World Youth Day (WYD) has come to an end, and our Maitland-Newcastle Pilgrims are now reflecting on their spiritual encounters both here in Portugal and in the Holy Land. They are tired but happy, and they have a lot of stories to share with their Parishes, Schools, and the broader community upon their return later this week. WYD is a global Catholic event that brings together young people from all over the world to celebrate their faith with the Pope. It is a pilgrimage, a celebration of youth, and an expression of the universal Church. The theme of this year's WYD was "Mary arose and went with haste" (Lk 1:39), which is a call to young people to rise up and be the light of the world.
Our pilgrims arrived in Lisbon with a renewed sense of purpose. They had just spent one week in the Holy Land, where they had the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. They were inspired by the sacredness of the Holy Land and the power of the Christian faith. WYD kicked off with an Aussie gathering of over 3000 pilgrims. Our very own Summer Harrison spoke about her time in the Holy Land. She was only one of four Pilgrims in Australia to be invited to share her reflections of her Pilgrimage. Summer's talk was inspiring, and it helped to set the tone for the rest of WYD. The first day ended with a welcome Mass in Parque Eduardo, presided by the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, Manuel Clemente.
Each morning of WYD, our pilgrims engaged in catechesis and had opportunities for prayer, reconciliation, and sharing their faith and Eucharist with Catholics from all over the world. They reveled in the opportunity to be alone with Jesus during these WYD experiences.
The Pope was welcomed to Lisbon on Thursday by excitable Pilgrims chanting ‘Esta es la juventud del papa!’ - this is the youth of the Pope. On Friday, we immersed ourselves in the Way of the Cross with Pope Francis.
During our formation sessions, a lot had been spoken about the Pilgrimage to the place of the Vigil. Batteling forty degree heat, some Pilgrims walked the entire 11km to Parque Tejo, whilst others, along with what seemed to be hundreds of thousands of Pilgrims, packed Lisbon’s metro to escape the weather. On arriving to our area, we found that there was not much reserved space left. As such, we were split into two groups for the sleep out. The WYD vigil and sleep out was a powerful and moving experience that was a highlight of World Youth Day. The Vigil on Saturday evening was a time to come together with Pope Francis in prayer and song, to reflect on our faith, and to prepare for the closing Papal Mass. The sleep out was a challenging but rewarding experience. One comment that was heard from various Pilgrims was “I was a little nervous about sleeping out on the hard ground but I do not regret it and I am so happy I did it!”On Sunday morning, Pope Francis celebrated Mass with over 1 million young people from all over the world. His message was clear: "No tengan miedo" - do not be afraid. He urged young people to be bold in their faith and to spread God's message to the world. The Papal Mass was a fitting way to end WYD. It was a time of great joy and celebration, but it was also a time of reflection and renewal.
As a Diocese, we should be very proud of our pilgrims who have represented the Diocese on the international stage with grace and dignity. They have shown the world the power of young people and the beauty of the Christian faith.
We are writing to you from the Holy Land, where we have been on pilgrimage for a week now. We have already had the opportunity to take a path that has led to new places of discovery and moments of encounter. Among these new places of discovery and encounter are some of the most important Christian sites in the world.
Sunday 23 July - Bethlehem and Surrounds
Our pilgrimage in the Holy Land commenced at the Church of the Visitation in the town of Ein Karem. The Church of Visitation is the place where Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth and proclaimed her Madnificat prayer - ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord’. We were fortunate enough to have Bishop Kennedy say Mass. His homily challenged our pilgrims to do what Jesus did; find time to be alone with God, enjoy the company of others, and spend some time with St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary - the people who taught Jesus his humility. From there, we walked to the Church of St. John the Baptist, built over a natural grotto identified as the saint’s birthplace. After lunch, we visited Shepherd’s Field as we commemorated the appearance of the angels to the shepherds on that first Holy Night. Lastly, we visited the Church of the Nativity, the oldest complete church in the Christian world (6th Century) and the birthplace of Jesus. Bowing down to fit below the Door of Humility, we descended into the Holy Manager where a silver star on the floor marks the actual spot where Jesus was born. The star’s inscription reads - Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus Natus Est (Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born).
Monday 24 July - Via Caesarea Maritima, Haifa, Cana to Galilee
Our day commenced at St Jerome’s cave where in 386 AD, the saint spent 30 years translating the scriptures from Hebrew into Greek and Latin. Bishop Kennedy commented that St Jerome’s translation into English is the most authentic. Adjacent to the birthplace of Jesus and part of the Franciscan Monastery, we celebrated a spectacular Mass with other Australian pilgrims at St Catherine’s Church. Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney reminded pilgrims that Jesus is the real flesh of a human being, like me and you. We then travelled north to the crusader port of Caesarea Maritima which was built by Herod the Great and overlooks the pure Mediterranean Sea. Cornelius, the centurion, was baptised by Peter here, becoming the first Gentile convert to Christianity (Acts 10). Later, we drove to Haifa to enter the Stella Maris Monastery at Mount Carmel. It was here in the lower cave that Elijah was said to have meditated on His Victory over the false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18: 1-40).
Tuesday 25 July - Galilee Exploration
We woke at 4:15 am to make our way to Mt Arbel to prayerfully await the majestic sunrise over the Sea of Galilee. On driving back for breakfast we stopped at the ruins of a Synagogue, adjacent to the Valley of the Doves, where it is believed Jesus taught. Later that morning, we visited the Church of the Primacy of Peter - this is the place where Jesus challenged Peter and each one of us ‘Do you really love me? Feed my sheep.’ Mass was celebrated at the site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes by Fr. Greg. One Pilgrim, during the prayers of intercession, reflected on Jesus’ challenge to Peter by asking God to show them how to feed his sheep. Our Pilgrims have been fortunate enough to share their prayers at each Mass. Lastly, we ascended the Mount of Beatitudes in which Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5: 1-12).
Wednesday 26 July - Sea of Galilee
Today was no doubt one of the highlights of the pilgrimage so far - we set out on a traditional ‘Jesus Boat’ sailing vessel to have a Private Mass in the centre of Lake Galilee. Unlike when Jesus calmed the storm, the Sea of Galilee was peaceful and restful. This allowed Pilgrims to reflect on the miracles of Jesus calming the storm and walking on this very water. Later, we journeyed to Capernaum, the once fishing village of the first apostles Peter, Andrew, James and John which became the hometown of Jesus and the scene of many of His miracles. Our day finished at Caesarea Philippi near the base of Mt Hermon and where the springs of Banias form the source of the Jordan River. During our second Formation session, our Pilgrims were challenged to reflect on Jesus’ question to his disciples “Who do you say I am?” (Mt 16:13) at Caesarea Philippi. To be able to come to this sacred site for Catholics was a spiritual and reflective experience that all Pilgrims enjoyed.
Thursday 27 July - Nazareth Day
Our morning started by ascending the seventeen sharp bend path up to the summit of Mt Tabor where Jesus’ divinity shone forth in the Transfiguration (Mt 17: 1-2). Luckily, we arrived before all the other Pilgrim groups, so we had 10 minutes of quiet prayer before the hustle and bustle of these groups arrived. We continued towards Nazareth to visit Nazareth Village. This authentic non-profit re-creation of the village of Nazareth as in the days of Jesus helped our Pilgrims visualise how the land was 2000 years ago. The highlight for our Pilgrims was after lunch when we made our way to the Basilica of the Annunciation. Pilgrims enterned into the Basilica to witness a traditional cave that became the focal point to Mary’s response to the Angel Gabriel “Let it be done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). This incredibly spiritual encounter for our Pilgrims was particularly significant as it was the place where “the Word became flesh” (John (1:14). Our Harvest guide, Habib, has constantly referred to this line in John’s Gospel, so our Pilgrims really appreciated being able to connect to Mary though seeing the cave. Pilgrims also visited the nearby Church of St Joseph to commemorate the life of Mary’s beloved spouse. If you remember our first day in Bethlehem (Sunday 23 July), Bishop Kennedy challenged Pilgrims to find time with St Joseph and the Virgin Mary - today’s journey in Nazareth enabled Pilgrims to find the time they needed with St Joseph and the Virgin Mary.
Friday 28 July - Jericho, River Jordan, Dead Sea
Our Pilgrims were fortunate enough to celebrate Mass in the new ‘Duc in Altum’ Church at Magdala - home of Mary Magdalene, who became the first recorded witness of the Resurrection (Jh 20:18). The best part about this church is that the Altar is in the shape of a boat and Pilgrims were able to overlook the Holy Sea of Galilee during Mass. On the bus for two hours south to Jericho, the ‘City of Palms’. We made our way to view the Mountain of Temptation, the site of Jesus’ fast of 40 days. A memorable moment for Pilgrims (and Bishop Kennedy) was when the Bishop paid $5 for a camel ride! On to Yardenit on the Jordan River to remember the Baptism of Jesus and to renew all Pilgrims' Baptismal promises led by Bishop Kennedy. Our day finished at the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley and then with a magnificent view of St Georges Monastery from a cliff top lookout.
Saturday 29 July - Jerusalem Exploration
We began our Jerusalem journey at the peaceful Church of St Anne where the Virgin Mary was born. Pilgrims took a moment to be with Mary and ask her their intentions. This is the Church where Jesus would come and stay during the Jewish Passover festival. Walking out of the old city, Pilgrims proceeded to the Mt of Olives to visit ‘Pater Noster’ Church where Jesus taught His disciples the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6: 7-15). Marvin, a Pilgrim from Uganda, taught several Pilgrims the Lord’s Prayer in Lunganda, his native language. From here, Pilgrims were really able to be with Jesus as they walked down the Palm Sunday Road to the Dominus Flevit Chruch (where we celebrated MAss), built on the site where Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Lk 19: 41-44). After Mass, Pilgrims crossed the road and went into the Garden of Gethsemane and into the Church of Agony which contains the rock upon which Jesus is said to have prayed at before his arrest. After lunch, Pilgrims made their way up to Mt Zion to the Palace of Caiaphas and into the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu commemorating Peter’s triple denial of Jesus. Pilgrims were able to enter the site of the last supper. Our day finished at the Church of the Dormition where the Virgin Mary died or ‘fell asleep’ as the name suggests.
Sunday 30 July - Old City Jerusalem
On our final day in the Holy Land, we arose early to commence the Stations of the Cross following in the actual footsteps Our Lord took along the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross). Pilgrims were emotional as they sang ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’. Our journey culminated at the site of the Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where we visited the sites where Jesus was nailed to the cross, His tomb, and the site where the Cross was found by St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land about 326. One Pilgrim commented on how close Jesus’ tomb is to where he hung on the cross. Our afternoon saw us visit the Israel Museum where we viewed the Second Temple Scale Model of Jerusalem as it was in the time of Jesus. Here we also view the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Shrine of the Book Museum. Pilgrims visited the Western Wall in the Old City to witness devout Jews chanting their prayers at the wall as we as Catholics pray for peace in Jerusalem and throughout the entire world.
As our Pilgrimage to the Holy Land comes to an end, Pilgrims leave here with the spiritual clarity they needed to become closer to Jesus. As we embark on the next phase of our Pilgrimage, we are heading to Lisbon to participate in all the festivities of World Youth Day.
We thank you for following our journey and we look forward to sharing our stories soon.
World Youth Day (WYD) is the gathering of young people from across the globe with the Pope. It is a pilgrimage, a celebration of youth, an expression of the universal church and an intense moment of evangelisation for our world. Although its catholic identity is evident, WYD opens its doors to everyone, no matter how close to or distant from the church they are.
World Youth Day is celebrated every three to four years and is an international gathering with the presence of the Holy Father. It brings together millions of young people to celebrate their faith and sense of belonging to the church.
This year, we are excited to be journeying to Lisbon in Portugal with a group of 45 people from across our Diocese. In the below video, you'll hear from four of our pilgrims - they explore their hopes for the trip.
Journey with us on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and onto World Youth Day Lisbon 2023 in Portugal, where we will gather with young people, celebrating our diversity and faith.
Watch the gospels come alive on this most authentic faith journey live on location in the holy land of Israel. Take the chronological road of Jesus' life from Bethlehem to Nazareth and Lake Galilee to Jerusalem as we prepare for a powerful encounter into the spirit of his passion. Continue into the heart and soul of Portugal to join our holy father for the 16th international WYD in Lisbon, as young pilgrims from across the globe will gather for an unforgettable week of prayer, worship, and celebration.
Following the excitement of the WYD week in Lisbon, we depart for the tranquillity and relaxation of our post WYD retreat in Palmela. We will spend the following days entering into a time of rest, recreation, and retreat, as we unwind and process the amazing past days on pilgrimage and WYD experiences.
Mr Ryan Gato is our Diocesan World Youth Day Coordinator for 2023. Ryan is currently employed by the Catholic Schools Office of Maitland-Newcastle, working as an Education Officer Formation within the Religious Education and Spirituality Services team. He is looking forward to sharing this life-changing experience with the young adults of our Diocese. Ryan has been involved in faith formation and youth ministry for over ten years and has prepared and coordinated three previous World Youth Days. He brings a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm to the role.
Ryan extends an invitation to all young adults to consider being a part of a pilgrimage that will encounter the universal church.
"I invite all young people to consider journeying this pilgrimage with us as a way to encounter afresh the person of Jesus Christ. Come and walk in the footsteps of Christ. Come and witness the vitality of our faith through the diversity of cultures. Come and pray in solidarity with Pope Francis. I hope you will join us on this amazing journey."
Since its first edition in Rome in 1986, World Youth Day has proven to be a laboratory of faith, a place of birth for vocations to marriage and consecrated life, and an instrument for the evangelization and transformation of the Church.
It aims to provide all participants with a universal Church experience, fostering a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. It is a new stimulus to the faith, hope and charity of the entire host country community. With young people as its protagonists, World Youth Day also seeks to promote peace, unity and fraternity among peoples and nations around the world.
Mary arose and went with haste(Lk 1:39) is the bible quote chosen by Pope Francis as the motto of the World Youth Day that will be held for the first time in the capital city of Lisbon, Portugal. The biblical phrase (a quote from the Gospel of St. Luke) opens the account of the Visitation (Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth), a biblical episode following the Annunciation (the angel’s announcement to Mary that she would be the mother of the Son of God, and the theme of the last WYD, in Panama).