In July of 2008, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Sydney, Australia for World Youth Day (WYD) with Pope Benedict XVI. My church’s youth group prepared months in advance for the pilgrimage. We raised money by selling hoagies the last weekend of each month. Parishioners of the church were generous to our funds and this allowed us to pack our bags.
My youth group arrived at Pittsburgh National Airport at four o’clock A.M. Sunday morning. Our plane was scheduled to leave at six A.M. Six o’clock came and we had yet to board. A little later, we learned our plane had just arrived that night and they had spent the early morning trying to load it with food for our journey. At eight o’clock A.M., we boarded. Excitement filled the air as we walked through the plane and into our seats. We loaded our carry-on bags above our seats and waited patiently to ascend. Forty-five minutes later, we were to exit the plane quickly due to a fuel leak below. We exited and walked back to our seats inside the terminal. Shortly after, we were informed that our plane was to leave at eight o’clock that night and they would give us vouchers for lunch and dinner inside the airport. True to their word and sixteen hours after we had first arrived at the airport, we boarded at eight and departed. We arrived down under twenty-two hours later.
The first night was spent in the heart of Sydney. As we walked throughout the city, we took in the sights and sounds of the crowds of young people that traveled all over the world for the same reason. Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, welcomed everyone with an opening Mass at the Barangaroo on Sydney Harbour. Because of our late arrival that day, we could not make it to the harbour for Mass. Instead, we went to a park in Sydney where a large screen was postitioned to display the Mass for those who could not get in to the Barangaroo. Afterwards, we made our way back to the school at which we were to stay. The next day, my youth group scheduled a bus tour to the Blue Mountains north of Sydney. Along with the tour, we visited a zoo. As we approached Sydney on the way back from the tour, our guide took us to the Sydney Olympic Park which was constructed to specially host the 2000 Olympics. At the end, the bus dropped us off at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. We were hoping to visit the cathedral, but it too crowded. Not only was the line out the door, but it traveled across the street and wrapped its way around a park.
Later that week, we traveled into Sydney for the live enactment of the Stations of the Cross. To our luck, we arrived at the Sydney Opera House when the actors were there. Every few stations were held at different landmarks throughout the city. In order to leave the Opera House to move to their next location, the actors traversed on a boat across Darling Harbour.
The journey concluded when all the pilgrims of WYD traveled a few miles to Randwick Racecourse located outside of Sydney on Saturday. The significance of the journey was to gather all the pilgrims to stay the night at the racecourse and hold a vigil with Pope Benedict. My personal travel was 3.5 miles long. Pope Benedict held Mass at the Racecourse on Sunday morning. At the end, he welcomed everyone back to WYD in Madrid, Spain in 2011.
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