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Pilgrimage coordinators prepare for WYD 2023 as registration countdown begins

By Mary Brazell

Australian pilgrimage leaders meeting with the Lisbon WYD Local Organising Committee in preparation for more than 1500 Australian pilgrims heading to Lisbon for WYD 2023. Image: National Centre for Evangelisation/Supplied

By Malcolm Hart, 20 October 2022

The countdown begins for the opening of registrations for the Diocese of Parramatta’s pilgrimage to World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal. Recently, our Diocesan pilgrimage coordinators visited Portugal on a familiarisation visit to ensure our pilgrims remain spiritually engaged and safe.

August marked one year from World Youth Day (WYD) 2023 in Lisbon. Earlier in the year, there was still a question of when international borders, and in some cases state borders, would open. Knowing the power of WYD to attract young people to pilgrimage and faith, the Australian network of WYD coordinators was already researching pilgrimage itineraries, COVID-19 travel requirements and speaking with travel suppliers.

This network of more than 20 members will lead more than 1500 Australian pilgrims to WYD Lisbon in August 2023. Meeting bi-monthly online, the network has already hosted in-services on managing travel companies, risk and insurance support with Catholic Church Insurance (CCI), and shared spiritual itinerary and planning strategies. These months of work culminated in September when 22 pilgrimage leaders travelled to Lisbon for a familiarisation visit.

A familiarisation visit to a hosting city may seem glamorous, but it is hard and often tedious work. Leaders shared social media posts about key site visits, meetings and experiences in Lisbon to promote each diocese’s pilgrimage itinerary. Behind the scenes, the group took pages of notes, and made risk assessments while visiting accommodation, travelling on public transport and visiting churches and pilgrimage sites. More than photos of landmarks and famous Portuguese custard tarts, leaders returned home with photos of exit signs, fire extinguishers, street signs, traffic lights, pathways, parks and shade to inform required risk management processes, critical incident plans and preparation of pilgrims and leaders.

On their return to Australia, the WYD network will meet in Sydney on October 25 to collate and share learnings and move into their next phase of planning. Logistics will always be a core part of WYD planning, but in the next phase the spiritual and formation elements of WYD will be prioritised. The spiritual formation is guided by Pope Francis’ message for WYD 2023, released on August 15, 2022, and by diocesan bishops or spiritual leaders.

In his message, Pope Francis continues to promote Mary as an example for young people as they navigate life. Highlighting the theme of “Mary arose and went with haste” (Luke 1:39), Pope Francis explores how in her times of greatest change or challenge, Mary looked to be of service to God. He highlights Mary’s drive, her “haste”, which calls her forward and asks young people, in fact all of us, “What kinds of ‘haste’ do you have?”

What kinds of “haste” do you have, dear young people? What leads you to feel a need to get up and go, lest you end up standing still? Many people – in the wake of realities like the pandemic, war, forced migration, poverty, violence and climate disasters – are asking themselves: Why is this happening to me? Why me? And why now? But the real question in life is instead: for whom am I living? (cf. Christus Vivit, 286).[i] – Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the XXXVII World Youth Day 2022-2023 “Mary arose and went with haste” (Lk 1:39)

Australia and its young adults have a strong and beautiful connection with WYD. Throughout 2022 as dioceses and communities have opened doors and hosted events to re-gather with the young Church, there has been a slow response. A nervousness, or disconnection after so many years, perhaps. But WYD pilgrimage launches have seen young people’s participation in local events increase to pre-pandemic levels – and in some cases, even higher levels.

On November 20, the solemnity of Christ the King, the Church celebrates WYD in Local Churches. This presents all of us with a question and opportunity: What kind of “haste” do we have for our young Church? Will we make the most of the opportunity of WYD, either in our local Churches or through pilgrimage to Lisbon, to re-gather and realign ourselves with the young Church?

This article first appeared in the October 2022 edition of The Bridge, the newsletter of the National Centre for Evangelisation. Reproduced with permission.