Be Holy, Be Happy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

World Youth Day Jounal: Adoration

Friday, July 18th: I was more excited than ever to sing and dance to the song we learned yesterday at catechesis because the two ladies in my small group missed it yesterday and were going to experience it today. First, we learned a third song/dance, although I still liked yesterday's better. The "animation team" invited the brave ones in the crowd to join them in dancing to that first song they taught us. So I got up on stage and danced (tall people in the back) alongside the bishop of a northeast diocese in India. It was the last day for catechesis, although it didn't dawn on me at the time, and I was a bit punchy today. The approach and antics of the emcee were getting to me and I am ashamed of my "humorous" and snappy comments that I made throughout the morning, under my breath. On a more positive note, the bishop gave a great catechesis on the Holy Spirit being the principal agent of mission:

- When we "receive power," as it states in Act 1:8, this is the power of God.
- "Witness" comes from "martyr".
- "Be the change you wish to see in the world" ~Ghandi
- Filled with the Holy Spirit, we feel that it is our duty to be witnesses to the world.
- World Youth Day is a manifestation of our Christian mission.
- The Holy Spirit instills us with Divine Charity.
- We can never separate holiness from our mission.
- Mission is not an option. It is in our hearts.

Just before Mass, we pilgrims were asked to come up and share a testimony of what WYD has meant to us so far. I was impressed with the diversity of witnessing given. I was glad we stayed for Mass. The cantors were from a large group in Minnesota. We sang "Here I am to Worship", "Blessed be Your Name", and "How Great is Our God". Now, as much as I love those well-known worship songs, I am disappointed they didn't pick songs from Catholic artists during this Catholic celebration. On the positive side, you can't accuse the Catholics of being exclusive to others.

The lunch truck was super late so my expanded-small group (young and older) went to McDonalds. Since it's Friday, I got the Fish was pretty good. On the train ride into Sydney we discussed our plans for the day. The seniors decided to try and catch today's big event, the Stations of the Cross, at Mary's place (Fr. Paul's friend). I kept debating what to do because it is my favorite devotion, but I didn't think this would have been the same (since everyone is assigned a place and stays there for the three hours while the liturgical leads went from place to place). I finally decided to go up to the top of Sydney Tower first. My normal small group came too. I figured that I'd be up and down in time to catch the last 30 minutes of the Stations at my designated area.

The line into the Sydney Tower wasn't too long. Of course the view was beautiful, and the binocular thingys that cost money to look through and are bigger than your head...they were free! They even have upper level and lower level viewing areas. Unfortunately, the line to get back down took about an hour and a half. So, the sun was down before we were. And, as beautiful as the sky was at that time, my place in the line to get down was out of the view of the actual sunset. I knew I missed the last part of the stations so, instead of going to Barangaroo when I finally was on street level, I went straight to the Sydney Opera House. The other three went to catch Christopher West's final talk. Before I mention why I went to the Opera House, I want to emphasis that I missed an amazing rendition of the Stations of the Cross. It was almost a different devotional all-together and had a "Passion Play" feel to it. Some of the stations themselves were different than what I am used to. I am truly sorry I skipped out on it live. I am endlessly grateful for EWTN being there to record it. When I got back to the States, I was able to catch their broadcast of it over the web. It was phenomenal. The commentary was helpful and the insights and reflections offered by Jason Everett and Fr. Mark Mary were incredibly poignant and moving...I strongly encourage everyone to make some time out of your day (or even spread it out over a couple of days) to watch the entire 4 hour program. Make a mini-retreat for yourself out of this, you will not be disappointed. Visit

O.K., back to Sydney Opera House. When I arrived, it was time to eat. It's Friday, so I chose not to have the stew and eat what I packed with me. I walked out to the end of the peninsula the Opera House is built on and sat on the railing separating me from the water. It was then that I finally had that moment where it sunk in that I was actually in Sydney, Australia. With the sound of the water behind me, the full moon rising to the left of me, the Sydney Opera House lit up right in front of me, and the Harbor Bridge to the right of me. I thought to myself, "who am I that I get to be here?" I thanked God for that moment. When I finished my casual meal I entered one of the smaller side theaters where Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity were hosting Eucharistic Adoration. they even had a relic of Mother Theresa (it looked like a blood stained piece of cotton). The entrance was also the upper level - balcony - where confessions were being heard so I went to the lower level to begin my time with Jesus. I had a tough time concentrating because I was in a high traffic area. After a short while I decided I should go to Reconciliation. I had a great view of Jesus while the priest offered practical and spiritual advice and I let Him minister to my heart. I went back down stairs and focused on the penance. By the time I left there was a long line to get in! I was overjoyed at the experience and the night was just beginning.

My next stop was to Barangaroo where the "Receive the Power! Live" concert was going on. Although I missed the world-famous Hillsong United band, I got there just in time to hear John Pridmore give the 10 minute edition of his conversion story from the gangster life to letting God free him. Check him out at Then Matt Maher and his band took the stage. As one of the best Catholic bands in the world, they lead worship like none other. This time, they had a top-notch, Australian teen choir backing them up as well. Absolutely powerful. Better still, as is included with most Matt Maher concerts, the night was topped off when the Blessed Sacrament was brought to the front of the outdoor stage. With thousands upon thousands in attendance, we adored Christ together while Matt Maher lead us in a couple of worship songs! These events are open to all, so there were non-Catholics in attendance. The Holy Spirit was moving in a powerful way tonight. It was marvelous.

Monday, August 18, 2008

World Youth Day Journal: The Pope Arrives

Thursday, July 17: Another "comfortable" night in my new sleeping bag. Although, my morning didn't start off too great. I forgot my towel in the room when I went to take a shower... I was never exactly sure what the temperature was at any given time, but my guess is, in the morning it was probably 38-40 degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say, that was a chili run back to the room to retrieve my towel.

Morning catechesis began with a new song. I wasn't too keen on it at first, but once I included myself in the actions I enjoyed it more than yesterday's song, which we sang right after the new one. Before the "keynote speaker" a local priest said a few words about Reconciliation and invited us to the Sacrament as it was being offered in the back of the room for the entire morning. He did an outstanding job explaining just what Reconciliation is and did it with a great sense of humor. Several priests (maybe six to eight) offered their time for the Sacrament and the line was long and steady throughout the morning. The keynote was by the Archbishop of Guam. His main speech was pretty good as he spoke on how the Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Church. Unfortunately, I didn't take good notes:
Jesus was simple/focused - anchored in His Love for His Father. So, how are we to become focused and have zeal for God? Look hard at the crucifix.

The Q&A portion had a lot more questions than yesterday but I was not impressed with how they were answered. I'm usually not one to leave early from anything, but this was one of the things that convinced me to duck out with my "small group" as the Q&A was finishing. The other thing that convinced me to leave before Mass was that a quick look at our Liturgy Guide (given to every pilgrim) made me think the Pope was saying a short Mass just after his arrival in the afternoon. In all actuality, he would lead in a quick Liturgy of the Word. Ooops.

My small group went into Sydney, hopping off the train at the St. James station. They checked out the merchandise tent near St. Mary Cathedral while I looked for lunch. I was told lunch was only being served near the convention center (Darling Harbor), so we started going that way. Once there, we decided to go straight to our designated place in Barangaroo for the Pope's celebrated arrival. It seemed that all the WYD Volunteers gave us different info about lunch so two of us stopped in at a bay side sandwich shop and ordered food for the small group. It was really good food and we later found out that if we stayed at the catechesis site we wouldn't have gotten lunch anyway because their shipment never came.

Our assigned location for the Pope's arrival was right in front of the main stage, but all the way at the back. Luckily, we were able to move to a closer section, but the stage was still in the way of getting a good glimpse of the "boatacade" he first came in on. Once he docked, he got into the "Popemobile" and took the short drive to the stage. The crowd was buzzing with excitement. People were standing on the barricades, trying to get a height advantage. The big-screens were a blessing, but certainly no replacement for the first, real sighting one has of such a figurehead. When B-XI was on the stage, the greetings/formalities out of the way (which actually weren't all that boring) he lead us in a short Liturgy of the Word, including a homily:
He greeted us with encouragement in our responsibilities to the environment and social justice. Life is a search for the good, truth, freedom, and is not just a string of experiences. Christ offers more! He continued along the theme of our catechesis from the morning.

Unfortunately (and surprisingly), it was hard to focus because there were several in the immediate vicinity who were not always paying attention. Either that, or they are really good at multitasking. All-in-all, it was a surreal but positively great experience seeing the Pope in person for the first time. The build-up and the excitement were a lot of fun. I really enjoyed as he spoke for a bit in each of the "official languages of WYD". As he addressed the people in a different language, the pilgrims who spoke that language would erupt in cheer. The event ended with everyone singing the WYD theme song, "Receive the Power". That was a powerful, unifying experience.

Our group went their separate ways to the concerts, workshops, or sightseeing. My small group planned on seeing Christopher West again and the seniors hadn't quite decided where they wanted to go yet, so they came with us. I was very excited to aid in spreading the Theology of the Body to an older generation and get their feedback. But that was hours away yet.

Crowd control led us out of Barangaroo in the opposite way than where we wanted to go, but the crowd was full of jubilee and made the extra long walk a lot of fun. We stopped at a popular bar for some rest and replenishment. I lost fun game of pool to one of the older men in my growing small group. The game took longer than expected and we found ourselves in a rush to get to a good position by the doors of the scheduled venue in plenty of time for Christopher West. As Murphy's Law would have it, when we got there, we were told the venue had changed to be at the convention center (the same room he was in the night before). Really feeling the crunch for time, myself and another younger guy decided to speed ahead and get to the convention center and solidify our place in line, knowing there was going to be a huge and angst-driven crowd. Right before the two of us sped ahead, I happened across a young, newly wedded couple from Iowa State University, who added WYD to the end of their original honeymoon plans. They wanted to see Mr. West but didn't know where the convention center was, so I made sure they followed us. Considering the density of the crowd and the almost frantic pace, it's times like those that I love being 6'3" with an easily recognizable beard. It was an exciting, fast-paced walk, through Sydney, getting to hear the short-short version of the newlyweds' story.

We got there with excellent position in front of the door but I thought there were other entry points that wouldn't be as crowded because they weren't as well known. I went to find them and came up empty. I still have no idea where those extra doors I saw from inside the room lead to. But I can't really say I came up empty, because I did find a counter loaded with free copies of Catholic Answers' booklet containing two tracts: "Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth" and Jason Evert's "Pure Love". So I grabbed one for each of the young adults in my small group. Upon my return towards the doors of the lecture hall Mr. West was to present, security had already closed off the entry points into the hallway for crowd control. The room's doors hadn't been opened yet and I had no idea if the rest of my small group made it into the line before this. Plus, I wasn't sure I would get a seat anymore. Eventually, I did get in and found the rest of my small group, handed them the booklets and enjoyed Mr. West's "The Love that Satisfies: An Introduction to Pope Benedict's Teaching on Erotic and Divine Love." Here are my notes:
Within the context of "Deus Caritas Est": Eros = Love between man and woman (more specifically, marital relations); Agape = Love between God and Man (more specifically between Jesus & the Church).

The male-female difference is meant to reflect/express God's Love in eros & agape.
Question everything with sincerity and you'll be taken straight to the Eucharist, because Jesus is the Truth, Way & Life. There is a place in everyone that no one can touch. But in that small, still space in the quite, God is there. In the Eucharist, God's agape love is bodily. The body is capable of showing us the spiritual. The challenge of eros is learning to love fully as Christ.

The vocation of a consecrated celebate does not say "sex is bad" - it says "Heaven is real." Consecrated celebates participate more directly in the banquet at the heavenly wedding feast. They signify that they are not losing anything, but gaining everything. They are the signs that point everyone else of heavenly Love.


Monday, August 11, 2008

World Youth Day Journal: Theology of the Body

Wednesday, July 16: I was excited for the first day of catechesis (teaching) since I wasn't sure what to expect. We were happy to find out, first thing in the morning, that we could attend the one in Campbelltown instead of at the Entertainment Center in Sydney. That means we would not be as rushed in the morning. So, we arrived at "King of Clubs: Campbelltown Catholic Club" which is sort of like a YMCA, with electric gambling machines, a convention center, and more. All the money that goes into the club goes back into the Catholic schools. Pretty impressive considering it all seems to have stemmed from local concerns and grassroots initiatives.

Anyway, when I get there with the group, I joyfully find that we are among people from Somoa, Canada, New Zealand, several states, and more. We were introduced to our "animation team" - a group from India - to lead us in song/dance to get our blood pumping and then lead us in a mantra to the Holy Spirit, inviting Him into our heart, soul, and life. It was fun and powerful - I loved it. I know there aren't many who are used to some charisma in their prayer so I do wonder how everyone else took it. From what I could tell, they were pretty accepting.

Then our teaching began as the archbishop of Regina, Alaska took the stage and gave an impressive talk. Here are some of my notes:
He began at the beginning, reflecting on the first chapters of John's Gospel and, of course, Genesis. The archbishop noted that when we breathe, we live. God breathed into Adam's nostrils and Adam came alive. So, Adam breathed with his own breath, but also with God's life-giving breath. Throughout creation, God declared it all "good," but when God made man, He claimed us "very good." We were given dominion over all else. We were given dignity, part of God's holiness. But when Adam and Eve were given free will they misused it and chose to disobey God. Death entered with sin. So God entered into His own creation and took on the pain, suffering and death that sin causes and conquered it by rising from the dead. God didn't just give up on us. In His fidelity to us, He decided to redeem us. He decided to give us a new life - through Baptism. - *Aside: Little did I know how much this tied in with other talks to come, not related to the catechesis in the morning.

Following the talk, there was an extensive period for Q&A. I was a bit concerned because it is always "up in the air" whether a Q&A session will go over well. This one did. "Who is the Church?" "The Ukrainian Rite uses the image of the Holy Spirit as the Mother (completing the family image), the Roman Rite doesn't, why?" "With so much against us as Christian, who do we press onward?" "Did Jesus have to die for our redemption?" - Great questions!

We ended our first morning together with Mass and the music led by the "animation team." Those guys make me smile. I hope to travel to India one day. I am really bummed at myself for not having any pictures during our morning catechesis all three days.

From there, our big group split off into smaller groups, each deciding what they wanted to attend or go see. This was the only day in which no big event was being held so the rest of the afternoon/night was filled with concerts, talks, forums, prayer, expos, and more all held in several locations within Sydney. Two young ladies from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, a young man from Marquette University, and myself stuck together. On the train ride into the city I passed around a packet that contained the schedule of activities offered through the week. We marked what interested us and then tried to map out our routes. That was difficult. I was excited to see some great names lined up at WYD - I mean Matt Maher, Fr. Stan Fortuna, Christopher West, Jason Everet, and more! However, my "small group" didn't seem to recognize any of them. Nonetheless, a talk by Christopher West (later in the week) caught one of their eye's. Then I noticed that he was giving a different talk each day! Trying to stay calm (and trying to listen to the Holy Spirit so I knew when to stop talking), I encouraged my small group to see the first talk in his series, being given on this night - his introduction to the Theology of the Body (even though you can get it for free from his web site at Apparently, my excitement didn't scare them off and they decided to go!

We left the St. James train station, viewed the outside of the recently renovated, St. Mary's Cathedral (you could only get in if you signed up for a tour) while enjoying the sounds of a nearby concert featuring traditional and contemporary world dance. The Sydney Tower was near by so we went inside to see if we could go up to its top. Because the line was so long we decided to purchase tickets (which could be saved for a few months before using) and come back at a more opportune time, later in the week. That actually took a lot out of us and, since we didn't go up, it felt like a waste of time (considering all of the other stuff going on around the city). We continued towards Darling Harbor where the convention center is, enjoying the city along the way and trying not to loose track of each other in the crowds. We got to the convention center before a certain workshop, but realized it wasn't going to cover what we thought it was and also learned that it was being recorded and would be available online - at a new, world-wide social networking site for Catholics, - so we went outside to have supper.

Now, the interesting thing about the way meals are delivered is that you have to have six meal tickets to get your bags of food (one thermal bag for the stew and one regular bag for the rest). So we searched for a group of two and found a couple of college ladies from the Midwest. We ate with them, enjoying their outgoing nature and great humor. They were planning on going to the Christopher West talk as well, so, after supper, we all went back into the convention center and sat right outside the doors to the room his talk would be held. As time went on, it became very crowded in hall as others gathered around waiting for the doors to open. It reminded me of being in front of the exhibit hall doors at a gaming convention just before they opened. Soon a chaotic sprint would ensue if crowd control did not say something. It was exciting. I have no idea how long we were there - it had to be well over an hour. Groups were singing and shouted uplifting chants to keep themselves entertained. When the doors opened, the crowed flooded in - relatively behaved, I might add - and Mike Mangione and his band took the stage first. In the middle of one of their songs, I saw Christopher West walk across the stage, sit behind the empty drum set and begin to play along with them. That was such and awesome and unexpected moment for me to witness because I know that it must have been a blessing for him to get that chance. Anyone who has heard Mr. West's talks, knows how much he loves music.

The Theology of the Body is the title given to the 129 talks from Pope John Paul II during the first six years he was pope (1979 - 1985). He talks about our sexuality and it's relationship with God. How we get a better understanding of God by understanding our sexuality as a gift from the Divine. Here are a few snippets I pulled out of my notes:

Why did God make us male and female? Partially because God is a fan of relationship. Read Ephesians 5:31-32 to get what JPII sees as a summary of everything God wants to tell us about who we are. Our maleness/femaleness is a sign/image of God's Love/Unity in Heaven. What are at the bookends of the Bible? Genesis begins with the wedding of Adam and Eve while Revelation ends with the wedding between Christ and His Church. More than any other analogy used in the Bible is the "spousal analogy." Take the Gospel story of the woman at the well. The woman came to the well with a physical thirst and God used that to point to her spiritual thirst. That is because erotic love (eros) is meant to point to divine love (agape). What is true love?
1) Free - "They do not take my life, I lay it down freely"
2) Faithful - "I will never leave you."
3) Fruitful - "I came into this world so that you may have life, and have it to the full."
4) Total - "Everything the Father has given me, I've given you."

It was great to see Christopher West in this particular setting. On the train ride back to Campbelltown we even discussed it a little as we went around and stated what stood out to us.

Friday, August 8, 2008

World Youth Day Journal: Opening Mass

Tuesday, July 15th: I had a very long, cold, and restless night on a hard floor. I probably woke up to turn on the timed heaters about five times (because I only turned them on halfway each time...oops). Those of us who shared the same classroom floor during the night stuck together throughout the day. We went to K-mart to purchase items we needed. Some bought towels, some bought pillows. I bought a below-freezing sleeping bag, like I had planned to do the day before, but little did we know that all stores close before 6pm. Even K-mart and Target. After our purchases we hopped a bus back to the school and the bus driver graciously agreed to wait for us to quickly drop off our stuff and return so that we didn't have to wait for the next bus to take us to the train station. His name is Mario, he loves to laugh (especially at his own jokes), and I believe he had a photo on the dash of himself standing next to his race car!

We went into Sydney (to St. James train station) and walked to the Entertainment Center, near Tumbalong Park and Darling Harbor, because that's where we were told our group would have our morning catechesis the following three days. I wanted to be prepared. By that time it was mid-afternoon, so we headed past Darling Harbor to get to the area the Opening Mass was to be held. We had a really long walk but it was a great, first experience to file in with the thousands of pilgrims as we flooded into Barangaroo. We were designated to enter the area through gate 1 - at the very tip of the peninsula. We could barely see the roof of the stage where Mass was to be held.

We grabbed lunch, which was impressive - beef pot pie - found our spots, said grace, ate, and waited for Mass. *Aside: I still consider myself new to praying before I eat, so it was a hurdle for me to bring it up in front of the peers I recently met. But a simple, "Shall we pray?" led to an instant, affirming response. I constantly ask myself, in so many areas of my life, "Marcus, why do you hesitate?"

I'm guessing that, because we were outdoors and so far away from the altar, that's why it took a long time for the crowd around us to settle down and focus as Mass got underway. Once the Liturgy of the Word began, all was relatively calm. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it was interesting to see the different cultures kneeling and getting up at slightly different times of the prayer. Distribution of the Eucharist was not as organized as I thought it would be. Interestingly, my section was actually distributing Him before the pope was done with the prayer and had consumed the Eucharist himself. The areas that were farthest away from the altar seemed to get done before those nearer the altar, so perhaps it was planned that way to accommodate the sheer numbers. I'm not sure.

After Mass we got an impressive supper - a very tasty stew brought in thermal lunch bags for us to keep. That warmed me up a bit (as I had forgotten my sweatshirt and coat in Camden and the winter sun had set a while ago by then). Following supper was a huge concert, ended by fireworks, so I knew that once I started jumping around, I would also stay warm. However, but the others in the group were also getting cold and they were still adjusting to the timezone and were quite tired. The day before was very long for them. So we took the long walk back to Central Station, hopped on the 1.5 hr train ride back to Campbelltown, and caught the 15 minute bus ride back to the school for a much better night's sleep.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

World Youth Day Journal: And So It Begins

Monday, July 14th: Fr. Paul (the group leader who picked me up from the airport) and I went to pick up the rest of the group at the airport early in the morning. While waiting, I saw Fr. Leo Patalinghug arrive. I don't normally get "star-struck" but I wasn't expecting him, so I couldn't stop smiling. Ever since I first saw his web site,, I was impressed. Here's a busy man who is using as many of his talents as he can to spread the Word of God! Cooking, Tae Kwon Do, break dancing, and more. He's an inspiration and a joy. Like I said, when I saw him appear in the airport, I couldn't stop smiling. I think I weirded-out the old lady sitting next to me! I wanted to run up to him and shake his hand but I also didn't want to confuse or scare him. Besides, I could tell his primary concern was to find his ride from the airport. I didn't see anybody holding a sign with his name so I knew I wasn't going to be much help to him and let him be.

When the Iowa group got in, we took the train to Campbelltown, then the bus to our host, Mary Magdellan Catholic College (high school), in Camden. We were greeted by the principal and received our WYD backpacks, pilgrim guides, and other swag (Stuff We All Get). Very cool! We picked which classrooms were were going to call our home for the next week and then Fr. Paul brought us back into Sydney (always on the train) to grab some food and then walked to Mary's (same friend him and I stayed over at the night before). It was great to see the place during the day and we all went around to her backyard on the waterfront. Beautiful scenery & very relaxing. I noticed an airplane just drew a cross in the clear sky and then everyone watched as it spelled "JESUS". Talk about spreading the Word so the whole town could see it! That was great to watch the lost art of sky-writing.

Soon afterwards, the group naturally began to talk amongst themselves to determine what everyone wanted to do for the remainder of the day. The group I decided to tag along with wanted to get used to the city a bit more so we got on the train, went from North Sydney to Circular Quay (sounds like "key"), and walked down to see the Sydney Opera House. We took some pictures and I grabbed some near-by German guys to be in the photo with me - I need to take pictures with random tourists more often...

My "mini-group" then continued through the streets, away from the harbor, some looking specifically for a pub the locals frequent. Of course, anything remotely near the harbor was going to be too "touristy". So they finally asked some workers who must have been on break and they were happy to help - real friendly and easy to talk to. Certainly, the places they mentioned were too far away for the moment so the group settled for some beers at the place next door.

Once I knew where they'd be for a while, I back-tracked to the museum we just passed. Admission, normally $5, was free for us pilgrims! I only had 30 mins before it closed though. It was small but interesting. Their history reminds me a lot of America's history - even our styles in the 1950's were similar...

I returned to the pub and the group was ready to leave, but a local guy came through and started to talk to us (our backpacks easily revealing that we were pilgrims). He offered to buy everyone a round so we stayed and chatted some more. Now, many of you know that I don't drink...and some may think it's rude to order water when a drink has been I upped the anty and ordered a glass of water...on the rocks. That made everyone laugh and continue with their conversations! Every time I got to speak with someone from Australia I asked the same questions, "How excited are the people of Sydney to host WYD? Or are we just a nuisance because of the closed roads, packed train stations, etc?" I always got roughly the same answer: "I'm sure some are bothered by it and there has been some dispute over the fact that the city is putting a lot of money into an event that is seen as exclusively for one branch of one religion. There are also doubts about the actual amount of people that would show up. But, overwhelmingly, the buzz of WYD has caused a lot of positive energy in the city and we know it's pretty big to say we can hold these large international events." ~This is not a specific quote from one person, but a generalized statement of the viewpoints. Again, these are great people to talk with!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

World Youth Day Journal: Getting There

Ever since I was in third grade, I've wanted to go to Australia. Recently, the Church has given me a phenomenal reason to make the 20 hour flight. For the next several days, I will share my experience with you - I will even expand on what I originally put in my journal. My name is Marcus Knecht and I am a young adult board member in Omaha, NE.

What is World Youth Day? It's a celebration of the youth in the Church (geared towards the teens on up to the mid-30 age range), but is frequented by all ages. Although your dioceses may (or may not) celebrate it locally every year, it's only every 3 years (roughly) that it's celebrated as a pilgrimage to one, varying location. Toronto, Canada hosted it in 2002. Cologne, Germany in 2005. And in 2008, the beautiful metropolis on the harbor: Sydney, Australia hosted the largest event in the history of the "Land Down Under." Although a relatively small crowd compared to other World Youth Days in the past, this pilgrimage was larger than the Olympics in 2000 for Sydney!

My travel itinerary was different than the rest of the group I registered with as I was a late registrant. The group was gathered by Fr. Paul Strittmatter, a Jesuit at St. Patrick parish in Dunlap, IA (and two other surrounding communities). I left Thursday, July 10th and returned Friday, July 25th. This first post will conclude with my reflections on those days leading up to the start of World Youth Day:

The more I travel, the more surreal the traveling gets. The more I land in a new country, the less real it seems. Each airport seems like the last and each city doesn't immediately stand out as its own. Maybe I was just overly sleepy this time...or maybe it was because I was traveling alone... At least one thing doesn't get old: Flying. I still love everything about flying. The g-force from the take off; watching the land get smaller and smaller, seeing it from a new perspective; flying at the same level with the clouds and then rising above and seeing the sun shine on the tops of them; the turbulence; the landing and slowing down as quickly as possible. I love it all - except the sore neck from constantly looking out the poorly placed windows. I even enjoy the layovers.

July 10: My route to Sydney, Australia for World Youth Day took me from Omaha, to Denver, to San Fransisco, to an overnight stay in Honolulu, Hawaii. Let's pause here. I stayed in Hawaii. How did that happen?! Unfortunately, I was too tired to effectively think straight about enjoying it properly. We landed before the sun went down, but I never got to a location to watch it set. I got to the hotel about 8pm local time (after about 9.5-10 hours of flying) and fatigue started to set in. Hunger kept me going but it wasn't enough to ask smart questions like, 'how can I get to Waikiki?' Oh well, what I did eat was local and tasty. I am sad I didn't get outside of Honolulu because, aside from the palm trees, it seemed like most other cities I've been to. I admit it is an unfair assessment because of my tiredness and limited time.

July 11: I overslept by 30mins but still enjoyed a typical American continental breakfast with several servicemen and their families - there seemed to be a big conference, or something, for the Army. I did get to enjoy the Hawaii skyline (sans the skyscrapers to muck it up) while at the terminal and then it was onto an airbus for a 10 hour flight to Sydney. I got to watch 'National Treasure 2' and enjoyed it, much like I did the first one. It's just a fun movie.

July 12: I arrived in Sydney, Australia about 4pm local time - and luckily customs let me in! My passport expires in November because I first got it when I was a Junior in high school. Needless to say, the picture barely looks like me anymore. I had a smaller forehead back then and no beard. At any rate, it's winter time in Australia so the sun was already lowering when I arrived, but I still didn't get to see it set. I immediately found my ride but we stayed and chatted as we waited for two others to arrive as well. My first Australian meal was a toasted croissant from the airport. Traveling to our sleeping quarters, a Jesuit boarding school, I got to see, off in the distance, the Opera House all lit up in the dark sky/harbor!

July 13: This morning I woke before the sun rose. Still tired, I debated getting up to wait for the sun rise. Luckily, I did. So quite (except for the cool birds), so peaceful, so beautiful.

This Jesuit school was one of the hosts to the Magis program and coincidently had received the WYD Cross and Icon the day before. Sunday morning we had a jubilant, multicultural celebration of the Mass with these two staple WYD items. I wish I brought my camera that morning. I even watched as they packed up the Cross and Icon and carried them off to their next pilgrimage location. No fanfare for their departure, just a neat and humble experience altogether. Later that night they held a multi-cultural event like I've never experienced. Almost every country was give time to presented a skit, traditional or modern song/dance, poem, etc. With traditional clothing warn by most, it was a learning experience that allowed me to truly appreciate the beauty of culture and the importance of knowing where you come from. I praise God that there are moments like these that let the Univeral Church come together as a shining example of its unity.