Report on World Youth day by Fr Michael

Posted on Wednesday 30 July 2008

Fr Michael ASHFIELD, July 25, 2008: Fr Michael Walsh CM, Parish Priest of St Vincent's Ashfield, has provided a reflection on his experience of the recent World Youth Day Celebrations in Sydney. The Report was printed with the Sunday Bulletin of St Vincent's, Ashfield (January 27, 2008).*******

REFLECTIONS ON WORLD YOUTH DAY EXPERIENCEI wanted to write down some thoughts on WYD for two reasons:

For the record!   Hopefully, these words may be helpful in the future.
For the sick and for those who were unable to participate in the whole experience.


I will divide these reflections into different sections but obviously there will be overlap.  So, if you are still reading, don’t stop now!!

Journey of the Cross and Icon of Our Lady:

The Cross and Icon came to Ashfield on two occasions. Firstly, the Chinese community hosted the occasion when the Cross and Icon came from Chinatown via St Vincent’s Church to the Asiana Centre in Chandos Street. That was a grand event with lots of festivities and prayerful reflection. On the second occasion, Holy Thursday 2008, the local schools were responsible for a magnificent celebration down Bland Street, in St Vincent’s Primary School and in our new school hall. This final event was a wonderful expression of faith for all concerned. On that day, the Cross and Icon then proceeded to Ashfield Boys High. I was particularly grateful for the welcome and encouragement of the leadership of the school. This occasion was an opportunity to support our catechists who teach the faith in such a dedicated way each week. The Cross and Icon journeyed to all parts of Australia and those who travelled with it have great stories to tell. Our local parish was directly involved through the work of those who made hundreds of thousands of small crosses to all who came to view the cross and for all pilgrims. At Mary McKillop Outreach, Lewisham, and here in St Vincent’s Parish Hall, these crosses were made by volunteers with much love and commitment over many, many months.

The Vincentian Family Celebration:

There are many groups around the world who are connected to the spirituality of St Vincent de Paul. Most notably are members of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), The Daughters of Charity and the St Vincent de Paul Society. However many more organisations link their faith to this spirituality including those who belong to Vincentian parishes, Vincentian schools etc.etcMore than 300 Vincentian family members from 33 countries attended an amazing event to share their Vincentian stories at St Stanislaus College in Bathurst in the week leading up to World Youth Day. In the planning for two years, this event was organised by a group led by a young married women, Lisa Bright. The music was provided in fine style by our Sunday night choir. The success of this venture can be expressed in the fact that planning has already begun for a similar gathering in Saragossa, Spain in 2011. More details and photos can be found on the internet by conducting a search of ‘famvin bathurst’.

Youth of St Vincent’s Parish Ashfield:

I wish to acknowledge the wonderful leadership of Dinusha and Jessica who led the young parishioners of St Vincent’s through the whole WYD experience. I recall attending a meeting about September 2007 with Jessica and Dinusha and I was delighted that they both accepted my request that they become the co-ordinators of our parish group. Little did we all know what would be involved.Since that time the youth have prayed together, laughed together, planned together, fund-raised together and then together participated fully in the events of WYD. It was a very moving experience to be with them and Marguerite Martin, our pastoral associate, at the Vigil ceremony on Saturday night at Randwick and to join them as we prepared for the Sunday Eucharist.I thank all those who supported our local youth in so many ways. I look forward now to joining with them as ‘St Vincent’s Youth Group’.I also make special mention of Nikki Kelso who undertook so much of the initial co-ordination of St Vincent’s with the WYD committee.

The Pilgrims at Ashfield:

volunteersI will long remember Monday 21st July. That was the day our pilgrims arrived; about 1300 in all. Some got lost; some were freezing; some, including 100 Indonesians, arrived at Bethlehem totally unannounced; several of the priests wished to celebrate Mass in their own language groups; about 200 from the Vincentian gathering in Bathurst were fed in an arranged lunch; about 150 from Papua and Haiti were fed in an unarranged evening meal. Somehow, through all the confusion, things settled down and the pilgrims made Ashfield their home for the following week.And home it was. The principals and staff were the parents for all, sleeping overnight in the staff rooms and offices, sorting out showering arrangements, co-ordinating breakfasts and lunches with a magnificent band of volunteers from St Vincent’s parish and schools, tending to the sick, supplying warm clothing and bedding for those who had never experienced Winter etc etc. This was a commitment way, way, over the call of dutyI especially thank all those who contributed blankets and warm clothing. Some people bought warm items; others donated money for the cause. Thank you.Each day, the pilgrims went to catechesis (teaching) from Bishops according to their language groups. In our church, about 350 Italian pilgrims joined about 30 of their priests, bishops and Cardinal for Mass. I was so grateful to Rosanna who was our interpreter for the days. In the large school hall about 1600 gathered to hear wisdom from English speaking bishops. The music was extremely lively. I mention especially Rotary who fed almost 2000 at a BBQ on Wednesday.The pilgrims themselves were extraordinary; young, happy, infectious in their joyous spirit of faith. We thank God for them.

 Vocations Expo:

This was an amazing event, held over several days at the Exhibition Centre at Darling Harbour. Religious communities and other Church organisations were invited to present their lives in approximately 150 stalls around the large area. It sure was a Catholic show: every possible expression of Catholicity was available ranging from ‘traditional groups’ such as Benedictines and Franciscans to some newer groups with a far more ‘traditional’ outlook. It is a long time since I have seen so many men in long black dresses and the outfits on some of the women had to be seen to be believed!The stall organised by the Vincentian family, as well as handing out brochures and explanations of the Vincentian spirituality, also served free coffee. There was always a long line; I hope the young people got the connection to the unconditional service!Personally, I enjoyed catching up with lots of friends. I even met a Dominican priest whom I had not seen since seminary days. He has aged a lot!

Mary McKillop Chapel:

Pope Benedict visited the tomb of Mary McKillop on his first day of official duties. Those present spoke of his warmth, taking the hand of everyone within reach. He presented the Sisters of St Joseph with a lovely statue of St Joseph. The Sisters presented him with a beautiful image of Mary McKillop. As he left the chapel he said, “She is smiling. I will take her with me now”

The Public Events and Liturgies:

These have been widely reported and I do not wish to dwell on these at length. Personally I found the liturgies to be deeply moving, even in the large crowd. The excellent flow of the liturgies allowed one to move with the symbols; they were very professionally organised. The highlight for me was the Gospel Procession at the Sunday Mass at Randwick; the Fijians were brilliant.I hope to obtain a copy of the Stations of the Cross to show here in the Church.Only a few things jarred. For example, as one who doesn’t understand any Latin, I found some of the prayers most confusing. I hope God can translate!


I found the media’s presentation of the World Youth Day to be a source of deep personal annoyance. Some media outlets such as the Sydney Morning Herald were particularly critical for many months and only grudgingly ‘got on board’ at the end. Religious intolerance is alive and well in this country and is only a touch under the surface. Other media decided to place most of their energies on the sinners of the Church. Whilst there are many, many sinners in the Church and their sins have been highly documented for years, it was personally very disappointing that this seemed to be the only issue that some, especially the ABC, were interested in exploring.

Irritating Aspects of Organisation:

Whilst applauding the totality of the event, one has to say that there were many, many, logistical hic-ups. I was very sorry that some who had offered their homes for the pilgrims were, at the last moment, not wanted. Mr George Boffa, our St Vincent’s homestay co-ordinator should be congratulated on a magnificent achievement. However, most of those who were allocated to us for home stay were from schools and their leaders did not wish to split the groups. Disappointing.The registration procedure was not good. Many, many stories have already been told on this issue especially in regard to volunteers. On a personal note, which I have registered in several ways, I was told on my arrival at the registration centre that I was not on the list at all!! All Sydney priests having gone to Broadway the week before WYD to receive the necessary authorisation card, were told to go home and come back two days later. Other priests who arrived from interstate and overseas had to wait for up to 6-8 hours in the queue. Some, I believe were very, very angry.


In general, after having so many misgivings over many months, I believe this was a great event for all. It was made so by:

The organisers, especially of the Liturgies and the public events
The volunteers who gave so much of their time and energy
Pope Benedict who gave us encouragement, challenged us, and who as an 82 year old expressed his joyful love of God with the people of Australia and with the young people of the world.
The pilgrims who brought their faith and joy to our city

We give thanks to God for this time in our lives.


Fr Michael Walsh CM

July 25, 2008