The day began with a catechesis session for English speakers under the big top. Our venue was literally a massive tent in a field. The band that played at our Australian Gathering kicked things off with some great music and fun songs to get us all into the spirit of the day.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was delivering the faith formation, sat near our group in the tent’s ‘green room’ which consisted of a plastic chair atop an old crate.
When he was introduced he was described as charismatic and that was certainly an apt portrayal. He is the 10th Archbishop of New York City and pastor of St Patrick’s Cathedral, where, for example, 50,000 people attend the Ash Wednesday liturgy.
His task for the morning was to speak to us about the theme of WYD, as laid out by Pope Francis – ‘Now is the time for God’s mercy.’
He was passionate, loud, humorous and mesmerising in his delivery. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I really engaged with what he was saying. He spoke to us about our collective procrastination.
“When it comes to God, religion and matters of faith; when it comes to us acknowledging that Jesus is our Lord, Saviour and best friend, we are all Olympic gold medallists at procrastination.
“We mustn’t delay when it comes to God. As St Augustine said, ‘We’ll always have God’s mercy, but we might not have tomorrow.’ World Youth Day can be a time when we stop delaying and accept Jesus’ invitation; a time when we acknowledge, ‘I want God, I need God, I need his mercy’,” said Cardinal Dolan.
The cardinal enthusiastically told the story of Pope John Paul II returning to Poland in 1979.
“He never once mentioned communism. He spoke only of faith and Jesus. Millions of Poles heard him and began to raise their heads after years of slavery; we have a name, a culture, a memory, a faith; we have a Saviour.
“On the last day of his visit 2 million Poles gathered for Mass. Thirty seconds after he began his sermon a chant began in the crowd, ‘We want God’. It took over the entire stadium. The people were revitalised – they came together in solidarity with God,” said Cardinal Dolan.
Our own pilgrim, Amber-Jane Parker, bravely took to the stage during the Q & A session with the Cardinal and asked him how she could show mercy to herself.
The Cardinal gave her a hug and gave the following advice.
“If God forgives us, who are we not to forgive ourselves? Get over it,” he told Amber in a loving way!
After the session and a short break, Mass was concelebrated by the Cardinal and a vast array of bishops and priests from all around the world.
During his homily, the cardinal told us that there were two essential points of teaching from the day’s scriptures.
First, God’s love for us and his divine mercy is a pure gift; it is ours for the asking.
Second, God always forgives and always asks us to leave sin behind. He is calling us to a conversion of heart.
I found the Mass, and once again the music and singing, absolutely moving. There is just something amazing about being with so many people of faith really raising their voices in thanksgiving. The hymns were all familiar, but all those voices really raise you up. You absolutely feel the grace of faith. The bonds we have forged over the course of our pilgrimage are very strong so to be at Mass together now is very special. I know that quite a few of us were a bit emotional at this particular Mass.
After Mass we headed in different directions in smaller groups. I was with a group that shared a wonderful meal in an amazing restaurant that we stumbled across and explored the Old Town square and Cloth Hall.
Fr Greg led a group of us in prayer and contemplation in the evening which was once again a special experience that helped us make sense of what was a really momentous day.
We feel like family to each other. Now that we’re in WYD Week it is harder to all be together at the same time so when we meet again in the evening or at breakfast it’s great to catch up with each other and find out about each other’s adventures.