Almost three weeks have charged by since our flights from Santiago Chile touched down at Kingsford- Smith Airport (I misspelled Kingsford-Smith when I was typing and my predictive text suggested I try Kung-fu Airport. Too funny..) and we all got off planes, hauled bags off the luggage carousels and into cars and taxis and headed home to resume the lives we had placed on hold three weeks earlier. As I think I mentioned in one of my previous posts (I should reread what I write), I was one of the first through the customs check and my affable taxi driver was very happy to get a nice fare to Menai, even though he had no idea was it was when I first told him where I needed to get to. After typing my address into his GPS, (a taxi driver friend of mine reckons old-school cabbies cringe at the thought of needing to use a GPS), we were on our way on the M5, heading south. He asked me what music station I would like to listen to (I said I didn't mind); he asked if I would like some quiet time, seeing I had just got off a 15-hour flight (I said that I was happy to chat), and that was the last thing he said to me before swinging his very clean and quiet Silver Service taxi into my driveway. After stopping, he raced out of the drivers seat, got my bags out of the boot before carrying them right up to my veranda stairs. He got a nice tip.
A non-stop 15-hour flight when you are heading home is probably a better option than a journey with one or more stopovers, although it doesn't feel like that at the time. Some of the return flights from Santiago had stopovers in Auckland, and I think one flight a few additional detours on top of that. While it meant another period of two consecutive days with no sleep (my third in three weeks), it was good to get back as quickly as possible.
There were lots of mums and dads, and husbands and wives and grandparents and even school principals at the airport to greet their weary pilgrims. Some held aloft 'Welcome home' balloons and signs and chatted excitedly to each other as they waited for their loved ones to emerge. I only saw a few reunions before I headed off to the meet 'Sydney's most affable cabbie' but each one I saw was warm and emotional and moving. Clearly, the pilgrims had been missed.
I have had few opportunities to chat to fellow pilgrims about their reflections of their WYD adventure since arriving back home. I slept for much of the day following my return and was back at work the day after that. There was a pile of things to do and, like I suspect has been the case for many other WYD journeymen and journeywomen, I have been in catch-up mode ever since. My initial thoughts were that I would begin visits to schools last week to film some video reflections from teachers and students about their adventure. I have still yet to do that, but now have a few dates in the calendar.
A very good friend of mine said to me once that every travel experience changes you although you usually don't rarely know it at the time. She is right. I am probably a different person as a result of where I have been and what I have seen and what I have learnt, and I am more aware of it since arriving back in Australia. I don't think that I am necessarily a better person (how could I ever measure that) but I am a different person. I have seen more, thought more and I guess I know more. To be fair, the lives of some of the people I met while I was away were not all that much different from my own, but the lives of others could not have been more so. There were some days I felt sad by what I had seen; on others days, I was deeply moved and inspired, and on other days I was too tired to think about much at all. Now, when I look back at the photos I took and read a few of my earlier posts, I am reminded of the fact that is only through luck that I have the life I have. Sure, I have worked pretty hard in my life but no harder, and perhaps even less so than some I met in Peru or Argentina or Brazil. I am under no illusion that I am ostensibly a product of opportunity. Australia is not the only lucky country out there but it is certainly one of them.
It is clear to me that the experiences that had most impact on students while they were away was their mission work on the shanty hills of Lima. I am not surprised by that. It's a no-brainer for me - young people find meaning in their faith by doing things to help people. While the students who travelled with us to South America were mostly young men and women of faith, for them it was when they 'did stuff' to help people that they felt most Catholic. I could see it clearly and they also told me that themselves. Carting rocks or water or cement to build a set of stairs up a slippery hill; sanding a wall while renovating an old shed that will be a future community centre; watching the look on the face of a local woman when they gave her a small parcel of food - these were the moments where they had the most unobstructed view of the face of Christ. Too often, I think, our Church is looking for the faith of its young people to be strengthened primarily through ritual and ceremony . The rituals of our church are powerful and often beautiful, but for them it mostly about action. Isn't that what the messages of the gospels are all about, after all? Lovable rogue Catholic priest and lover of ordinary people Father Bob McGuire says we spend far too much time trying to explain faith and not enough time practising it. He could be right...
The weeks home since WYD have strengthened my admiration even further for the pilgrim leaders who accompanied the kids on their South American adventure. Just last week, they gathered at the CEO's main office at Leichhardt for one of their scheduled meetings and I caught up with some of them at lunch. It was great to see them looking much refreshed. Their work to ensure that every young pilgrim was kept safe and well, and had the best possible WYD experience, would have taken a lot out of each of them so it was good to see them looking well and rested. They were bloody amazing.
So this week, I start my visits to schools. I will put those up on the blog when they are done. I have also been given so more photos from a couple of bus groups so I will add those too. In the meantime, I wanted to say thank you to those of you who have been kind enough to write or email or phone to say that you enjoyed reading the blog. I am deeply appreciative of that. Just knowing that people want to read something that I have written always surprises me, but it is a nice feeling. Thanks plenty. x