Monday, July 21, 2008

Leave it to the professional bloggers

For a good blog of what all happened in Sydney, see Tim Drake's blog at He really does a fabulous job and has lots of inside information. He is very accurate in what he has described here in Sydney. Going back to what I personally experienced beginning Friday morning. I got up early enough to be at the Sydney Opera House via train when the 'credential office' for priests opened at 9am. There were horror stories earlier in the week of priests waiting as long as 7 hours to get their credentials for the Opening Mass with the Holy Father (most I talked to waited 3 to 4 hours) so I decided to wait until the last day to get my credentials for the Final Mass at Randwick, and I'm glad I did. I was in and out of the credential office in 5 minutes, which gave me time to go to where I had left my camera the night before, but alas, the sisters didn't have it. The good part of the morning was that I was able to stay at a catechesis site hosted by the Sisters of Life, and it was a great site. The speakers were good, and the sisters led all the prayer service beautifully, and planned for Mass beautifully. There were about 25 concelebrant priests there. Afterwards they had a lunch much better than the lunch we had at our Catechetical Site at Wahroonga, and after grabbing an espresso and cookies I headed to meet the Kansas City group at Barangaroo for the Stations. I have to admit that at first I thought the idea of having tens of thousands of people meet all over Sydney and to have the stations acted out live at various places over the course of three hours was too ambitious. And for the first four stations I thought I was right. The sun was in our eyes at Barangaroo, and the kids seemed disinterested mostly in stations taking place a couple of miles away. Besides, we were all very uncomfortable in our holding pens, and the stations were moving very slowly. But after Jesus was scourged at the Opera House, and we knew that the Stations were moving on to Barangaroo, people starting plugging in to the event. By the time Jesus walked right by us prior to going on the main stage at Barangaroo to meet with women of Jerusalem, I had seen enough to know that this was going to be one special event. They timed the stations to end perfectly at a corner of the harbor just after sunset, and the pictures created by the live crucifixion with the harbor as a backdop were breathtaking. I was completely pulled in emotionally, as were all the people around me, and the music and cinematography and the acting kept getting better and better until we realized that the Stations were perhaps the one part of these World Youth Days that no one will ever be able to top. The actors were superb, and they worked so hard for three hours to pull off this monumental task, for the benefit of all of us. After the stations were over, we grabbed our stew once again (although I couldn't eat it for a third night in a row) and walked about three miles to the Sydney Opera House for the performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, which was the signature performance at the Opera House for these World Youth Days. It was magnificent, but by this time, things were catching up to me and I was quite tired so I didn't enjoy the performance as much as I would have liked. All the same, it was an extraordinary day at Sydney, but the next days get even better! I'll write more later.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

World Youth Day - it's over and I'm finally blogging again!

We are here for about three more days in Sydney, but the big WYD events are over - and it was an extraordinary experience. Even the newspapers in Sydney have said how difficult it was to keep a 'hardened' heart when you saw so many people having fun and showing what a profound joy it is to be a Christian. Sydney did a great job of organizing the event and policing it. All the police have remarked how little there is to do, save a little cleanup here and there, and keeping pilgrims moving in the right direction. There were long lines and waits, to be sure, but even in every line people were singing and introducing themselves and trading things and talking about how glad they were to be at WYD! As we were waiting in a huge mass of people yesterday trying to get to Central station (which did an amazing job of segregating pilgrims and getting them all on the right trains, by the way) we were joking that even if the Yankees had won the World Series (admittedly a bad comparison to going to the Final Mass with Benedict XVI) that they would be screaming bloody murder at each other if they had to wait like we had to wait to leave Randwick. But in our lines, everyone was still as happy as ever, even being tired from a long night at the racetrack. It is enough to warm my heart and expand it quite a bit, and I can be as skeptical as anyone. More to come -I must go eat pancakes that Margaret and Pat are serving, and then I'm going to the bridge climb today! Also, unfortunately, the sisters did not find my camera on Thursday night and so I am without pictures. I still know where I left it, and am hoping I can still retrieve it this week.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

WYD Sydney Day 2

Photos - 1 - cockatoos waking me up in the morning - 2 - waiting for our catechesis to start - 3 - pacific ocean Bondi beach - 4 - Darlng Harbor at night

Up at 6am today, 2pm back home, which is better than the 4am yesterday, and am feeling well. The weather here in Sydney is perfect so far. Low 60s during the day with lots of sunshine, and low 40s at night. Was awakened yesterday morning by cockatoos and some colorful birds (loola somethings . .. I forget) that appeared outside my window. Had a great breakfast with my host family and then headed for Catechesis on the Holy Spirit (the them of WYD) given by a bishop from New Zealand. The catechesis was fine, and the liturgy that followed was a little rough (they are not quite as detail-oriented with their liturgies as we are in the states) and the lunch that followed given by the Rotary club was a piece of bread and a susage (no picture, unfortunately) so we were pretty glad to go to the metro around 2pm and head into the city. The first stop was Bondi Beach for a look at the Pacific. It was filled with mid-afternoon surfers and of course plenty of pilgrims. There was a concert going on but this was not one of the main WYD sites. Getting on the buses afterwards was chaos, and we lost Fr. Meinrad Miller, OSB and Barry Clayton, one of our seminarians, but they made it home safely eventually. Anthony Saiki, Scott Wallisch, Nathan Haverland and I made our way to Darling Harbor, which was absolutely spectacular. Filled with pilgrims, they quickly ran out of dinners and we had to walk a long way to get ours, and again, the food was pretty rough, but who cared since the Harbour was such a happening place. Stages set up everywhere with people dancing and singing. Groups yelling and cheering for each other. People meeting each other everywhere and exchanging gifts. Beautiful walkways and restaurants and lighting and boats and views of downtown. Perfect weather. Adoration hosted by the Dominican Sisters of Nashville, who have been down working on this event for three months. Great talks by Christopher West and others that were packed. A jubilant atmosphere. The picures from Darling Harbor don't do it justice, but I'll try to get some more later in the daylight. Thanks for all your prayers and support back home. Today we have more Catechesis, a chance to greet the Holy Father at a point of our choosing (I'm hoping for the Sydney Opera House) followed by more walking, praying, learning, singing, exploring, meeting and exchanging - pilgrimage stuff!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

WYD Sydney Day 3

I have lots of new photos, but unfortunately I left my camera last night at a church across Sydney so today I'll have to retrieve it. Pat and Margaret started us off with a tremendous breakfast (I have a picture of that as well) and then we were off to catechesis with the bishop of Dublin, Ireland. Bishop Fields was very pleasant and Bishop Finn from Kansas City, MO also came by to say hi to his pilgrims and to concelebrate the Mass. Once again, the Mass was very interesting, with many remarkable deviations from what we are used to, but we were glad to start the day together. Lunch was canned tuna (ugh!) and after that we headed into the city for another perfect day. We saw the boat carrying the Pope into Sydney Harbour and then his popemobile came pretty close to our assigned section for the official welcome. Probably the most fun was just walking to the welcome through the streets of Sydney. All the business people of Sydney are coming out with their cameras because they just can't believe the vibrancy of all the pilgrims. We walked with a group from Angola that was really loud and who never stop singing and dancing and banging on the drums. What spirit! The Pope's welcome homily was good but honestly, the pilgrims are more interested in his hearing them rather than in their hearing him! They want to sing and dance and chant for him - to show their Spirit! It is really funny actually to watch the excitement die down once he starts talking, even though you know people are trying to listen. After the official welcome we began a torturous walk along Darling Harbour because they wouldn't let us enter the streets of downtown Sydney during rush hour. Eventually, we made it to St. Mary's Cathedral but the lines were too long again there, so we prayed the rosary and evening prayer and invited others to join us, then we headed to a 'street party' hosted by the Sisters of Life and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (both from NYC) and that was a blast! When we arrived there was a great Irish band from Washington DC playing, but the best part was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and praying with all the American pilgrims who are there. We met so many spirit filled and faithful people during our two hours there - maybe the best part of the day!

WYD - We made it!

(picture captions - 1 - my first Dodger Dog - 2 - Dodger Stadium - 3 - Joe Josts bar in Long Beach - 4 - Kate and me at the pool - 5 - the four seminarians and me (Barry Clayton, Anthony Saiki, Nathan Haverland, Scott Wallisch) ready to take off from LAX to SYD

When I arrived at LAX Sunday Eric Larson immediately picked me up and we headed to Dodger Stadium to see the Dodgers rout the Marlins. On the way I stopped by the Cathedral of the Angels (est 2002) and saw the end of a Spanish Mass. At the end of the game I received a call from seminarian Nathan Haverland saying that Qantas engineers were taking strategic 'sick leave' this week to force a new contract and that most flights from LA were being affected. Our 10:30pm flight was rescheduled for 9:30am on Monday (ugh!) and the whole pilgrimage group stayed at a Hilton and were able to go to the beach for the evening while I went and had dinner with the Larsons in Long Beach at a great seafood restaurant in Alameda Bay. Had a great time for my first trip to LA. Late Sunday night Kate Larson and I hit the pool and then Eric and I had a late night In-N-Out Burger (a double, animal style) which surprisingly digested pretty well by the next morning. Jamie Larson took me to LAX and we got off the ground Monday at 10:15am or so. Qantas was of course very apologetic but we found out when we arrived at Sydney Tuesday evening that many flights of WYD pilgrims were arriving late, and some not at all. Still, even though we missed the opening Mass, everyone here is excited and our bus driver assured us the Harbour area is looking great and festive for the WYD festivities. Our flight was a little over 14 hours, all in the daylight. It is winter in Sydney, so it became dark shortly after we went through customs around 6:30pm Tuesday evening. By 7:30 we were at Holy Name Parish in Wahroonga and the parishioners were more than eager to grab their pilgrims assigned to them and get them home for some hospitality, but of course, even this took some time to get everyone introduced and sent to the right homes. Fr. Meinrad Miller, OSB and I, are staying with Pat and Margaret Macmillan (Scottish name, we were told) who are originally 'kiwis' from New Zealand. Thankfully the Macmillans have good internet access and so far have been very pleasant to talk to. I just stayed up for an hour last night before going to bed, and am waiting for everyone to get up this morning (it's 5:23am Wednesday here) so I can learn more about the suburb, train station, etc. Since in Sydney everything is going well and we are excited for Catechesis and Mass this morning (not sure which bishop we will get) followed by about 8 hours in the Harbor Area taking in the many things associated with the Youth Festival. So far everyone is healthy and happy - thanks for the prayers!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Headed to Sydney Australia for WYD!

Well, this should be interesting and fun and tiring, especially for a guy from western Kansas who still isn't sure how much he likes to travel. Sunday afternoon I'll be at Dodger Stadium for the first time, then on a 15 hour flight to Sydney for the World Youth Days with Pope Benedict XVI. I have packed very lightly so I am counting on divine providence, and maybe a washer/dryer at the home of my host family (though I may be able to get by without it)! Here is the rough itinerary as I can remember it off the top of my head.

Tuesday July 15 - Welcome Mass with Cardinal Pell

Wednesday July 16 - Catechesis and Youth Festival

Thursday July 17 - Catechesis and Welcome of Holy Father by boat and Youth Festival

Friday July 18 - Catechesis, Youth Festival and Living Stations of Cross Around Sydney, Sydney Opera

Saturday July 19 - Pilgrimage Walk Across Harbor Bridge to Randwick Race Course, Outdoor Vigil - Sleep Under the Stars

Sunday July 20 - Mass with Pope Benedict and then pilgrimage walk back to Host Family

Monday July 21 - Blue Mountain Tour

Tuesday July 22 - Free Day

Wedneday July 23 - Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb - Look Out Below!

Thursday July 24 - Travel Back to USA via LAX

Please pray for us! I haven't been to the World Youth Days since Paris 1997, and it was there that I was able to greet John Paul II on behalf of the youth of the United States.

BTW - At the final Mass, the Pope will announce the location of the next WYD in 2010! Any guesses?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More indulgences for WYD Sydney and railroad strike??

Pope asks Catholics to pray for WYD; Vatican announces indulgencesCASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI asked Catholics around the world to pray for the young people who will gather with him in Sydney, Australia, for the celebration of World Youth Day. To help encourage the prayers of all, the Vatican announced July 5 that the pope had authorized a special indulgence for anyone who, "with a contrite spirit," raises a "prayer to God, the Holy Spirit, so that young people are drawn to charity and given the strength to proclaim the Gospel with their life," a Vatican decree said. Pope Benedict spoke about his July 12-21 trip to Australia when he met visitors at his summer villa south of Rome for the July 6 recitation of the Angelus. World Youth Day runs July 15-20 in Sydney. The decree included the offer of a plenary, or full, indulgence to all the young people who will gather with the pope in Sydney. An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven. The decree said a partial indulgence also is available to Catholics who are sorry for their sins and offer prayers with the pope for young Catholics.

WYD official says railroad strike not likely to interrupt eventsSYDNEY, Australia (CNS) -- Sydney's railroad workers have announced a 24-hour strike for July 17, the day of Pope Benedict XVI's arrival in Sydney for World Youth Day. But Jim Hanna, media director for World Youth Day, said July 7 that organizers remained "confident that the parties will resolve their differences through arbitration," and the papal tour through the streets of Sydney "will continue peacefully and uninterrupted." If the strike by the workers' union over an unresolved pay claim occurs, it could strand up to 750,000 commuters on Sydney's rail network, including hundreds of thousands of pilgrims traveling from the outer suburbs to the Mass venue. To avert what could be transport chaos on the busiest day of the July 15-20 World Youth Day festivities, the New South Wales government has taken the issue to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.