Many of the locals here find it hard to believe that so many Aussies have come half-way around the world to be in Rio for WYD 2013. I really don't know exactly how many are here from The Land Down Under but if the crowd at yesterday's gathering at Viva Rio is anything to go by, it must be close to about 600. It is very clear that Sydney provides the largest representation of students from Catholic schools but each state seems to have a pilgrim group here and there are, of course, parish groups as well. Some of those have been to other countries, en route to Rio. Fr Greg, the Bus Group 2 Chaplain and PP of the All Saints Parish at Liverpool, travelled the first part of his pilgrimage with his parish group, and they spent time in Mexico at the start of their trip. Regardless of where they have come from, or the path they have take to get here, they are all here with the purpose of being part of the largest gathering of Catholic youth in the world.
Each WYD, a special event for each county with a significant representation is organised. The Aussie Gathering took place yesterday at Viva Rio, a large conference/entertainment facility about 30 minutes walk from Aussie Central. The students had attended a catechises session in the morning and gone there straight after that, apart from a quick stop-off for lunch. We were all there, dressed predominantly in our blue Sydney Catholic schools jackets.
There was a great vibe in the room. Apart from providing the opportunity to have the whole Australian contingent in the one place at the one time, it was also an occasion to listen to our clergy leaders speak about what WYD is really all about and what the call to be Catholic means for us all. I was particularly moved by the presentation by Fr Chris Ryan, a young priest ministering to the communities in Melbourne's more disadvantaged areas. Very honestly and openly, he spoke about the decisions he had to make as a young Catholic man trying to decide what his calling in life would be. He reminded the assembled crowd that all of us had a calling for God, and that calling would be different for each of us. All he asked that we would be prepared to listen and think and respond to that call, when it came.
Other Catholic leaders, including Bishop Anthony Fisher, Bishop of Parramatta, and the Bishops of Perth and Sale spoke about what it means to have a Catholic identity in a world that offers individuals many life choices. We were entertained by music from a variety of artists, watched a multi-media presentation that featured images and video of the mission work that had been carried out on the pilgrimage, there was a lovely prayer service that featured young pilgrims and the event was closed by His Eminence Cardinal George Pell, who blessed the gathering and thanked the city of Rio De Janeiro for their hospitality and support of the Australians pilgrims. Oh, and I almost forget, the Australian Ambassador, Mr Brett Hackett, was also there - he warmly welcomed us all at the start of the event and made very clear how proud he was to see so many Australians in his adopted city.
It was a two-hour show and the end of it, we headed back in the direction of Aussie Central. On the way, we attended Mass concelebrated by a number of our WYD pastors at a small but exquisite church right in the centre of the city. I would liked to have taken some photos of the church to show you but it was one of those occasions where it just did not seem the right place or time. It was a fairly short service (and shorter for some who got lost on the way there) but I really enjoyed it. The small church was full to capacity and many students were seated in the choir loft (I also was there) from which they had a very special view.
At the end of the service, it was back to Aussie Central for a short time, then out to dinner at an all-you-can-eat buffet at the San Francisco Hotel. The food was great and many made full use of the 'all-you-can-eat' provision. I saw many students (and staff!) head back for seconds, and in some cases thirds! It was a big carbo-loading meal to preparation for the days ahead.
We are back at the Copa tomorrow to welcome 'Papa Francisco', as he is known here, to WYD2013. That will be another interesting experience. Hoping the rain eases a bit (not looking likely at this stage) but whatever the weather, we will be there, together, to say g'day to the former Jesuit priest and now leader of the universal Catholic Church - a man who has inspired Catholics and non-Catholics everywhere with his humility and his deep love and commitment to those most disadvantaged and alone.
We will be there to say g'day for all Aussies...