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Pilgrimage – been there, done that – but why?….

Most of the pilgrims from the Diocese of Bathurst have returned home now. There are a few still travelling the world, but most of us are now doing what we did before pilgrimage, with a different understanding, a different way of viewing the world we live in, and the God that we love and serve.

Our group of 32 pilgrims left their parishes and communities full of excitement and expectation, but the question is why? Why travel around the world at great expense to sleep on floors, to walk hundreds of kilometres, to be uncomfortable, to miss out on what each of us enjoy normally? Why do this? How does it help anyone’s faith, anyone’s relationship with God?

Pilgrimage is about letting yourself be vulnerable to God and those around you. It’s about travelling to a place with others and being challenged and formed in that journey and experience. It’s easy enough to write those words, but I suppose for myself, I should articulate not just some abstract reference to pilgrimage, but rather what it actually means to me. I am a great believer that God gives us ‘the pilgrimage we need to have’, the experience that challenges our thoughts and life, but draws us into the greater mystery of the incarnation. God became like us in the person of Jesus. Jesus knew what it meant to be a human, its challenges, and of course, its joys. So for me, there are a few areas that help me on a pilgrimage.

The Physical
I am no Iron Man, as many would know. The challenge of pilgrimage, and especially World Youth Day, is the physical. It’s walking kilometres to get to events, Masses and food. It’s sleeping on floors with just a thin mat. It’s being so exhausted each day that you appreciate that mat, that patch of ground in a hall, the generosity of a host family that gives you a bed, or the chance to have a shower after a long bus drive. All of these physical aspects remind me of the reality of my life. I have it pretty good. I have a bed, a house, a car, can eat the food I want and don’t have to rely on the generosity of others. I control my own life and I like it! But is that the way we should be? Each of us knows we may be able to control a lot of our life, but really there is so much that is out of our control. Things go wrong, people get sick. It is truly in the challenges that sometimes we see the hand of providence working. For me, the walking and the extra moments of activity are a good reminder of my health, but also a chance to see those times of challenge as a microcosm of life, a small hill to be climbed to see the beauty of the vista from the top.

Any pilgrimage group (even a family group) brings together individuals from different places, mindsets and even abilities. I think this is one of the most wonderful challenges, as well as joys, of World Youth Day. People come together and have to work to help their fellow pilgrims reach the destination. Whether it’s the destination for the day or the final destination, that being the World Youth Day Final Vigil and Mass.

Each pilgrim comes with their own skills and gifts, and their own hopes and dreams for the pilgrimage. That means that, sometimes, working together can be hard. It can be challenging for one person to live and work with another. Sometimes the direction of the group may not match what you as an individual wants, so it means dying to oneself a little. That’s true for the leaders of the pilgrimage, just as much as for the pilgrims. I have found no matter the difficulties, by the time the last day together arrives, there is a sense that we have overcome the challenges, the walking, the sleeping on floors, the food we aren’t used to or don’t like. We have grown to appreciate each other in a way that would take years in normal life. On pilgrimage I think we can see the good in the other more quickly because we have seen each other struggle and have had to rely on each other. Maybe we see each other a little bit more like God sees us and we love each other more because of that.

I think spiritual brings the physical and relational together as well, because all that occurs on pilgrimage melds in the spiritual. I personally feel blessed to be brought into others’ experience or knowledge of who God is to them, made visible in the person of Jesus. Whether it is sharing a time of prayer in a little church that has been the centre of community life for a village for 600 years, or hearing why someone works hard to make sure the garden at a shrine is maintained, it tells me of the place faith has in their life.

Visiting places where saints have lived, sinned and changed the world gives me a greater vision of how I can live out my calling. Not just in a simple way, but in a deeply profound way. We are changed by every experience in life and our faith is the same; the experiences of seeing other people’s lives lived with Christ as their God can only challenge us to more.

Hearing from others sharing their faith, or Bishops breaking open the gift of salvation, is a blessing that changes me, makes me see my place in the world differently, and I hope it does for others too. The physical and the relational come together as we walk and share, sleep and eat, pray and listen, to allow space for our faith to grow by removing what isn’t needed, which on reflection I always think is a lot more than I give credit for!

Pilgrimage is about journeying to a place where God is present and noticing that he is with you on the journey. It’s about the challenging times where you don’t have everything you need, but realise you really don’t need all you thought you did. It’s time together, alone and time with God.

Deacon Josh Clayton

Bathurst Pilgrims with Homestay hosts in Luxembourg
Homestay families at Lisbon
Deacon Josh and Anna
Final group Photo after the Mass

23rd July 2023 – Reflection from Lourdes

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Josh, Anna, Jacinta, Rosamaria, Carolina, Patrick, Father Nam, Bishop McKenna and all the fantastic World Youth Day organisers for the amazing time we have spent in Lourdes at the foothills of the French Pyrénees before we embark on World Youth Week in Lisbon, Portugal. 

It has been a magnificent privilege to experience the wonder of Lourdes, from its beautiful scenery and breathtaking monuments to its friendly inhabitants and awe-inspiring ceremonies. To witness the gathering of hundreds if not thousands of people from all over the world to this sacred and treasured location, and to participate in multilingual masses and ceremonies has reminded me of the inherently transcendent and inclusive nature of our beloved Catholic faith. 

Upon arriving at Lourdes yesterday, I was astounded and awe-struck by the gorgeous rock formations, vibrant green forests and splendid historic buildings. The collection of holy water at the taps of La Sanctuaire de Notre-Dame de Lourdes marked a significant moment in the spiritual journeys of myself and many others, and the wonderful evening pilgrim walk with the candles brought forth a strong sense of belonging and global community. The camp out in the tents was a great opportunity to meet people from many countries and to ground ourselves with the Earth, and the eye-opening Mass was a marvellous moment for the pilgrims of WYD and other adherents to come together as one in the presence of God.

We had a delightful time after the Mass before heading off on the bus to Loyola, Spain, having coffees, beverages and lunch, strolling down the streets of Lourdes and through its souvenir shops, and even dipping our toes into the river by the hillside! Merci beaucoup Lourdes pour votre hospitalité belle, vous êtes superbe!! Au revoir la France, hóla Espãna! 

Henry McNamara

11th August

Attending World Youth Day was an incredibly faith-filled journey that left me profoundly grateful.

Throughout World Youth Day I connected with so many beautiful and knowledgeable people. Meeting diverse people from all around the world, united by a shared faith, is an experience I will cherish for a lifetime. The energy and positivity from our Bathurst Diocese group was infectious, fostering an atmosphere of unity and love. From heartfelt conversations to vibrant celebrations, the event provided a space to connect and create long lasting friendships.

World Youth Day gifted me with memories I’ll forever cherish, and a renewed sense of faith and community. The journey opened my eyes to the beauty of diversity and the power of shared beliefs.

Attending World Youth Day was a faith-filled journey where I met beautiful souls from around the world. WYD not only deepened my spirituality but also allowed me to embrace diversity and create cherished memories.

Matilda Montague

10th August

‘Why are you at WYD 2023?’

During pilgrimage I’ve been asked this question numerous time. Now I thought I had the answer to this question down pat. I am here as I grew up in a Catholic family and attended numerous events within the Bathurst Diocese and this was just another event that I have been waiting to go to.

I have been asked this question many time throughout the trip but the time that sticks out the most was at the outdoor mass at the days in the diocese in Braga. I gave the same answer but then looked around at the thousands of young pilgrims like myself here in the same place and questioned myself. ‘Why am I here?’. I’ll be honest when I looked further into the question I really didn’t know the answer. I’ve had time to now reflect on all the new friendships I’ve made, all the amazing holy sites I’ve seen. The times I have felt close to God. So, as I near the end of my journey I have an answer.

I am here because God wants me to be.

Ellen Day

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart Montmartre, Paris

6th August – after the closing Mass in Lisbon

Pope Francis was asked about his health en route home from Lisbon, where he presided over World Youth Day. It was his first trip since he was hospitalised in June.

The trip, which came during a heat wave that sent temperatures to 40 degrees Celsius in Lisbon, was notable because the 86-year-old pontiff deviated so often from his speeches, homilies and even prayers, which are usually drafted months in advance.

One of the most notable deviations was a prayer for peace that Francis was supposed to have delivered in the Portuguese shrine of Fatima.

Instead of pronouncing the prayer, Francis ad-libbed his speech before the statue of the Madonna and skipped the peace prayer entirely, instead reciting a Hail Mary.

Asked why, Francis insisted he had prayed silently for peace but didn’t want to give “publicity” to a public prayer.

“I prayed! I prayed! I prayed to the Madonna and I prayed for peace. I didn’t make publicity. But I prayed. And we have to continually repeat this prayer for peace.”

The Pope said he cut short his other speeches because young people “don’t have a lot of attention” and that he needed to engage them, not lecture them with lengthy, complicated discourses or homilies. “Homilies can sometimes be torture,” he said. “Blah, blah, blah.”

In other comments, Francis affirmed that he included LGBTQ+ Catholics in his exhortation that “todos, todos, todos” (everyone, everyone, everyone) is welcome in the Church.

Source: Sight Magazine

6th August 2023 – WYD Final Day 

For those who don’t know, World Youth Day is on in Portugal. We have just awoken to a beautiful sunrise with over a million people sleeping out because Jesus Christ means something in their lives. Say a prayer for the Youth of world, and especially the Bathurst Diocese.

Last night wasn’t without challenges, but that’s life; the real challenge is how do we come back down the mountain and live our life as energised and joyful Catholics.

I am going to try to anyway!

 Deacon Josh Clayton

26th July 2023 – And on to Braga

After waking up on a bus with not much sleep, we began the day with French prayer. Even though I had no idea what was being said, I could still sense the commonality of God being present within everyone.

Following the news of Fr Laurie’s death the night before, we had a service in honour of his memory in a beautiful church in the town of Cabeceiras de Basto, interrupted only by Fr Laurie saying ‘hello’, through the groundsman whipper snipping the garden.

We then had another service with the rest of the pilgrims from Ethiopia, Thailand, Vietnam and France, lead by our own Bishop McKenna.

Tying off the day was an international soccer match, with France taking the win and Australia in second place.

Alistair Scott
St Raphael’s Parish, Cowra

St Michael's Monastery
The beautiful garden outside the church
Our view for breakfast
St Michael's Monastery

23rd/24th/24th July – on to Loyola

Leaving Lourdes at around 3pm by bus on 23 July, we arrived in our accommodation in Loyola, Casa de Espiritualidad Jesus – Maria, in Loyola around 4pm on the next day.

We settled in, were allocated our own bed, and had a warm shower. All these things were really a treat for us after the whole night on the bus and the cold night before in Lourdes. We celebrated by going out to a local pub for some drinks. Ultimately, this helped me to learn to treasure the simple things in my life.

We spent two days in Loyola. Much of our time was in Santuario de Loiola – where St Ignatius lived, converted, and founded the Society of Jesus – to pray, celebrate Mass, and learn catechism. I was fascinated by its beauty. It led me to pray every time I walked in this Church.

Inside Santuario de Loiola
New friends from France
Refreshments after a warm shower
The old chapel where St Ignatius prayed
The chapel in Casa de Espiritualidad Jesus-Maria where we often gathered for prayers

I also found these two days in Loyola so special because the first seeds of faith that the people of Vinh, my home diocese back in Vietnam, received in 1629, were brought by Fr Alexandre de Rhodes,who was a Jesuit. In addition, he was also the person who invented the modern Vietnamese script. Therefore, in my prayer, I thanked God for the gift of St Ignatius for the Church. I am indebted to him for the faith that I have today, which brought me to Australia, particularly to the Diocese of Bathurst.

Living out my faith is a pilgrimage. And on this pilgrimage, I believe that St Ignatius is journeying before me and with me.

PS: I also prayed for the people and the parish priest of St Ignatius’ Parish Oberon, who have St Ignatius of Loyola as their patron Saint.

Cong Van Hoang
7th Year Seminarian
(Cong will be ordained to the diaconate in September)

22nd July – Farewell Luxembourg

Luxembourg pilgrim group

22nd July – Last day in Luxembourg

Coming to the end of our first week, but also the beginning of our next journey, tiredness is lifting and exciting is brewing.

We said a heartwarming goodbye to our host families in Luxembourg, followed by a time of prayer. A special gift was presented to the Parish, which was the icon of Our Lady of the Central West. We hope this solidifies our relationship between our countries.

Then we caught a bus to the city of Luxembourg to tour around the beautiful streets, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame and the school of Sainte-Sophia.

Finally, we finished the day with Mass to farewell the pilgrims on the rest of their journey. As we sang the World Youth Day theme song, it was moving to see the excitement in the room for what lay ahead.

We are now on the bus for 16 hours en route to Lourdes. I look forward to continuing this wholesome journey and building deeper connections with our fellow pilgrims from across the world.

Sabrina Curr
St Josephs School, Molong

Farewell with our host families
Luxembourg Sign
Beautiful lunch with fellow pilgrims
Cathédrale Notre-Dame

21st July – Luxembourg

I’m personally still coming to terms with being placed on the other side of the globe. The landscape in Luxembourg reminds me so much of home and everyone’s English is very impressive. We were welcomed to warmly at the airport, and all shared a pop up lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches in the carpark.

Since we have arrived, we have celebrated Mass in two different locations: the Saints-Côme-et Damien Church in Clervaux and the Echternach Basilica. Both these Masses were celebrated with pilgrims from Ethiopia, Luxembourg, Vietnam and Thailand and were led by Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich. During Mass, Cardinal Hollerich invited us all to say the Our Father in his or her own language. This was so powerful for me, reminding us that the language of the Catholic Church is universal and no matter where you’re from, we are all called on the same mission to spread God’s love to all.

It’s been a wonderful and blessed beginning to our World Youth Day pilgrimage and I’m looking forward to diving deeper into my Catholic faith and developing a strong connection with God side by side with the youth of the world.

Flynn Bennet
St Raphael’s Parish, Cowra

Luxembourg pilgrim group

Following Mass at Echternach Basilica