it subsides. We all hope and pray these will contribute to long term spiritual gains.
Michael Gilchrist, Editor of AD2000 (email address available on request)