Letter from first UK group to arrive in Sydney - 14 July 2008

 Having been the first World Youth Day group to arrive in Australia from Britain, the UK young adults in the MAGiS08 WYD pilgrimage have now rejoined their counterparts from all round the world for the second phase of their Jesuit-run project. Our regathering was marked in moving fashion by the arrival among us of the World Youth Day Cross and icon, which the whole MAGiS group "surfed' down the driveway of the college to the church (actually the sports hall) and placed in the midst of us for a powerful prayer-vigil. Aboriginal Garigal & Islands dancers moved us with a vivid dance and mime, capturing the themes of rebirth and redemption. The Cross remained with us overnight and became the centrepiece of an all-night prayer vigil, during which the young people prayed according to themes from the Ignatian Exercises that had been prepared for them.

Over 1400 young adults, animators, spiritual guides, volunteers and logistics staff are now assembled at St Ignatius College Riverview, just outside of Sydney, for a programme of Ignatian reflection on their experiences in these last weeks. Each day there is a theme from the Spiritual Exercises which focusses our day and our prayer. We gather at several points of the day to reflect on the day's event's and experiences, looking for the fingerprint of God (and, it seems, quite often finding it).There's a wonderful variety about the pilgrims, who have come from at least 40 countries, as they share their understanding of God's ways through the medium of Ignatian spirituality.

Last week, all of our MAGiS pilgrims had been engaged in "experiments": placements in various parts of Australia and beyond. Our UK young adults were engaged in experiments in Sydney's King's Cross, a notoriously edgy part of town, where they encountered the street homeless at a Jesuit-run night shelter and kitchen as well as Muslim and Jewish groups, who met us with warm hospitality. Others went down to rural Victoria and engaged with the aboriginal peoples, learning about how they are rebuilding their lands and communities. Others again went north to Queensland, working similarly with indigenous peoples, learning about their customs, their spirituality but also their struggles. All of the placements began and ended on an Ignatian note; starting the day with an exercise from St.Ignatius then reviewing the day with an Examen and sharing in our "MAGiS-Circle" groups.

Now we find ourselves on the threshold of the official WYDs, the Holy Father having arrived on Australian soil and resting from his arduous journey prior to his arrival on Sydney Harbour in a few days. We are all being challenged by a considerable amount of media negativity, even cynicism, locally; it does appear that some parts of the media are intent on stirring up controversy and division. By contrast, the overwhelming evidence reported back by all our young people gathered here at Riverview is of warm and friendly welcomes everywhere, not least from public service and transport workers who will have to cope with moving huge numbers over the next few days. The weather remains bright and sunny most days but we have had chilly winter nights. Not quite everyone is looking forward, therefore, to the all-night vigil under the stars next weekend, that precedes the Papal Mass.

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