Letter from 20s group at WYD08 - 16 July 2008

 We thought we would send you an update on our visit to Australia for the World Youth Days. Some of the group have been to previous World Youth Days in Cologne 2005 and Toronto 2002, and even earlier than that in Rome and Paris.

We arrived in the thriving city of Brisbane on Thursday 10 July for what is called the Days in the Diocese. Before going to Sydney people stay in other parts of Australia and New Zealand to get to know the local Church and to meet up with smaller groups from other countries. Already we have met people from South Korea, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Togo etc. There are 40 countries represented in Brisbane alone.

We are staying in twos with families in the parish of St Thomas in the suburb of St Lucia on the outskirts of Brisbane. We are overwhelmed by the incredible hospitality we have received. The families keep saying to us: "This is like welcoming Christ into our homes.'" Not only do they gives us the run of their homes, they drive us everywhere and do our laundry. We are staying in a wealthier part of the city near the University, two to a family. "It's like staying in Beverley Hills" one of the group said. Hugh is typing this out at the home of Greg, an accountant, while looking out at the Brisbane river from his top flat apartment.

This is now the Australian winter, but Brisbane is on the eastern coast about 700 miles north of Sydney. The temperature has been in the 20s each day. Sydney is cooler, and local people are amazed that we are going to be sleeping out overnight at the racecourse after the vigil with the Pope - but we are on a pilgrimage after all.

The first day we had a gathering in the park for all the people who are staying in this deanery on the west side of the city. We had demonstrations and dances from Papua New Guinea and other Pacific islanders who are here in great numbers. For the younger Catholics on some of the islands it is the first opportunity they have had to meet people from other countries. Some of them arrived with no shoes or warm clothing, never having seen television before or other mod cons.

In the afternoon our families took us on a tour of Brisbane. One of the drivers got caught speeding taking us up the hills to view from a panorama. The fact that he was reasonably polite to the policeman showed us that the World Youth Days is even having an effect on our hosts. A big advantage for us is that everyone speaks English. People are not as blunt as we might have expected from Australian adverts and comedians. In fact it is home from home, and all our host families had made regular visits back to Europe and know the places we come from and watch many of the same television programmes.

Captain Cook first came to this area over 200 years ago. From 1823 - 40 there was a penal colony here where prisoners had been transported from Britain, often for trivial offences. No other settlers were allowed to live within a 50 mile radius of the colony. Australians are proud if they can trace their ancestry back to the early prisoners.

On Saturday morning all the pilgrims gathered at various Christian Churches in the city centre. The Catholic Cathedral was not big enough to accommodate the 10,000 visitors who are staying in the diocese. After the services we all met up and marched to a local park for a day of entertainment and celebration with some prayer and reflection. There were various stages and exhibitions. You can imagine the singing and flag waving as we walked through the streets.

On Sunday we had a day out with our host families. Most headed down the Gold Coast, which was a bit like the Costa Brava in Spain. In the evening there was a Mass in the parish. Hugh was preaching so it gave him a chance to thank everyone and let them know more about the World Youth Days. The theme for it this year is: 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and then you will be my witnesses.' (Acts 1:8)

It was Donna's birthday. We gave her a present and they provided a cake in the hall after Mass when we met up with the Polish pilgrims in the parish and the local group that was heading to Sydney. We'd been asked to sing something so we had prepared a couple of Beatles songs. The parishioners wanted to sing more English songs from back home, and we finished the evening off with a rousing "Auld Lang Syne".
Not only have we been deeply affected by the hospitality we have received but I don't think the PP, Father Pat, or the parish will ever be the same.

On Monday we went to a Koala Sanctuary. We were able to get our photographs taken holding a koala and you were allowed to feed the kangaroos, but not the alligators and dingos. Marcia, the parish coordinator for our visit, owns a Deli and provided us with the best picnic imaginable. In the afternoon we visited museums or went shopping in Brisbane. In the evening we invited our host families for a meal at a Lebanese restaurant on the riverside. We wanted to pay and thank them, but in the end they still found ways to pick up the tab.

Today, Tuesday, we fly down to Sydney for the main events of World Youth Day. The focal point is the Vigil with Pope Benedict on Saturday evening and the Mass on Sunday. Most of us fly back Monday. Melinda is going to live here for a year to work and have the Australian experience. Nikki is staying on for a week to visit Ularu (Ayers Rock) and Cairns, up north. Charles already did this trip last week, taking the chance to sleep out under the stars at Ularu and seeing sharks and whales at Cairns.

As the postcard says: 'Weather here, wish you were beautiful.' You'll get plenty of coverage through Google and WYD2008. Look our for us in Sydney, and try to get into the spirit of this worldwide celebration of being young and Catholic.

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