Monday, July 28, 2008

Days 19-26 - July 22 to 29 of our WYD 2008 Pilgrimage

Greetings to all of our family members, friends, and parishioners.....

I'm publishing this post as I begin it and continue to edit and repost, just to alert the casual browser that I'm currently online in Sydney at Global Gossip, which is incidentally the most reliable Internet place I've found to date. I am also concurrently uploading photos to Photobucket and will then post them to this blog. I notice that last time the post came in twice... I don't know how that happened, but I was making haste in my last few minutes of online time....

My earlier postings went into quite a bit of detail, that was while we were in New Zealand, a wonderful time for all of us, even though it was really cold from the evening to midmorning. Mind you, for most of our pilgrims, cold has never been much of an issue.... I think there are only a handful of us "frileux" types....

Once we came for the first time to Sydney for the week of WYD, our pilgrimage accelerated a great deal.... I managed to give you a bit of a glimpse of those days and all that activity, and you will hear a lot more from your pilgrim family member or friend. We celebrated the Holy Eucharist last night in the breakfast room (the only gathering place) of our hotel, which is not the one originally on our itinerary (there were cockroaches apparently there) and which at least is clean, though in an army barracks kind of way....

We have had a few such profoundly meaningful celebrations of the Lord's mysteries, in which we have left room for our pilgrims to voice a particular intention. On this occasion, it followed up on a very significant large group sharing time which we had yesterday morning, Monday here, after breakfast and before our four different activity groups headed out for their day's outing. Our first such very open large group sharing occurred as a Liturgy of the Word because I was unable to speak without coughing heavily, and that was while we were still in New Zealand at the Kiwi Paka Lodge on Monday or Tuesday the 7th or 8th of July. It was a very deep personal moment when all the pilgrims shared personal impressions, aspirations, concerns, spiritual desires, and prayer intentions.

As I remember it, we had a number of significant celebrations of the Holy Eucharist while in New Zealand, in different places. During the WYD week, we celebrated as a group only once, and that was Saturday evening at the beginning of the Vigil, and a handful of our New Zealand guests and pilgrims themselves joined us. While we were in Cairns, we had no place or occasion to celebrate the Holy Mass, and only did so twice. On the Wednesday we went by minibuses to Cape Tribulation, a kind of resort area in the rainforest, and on Thursday morning, our group decided to join a French group from S. Jerome Diocese, with l'abbe Martin presiding. I would have liked to preside a Mass for our own group, but being still troubled by a cough when I attempt to speak I didn't mind joining the French Mass too. It was beautiful, and all were pleased, except perhaps a few whose French is not so strong.

Then we all trudged off to the nearby St Monica Cathedral of Cairns, a 7 minute walk of two blocks where we joined the 10 am regular Mass presided by Bishop Foley. I slipped into the sanctuary, having arrived just before Mass began - our group got a late start what with checking for presences and so on.... It was a lovely Mass.... The bishop was actually quite humorous, and I found out after Mass that he too has been suffering what what he called the flu, having spent a week in bed to no avail, which perhaps explains why he left out the creed and prayers of the faithful and went straight from the homily to the Offertory procession.... Still, we all felt revived by the Lord, the sheer beauty of the 24 stained glass windows telling the story of Creation, the faith of the congregation with whom we felt at home, and the beauty of the cantor's and choir's voices and music they had chosen, some of which was familiar.....

Sunday morning we had checked out of our rooms and loaded our baggage into a locked room near the entrance to Koala Beach Resort, and gone to Mass. After Mass, there were refreshments served and we are not known for refusing such offers!!!!!!!!! Meanwhile, Laura Ieraci with help from Isabel Correa set up a little studio outside the cathedral in a lateral courtyard in the sunshine - it was a radiant morning around 23 degrees - and interviewed a select number of our pilgrims, who had been asked the night before. A few others contemplated the stained glass windows and listened to a remarkable audio narrative interpreting them. Others browsed the cathedral gift shop on the opposite side of the church off the other courtyard. Eventually, we found our way back to Koala and from there went off into separate groups for lunch, shopping, browsing, exploring, or to rest in the sun at the Lagoon, a fresh water pond/pool near the shore and harbour.

We all met back at Koala for our bus to the Cairns airport to travel to Syndey, where we were welcomed once again by cold and rainy weather... oh joy!!! This brings be back to the sharing we had yesterday morning, the second such large group extended sharing of this pilgrimage, which is not a mean feat, considering the fact that most of our venues didn't allow for large group gatherings. We wanted our pilgrims to have the opportunity to share their impressions, hear those of others, and for us to reflect with them on the significance of some of our experiences and observations.

Sometimes one has to go to the other side of the world to notice things that may also be evident back home but are no longer obvious or consciously noticed because they have become familiar or commonplace. While the Church in New Zealand and Australia and Catholics here seem more orderly, for lack of a better word, I mean that they tend to be more reverent in church, less likely to chat and carry on as we do - especially in front of the Blessed Sacrament - and both the believer and the 'model citizen' tend to behave in an orderly fashion and carefully, politely; the society in general is quite secularized and shall we say a little looser than we are accustomed to see. For example, it is illegal in Quebec and the rest of Canada to drink in public, I mean outside or openly in public places. Not so here.

While we were in Cape Tribulation, our only night there, we had no scheduled activity except I believe a night walk on which a few went to observe the behaviour of the creatures of the night. Well not all the wild creatures were in the rainforest. We the adults carefully supervised our youth, around fifteen of whom were engaged in a social game in which the players act out specific roles assigned to them by the draw of a card. A few others sat and watched or played billiards nearby. A few I believe were resting in their cabins, and each cabin had at least one adult, and we did not allow any minors to be alone at any time, but always accompanied by an adult.

Our care and supervision paid off in a noticeable way that night. A stranger, a man in his 30's took interest in the social game and pulled a chair nearby to observe it as he sipped his glass of wine. Occasionally he asked a question of the game master, one of our young underage girls. When he left to replenish his wine, I approached Julie and Anna who had been standing nearby and was told that our young game mistress felt 'freaked out' by the man, who after all was a stranger and an adult. His interest had seemed innocent enough and may very well have been only that. Still, once I heard that I went into alert. I placed myself near our game mistress, and when the man returned and made a move to put his hand on her shoulder to ask another question, I moved in on him and informed him that his invasion of her personal space was not only unwanted but inappropriate, he being an adult and she being a youth. He showed some apparently innocent embarrassment, not realizing this was the case, and disappeared. Needless to say, our young game mistress was relieved and grateful.

Various of our pilgrims - youth together with adults - had other harmless encounters with young people or adults who were obviously inebriated, and our team took care to debrief with each of the groups their experiences. At the end of the evening, we met together and quickly came to a consensus that we needed to bring this up with the whole group at a general large group meeting in order to help them express their thoughts and feelings at their observations and draw some useful lessons from it all, in view of our experience of faith and of WYD.

It was useful that we had resolved to do this, because our first night in Sydney, Sunday night, we arrived at our destination on William Street around 10:30 pm. We brought our bags in, received keys to our rooms - four per room with at least one adult per room - and met downstairs, those who wanted to go out to eat. We went up the street to McDonald's and quickly realized we were in the red light district - our hotel was just off the edge of it. We carefully shepherded our sheep and surrounded them. While ordering and eating our meals - not the cleanest McD we've ever seen either - a few young men and women in line were obviously inebriated and carrying one a box of wine, another an open beer bottle. This would not be happening in Montreal.

Our presence reassured our youth, and the behaviour of our adults towards the troubled youth was a good example of Christian charity and respect for the dignity of others, no matter what. Obviously, we had all the more reason for our large group sharing yesterday morning. Well, it was wonderful to listen to our youth, how considerate and understanding they were for people who find themselves in various situations we would categorize as 'being lost'. Some also were glad for his opportunity to express their feelings: a bit spooked by it but reassured by the motherly / fatherly presence of our adult team leaders, angry at the conditions that cause youth to find themselves so lost, compassion at those who may not have had the experience of family and faith with which we have been so blessed, a mixture of compassion and need to be careful of oneself under such circumstances and glad to be with our group, and so on....

These are wonderful youth, our pilgrims, and it has been a joy and privilege for us to have accompanied them halfway around the world to these World Youth Days and to this great adventure, which many are already qualifying as life-changing, and an experience of a lifetime.

We have cautioned our pilgrims to brace themselves for the return. Having had many personal experiences of being on retreat, we have all known how difficult it is to return to the regular rhythm and routine of life once we have been off the 'merrygoround' of life in today's world. You our family, friends, and parishioners will not have had the countless experiences we and they have had here these almost 28 days, although you will undoubtedly be able to relate from your own similar experiences of being on retreat or pilgrimage.

For those of you who have never been either on retreat or on pilgrimage, then it may be more of a challenge for you to enter into the experiences of your pilgrims as they try to articulate and to relate to you their itinerary, the journey they have had from experience to experience, and from desire to faith encounter with the Lord, each in his or her own way.

We pilgrims ourselves will need time to debrief with each other all that we have experienced. The lucky ones are those who diligently kept a daily journal, while others of us like me just didn't find much time for it. Many days it was all I could manage to keep up with the Liturgy of the Hours, keep up with the group, and prepare for the upcoming celebration of the Eucharist. Still, we hope to provide those who can come a few meetings in the coming weeks to help us all to debrief some of our experiences while on pilgrimage, and how the Lord is inviting us to integrate these graces into our daily lives; so that we may no longer be as we were, but rather as the Lord is now offering us to be and to continue becoming.....

Peace be with you all, and please join us in prayer and reflection as we anticipate meeting at the airport and living through the days and weeks ahead that will, by our attentiveness and mutual caring, not let the treasures of this pilgrimage be lost, but will rather gather them up into hearts and minds and souls that are attentive, eager to receive from the Lord all the He desires to offer, and willing to take the time to contemplate the wonders He does in our lives and in the lives of those we love and of those we meet.

We are all conscious that life has gone on for all of you too, and we will also need to catch up on how you are and what has happened to you over this time, and what it has been like for you to accompany us in a spiritual and prayerful way through your love and desires for the Lord's man gifts..... Peace be with you one and all, and God bless you. Thank you so much for your kind prayers and loving consideration.....

Father Gilles, signing off for this WYD 2008 pilgrimage.

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