World Youth Day 2016

Enthusiasm for World Youth Day (WYD) is once again sweeping across the city as archdiocesan schools launch their pilgrimage offerings for WYD Krakow in 2016.

Most of the archdiocese’ 39 high schools will unveil their offerings in the next few weeks as the traditional date for WYD – Palm Sunday – approaches.

WYD is an annual event, with large, international gatherings with the pope held every few years.

A handful of schools have already shared their invitations to WYD during special school assemblies and liturgies, conveying an experience that scores of WYD pilgrims have described as “once in a lifetime” and “life changing”.

Information evenings for parents will follow in May, with students expected to confirm their intention by 17 July, followed by a special, large-scale gathering on 31 July to mark one year until WYD16.

Bethany College’s Year 12 vice captain, Alana Allison, shared her experience of WYD13 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with hundreds of students at a school assembly recently, and of community immersion that is becoming an increasingly popular part of WYD pilgrimages.

“[We were] exposed to a life completely different to our own,” Alana told her fellow students.

“We experienced life changing moments that one-and-a-half years later, are still kept very close to our hearts.”

They included visiting a primary school in the shanty towns of Lima, Peru, where they taught kids how to clean their teeth and wash their hands; rennovating the town’s medical centre; and building stairs to give locals’ better access to their homes, built on very steep slopes.

“The WYD sleep out on Copacabana Beach and getting to see Pope Francis would definitely be up there,” Alana said.

“Meeting people from all across the globe with whom we shared a common faith was incredible and really opened our eyes to the power of faith within our world.

“We swappped flags and souvenirs with all nationalities, [sharing] an incredible bond regardless of language barriers.”

Mark Smith, youth ministry co-ordinator within the Catholic Education Office Sydney (CEO), said there was something special about this WYD, taking place in the picturesque homeland of the event’s late founder, St John Paul II.

“John Paul II was known for his strong and his courageous calling forward of young people. He really believed in young people,” Mr Smith told The Catholic Weekly last week.

“Poland is a beautiful country and not a typical one for travel in Europe. And of course, we will have Pope Francis there – someone who really resonates with young people in that sense of Church in mission.

“It’s a chance for young people to experience a beautiful time in Poland and to meet the worldwide Church community.”

School pilgrimages to WYD will be offered to students who are this year in Year 9 or 10.

Students who will be in Year 11 or 12 in 2016 will not travel with their school but have the option of going to WYD with the archdiocesan office for youth, Catholic Youth Services. Parents can rest assured, Mark said, in knowing that the students will have structure around them, with teachers supervising their children and their children’s peers.

“The archdiocese has got a strong history of teachers going to World Youth Day, in Rio (2013), Madrid (2012) and Sydney (2008) which was the real explosion of WYD here in the diocese.

“The archbishop has called forward teacher pilgrims as well (teachers who won’t be supervising but will join the pilgrimage for their own formation). “That can include primary school teachers … Our young teachers are very much in that youth bracket; [it’s] for their own formation, enrighment and faith. “It’s investing in people,” he said.

Three pilgrimage extensions will be available to schools – to Italy, the Holy Land, and Prague.

The official week-long celebrations of WYD16 will take place in Krakow from 25-31 July, culminating in a final Mass with Pope Francis.