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Sydney's World Youth Day: 'Very Cool Way' to Connect
By Maria Zarick
This high school senior from Ohio was among the 400,000 last July at the closing Mass for World Youth Day in Australia. Pope Benedict XVI urged young people to let the Spirit work through them.


Swaps With New Friends
Catechesis and Rap
Pope Arrives at the Opera House by Boat
Way of the Cross Through the Streets
Overnight Struggle to Keep Warm
Three-hour Closing Mass
Better Sense of Who I Am
Financing the Trip

Maria Zarick (center) and her classmates Audrey Eggenberger (left) and Emily Jansing (right, and Maria’s roommate) pose in front of Sydney Harbor Bridge.

World Youth Day, Sydney ’08 was an experience I will never forget. It wasn’t quite the emotional retreat I was expecting, nor was it a party, like many other youth-geared Christian events. At first, this was a letdown for me, but I realize it really makes sense. Even though getting excited and emotional with thousands of Catholics from all around the world would have been sweet, especially as a teenager, that wasn’t quite what it was all about. Instead, it was centered on the one thing that makes Catholics stand out: the Mass, the Eucharist.

During World Youth Day, which actually lasts five days, my youth group of 13 teens (five were my Mt. Notre Dame classmates) and six adults from St. Michael Parish in Sharonville, Ohio, went to Mass almost daily. Why? It’s what Catholics do. Not to downplay all of the service projects and outreach programs we participate in, but a big part of our religion is praying, listening and receiving graces through the Eucharist. We do these things in large groups to receive more graces and then we sing so that we can “pray twice,” as St. Augustine said.

That’s the best way for me to describe World Youth Day in a nutshell: a series of Masses with even more people than normal and the pope as the celebrant. It might not sound too special to some, but in reality it was a very cool way to unite with Catholics from all around the world, and as a young person today, I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience it!


Swaps With New Friends

On Saturday, July 12, 2008, our youth group gathered at church for an 8:30 a.m. special prayer service. Our bright pink t-shirts (yes, even the guys wore them) with their WYD SYD ’08 logos started many conversations with strangers in the Chicago and Los Angeles airports and on the 15-hour flight to Melbourne and another flight to Sydney.

Arriving there exhausted and excited at 7 a.m. on Monday, we realized that we completely missed Sunday because of the time change. At our very nice hotel on Bondi Beach, Emily Jansing and I shared a room for the next week. On Monday we let our bodies adjust a little to the new time and place.

As World Youth Day ’08 was officially starting on Tuesday, we took a bus and then walked to beautiful Hyde Park, which contains the magnificent St. Mary’s Cathedral. In the nearby park we met other WYD groups, identifiable by their cute orange-and-red pilgrim backpacks. This was cool. Most groups had someone holding their country’s flag and many people were smiling, eager to take a picture with you and learn where you were from.

In fact, one of my favorite parts about this whole event was having the freedom of being able to approach anyone and say hello, ciao (Italian), konichiwa (Japanese) or whatever language you guessed he or she spoke. Knowing that I had this freedom throughout the week led me to realize that, in a world of culture clashes and disagreements, these moments were some of the few that I would ever have where I could truly be in sync with so many different countries and cultures so effortlessly.

Our planned tour of St. Mary’s Cathedral was postponed until the evening, which didn’t faze us much because we were completely content with talking to people and giving out our “swaps” (little souvenirs from your country that you trade for other people’s swaps).

We arrived at Barangaroo—basically a huge parking lot—for the 5 p.m. opening Mass with Cardinal George Pell. I had time for meat pie that was delicious—but half-frozen! My friends and I met many people, especially Filipinos, Guatemalans and people from several African countries.

The Filipino groups were very friendly. Their swaps were bookmarks showing off their school. Cornell, a young man from Tanzania, was studying for an ambassador-like position in his country. I gave him one of my swaps. He and his Kenyan friend tried to teach me some Swahili.

Emily, my friend and roomie, and I speak a little Spanish and were happy to meet some Guatemalans. We spoke Spanish, received the beautifully braided bracelet swaps they made and took pictures with them.

The sheer number of people in Barangaroo was quite impressive. When Mass began, we watched a liturgical dance by Aborigines, who lived in Australia long before the British arrived. They were really cool to hear and to see, and were a big part of many of the World Youth Day events throughout the week.

The Mass readings were done in numerous languages including Korean, Samoan, Tagalog and Portuguese. Cardinal Pell’s homily focused on opening your heart to the Holy Spirit and allowing the Spirit to work through you. Although our tour of St. Mary’s Cathedral after Mass was beautiful, we were glad to be back in our hotel beds by nine.

The next morning we took a bus to get to a small neighborhood church called St. Columba on the outer edge of the city, which was our assigned catechesis site. Because it was so far out, we arrived late but still managed to hear the majority of the talk given by a British priest.

We then celebrated Mass with the two other groups that were there with us. By the time the catechesis session was over, it was about 12:30 and we were late for the next event: a live concert with a rapping friar. We grabbed our free lunches to go and walked to the nearest bus stop.

We walked a lot but finally got to our destination. We were able to hear the last couple of songs played by Father Stan Fortuna, a Franciscan friar from New York, who liked to play the electric guitar and rap to his own music. He was pretty interesting.

But my favorite musician was an American named Jesse Manibusan, originally from Guam. Jesse is an amazing guitarist who told us his life story about growing up Catholic through songs he had written and ad-libbing to well-known songs. He was also quite the comedian.

On Thursday, we decided to skip our morning catechesis session because it took us so long to get there, and instead tried to find the site at which the official WYD cross was going to be venerated. We headed over to Hyde Park again, but when we found the tent where the veneration was supposed to be held, the people there told us that the cross had gotten lost and was probably with the pope.

A priest was still there so, instead of letting it get us down, we decided to have a little prayer service with that priest and a couple of people who had gathered with our group.

After that, we decided to go to the Opera House to stake out our seats for the arrival of the pope. We sat there for a couple of hours, mingling with the groups around us and taking pictures of the harbor while we waited for the Holy Father to arrive for the opening ceremonies.

Our long wait turned out to be worthwhile as we watched the pope come in on a big boat flying a variety of flags. Once Pope Benedict arrived on shore, he welcomed everyone in several different languages.

But the most memorable part for me was when he rode by in his bulletproof Mercedes popemobile, only a couple of yards away from where I was standing! It was truly amazing to be in a crowd of people all so happy to be so close to Pope Benedict.

Friday morning we had time to go to the catechesis site again, where Bishop Daniel Bowen of Canada celebrated Mass.

The more interesting part of the day happened later in the afternoon when thousands of pilgrims assembled again, at Barangaroo and other locations, to watch the reenactment of the Stations of the Cross, starring Alfio Stutio as Jesus. With a mixture of acting, singing and even interpretive dancing, the passion of Christ was meditated on throughout Sydney for several hours. I was especially touched when “Jesus” came through the street where I could actually see him, during the eighth station.

My youth group leader, Lori Anne Fothergill, later pointed out how during the stations people like us were visibly moved by what was going on, while there were other people who were talking, people who weren’t paying attention, police officers (for the actors’ sakes, I’m sure) and people who were only there because it was their job. It makes for a very good parallel to how things probably were at the time when Jesus actually walked through the streets carrying his heavy cross.

Saturday morning we took a small break from the WYD festivities and had some fun being tourists at Paddy’s Market, a shop with a bunch of good deals. After we finished our shopping, we gathered everything we would need for the rest of the day, night and the day after so that we would be prepared for an overnight at Royal Randwick Racecourse for the Saturday night vigil and the Sunday morning closing Mass.

The walk to Randwick was about 10 kilometers and included walking over the Sydney Harbor Bridge. It was so neat to be walking that long distance in a crowd of so many people.

We also took time to stop at “power stations” along the way, which consisted of praying different prayers from our liturgy books about the different gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Although we had left relatively early, we still didn’t get to the track until about dinner time when it was starting to get dark, so we ended up setting up our stuff on the outskirts of the circle of the track where it was a little colder.

A couple of hours after we arrived, the vigil started with a beautiful chant. It lasted for about an hour and a half, and since it was very dark by this time, everyone had candles lit and was bundled up in whatever clothes they had. In Sydney, it was extremely cold once the sun went down!

After the prayer service, a really great band played some music, during which my friends and I went around looking for other people we had met, dancing to some extremely spirited music as we walked (it helped keep us warm, too!). We met up with a couple of people, and then went back to the rest of the group.

Huddled up next to each other, we tried to sleep beneath the few blankets we had had room to pack. Then we covered those with the “thermal blankets” we had been given, which felt like pieces of aluminum foil.

Unfortunately, after about an hour or two of shivering and half-sleeping, one of my friends and I decided it was just too cold to be lying on the ground, much less sleeping. So at about four in the morning, we decided to get up and walk around.

The wind was biting so we took refuge in the one place nearby that was enclosed by tall walls and a roof—the bathroom stalls. It might sound a little disgusting, but that just shows how desperate we were for warmth! Actually, it didn’t even smell very bad because, luckily for us, the Australian government had special sewer systems put in just to accommodate WYD SYD ’08.

After we left our warm shelter, we continued to walk around the racetrack, talking to an Aussie or two and even buying a volunteer hot chocolate in gratitude for his service to us. The sun came up around 7:30 and shortly after that we had Morning Prayer.

The pope came by again in his popemobile, and I was lucky to be just as close to him the second time as I had been the first! We then got to hear him say the closing Mass which lasted about three hours, during which several people were confirmed.

After the Mass, everyone started to file out of the stadium. As we tiredly walked through the streets to get to our bus stop, it was hard to accept that WYD SYD ’08 was actually over. It was nice to know, however, that we would soon be back at our hotel where we could all shower and rest up before dinner.

After eating a formal meal at the hotel, everyone who wasn’t too tired went out for gelato (like ice cream) and then zonked out upon returning to our rooms.

Looking back on the week that I spent in Sydney, with the thousands of Catholics from all over the world, I feel very blessed and lucky that I was given the opportunity to be there during all of those festivities.

I know I will always remember everyone I met from around the world and will treasure every little swap that I was given.

Seeing the pope in person was a unique experience that I may never get to do again in my life. I wish every young person could have the chance of seeing firsthand what I saw. It has given me a better sense of who I am in relation to the global community and my local one. I see people and world events differently now.

I think the documentation of my trip, along with all of the pictures I took, has let even more people experience World Youth Day. It has shown me how God can use me as an instrument to get to other people as well. In that respect, I am doing as the pope asks by letting the Holy Spirit work through me, even as I wrote this article describing how God has touched my life through the holy events of World Youth Day 2008, an experience that I will always treasure.

The pope’s talks at World Youth Day are available through At, 30 descriptions by Lori Anne Fothergill, youth minister at St. Michael Parish, and 28 photos are posted.


IN THE FALL of 2006, Lori Anne Fothergill, our youth minister at St. Michael in Sharonville, Ohio, talked about World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia. It sounded interesting, but I’m already a busy girl. Besides, spending the next two years raising the $4,000 apiece was a bit overwhelming. But I soon realized this was an amazing opportunity.

Our group fund-raisers included flower sales, cookie-dough sales, Christmas ornament sales and babysitting nights.

Donations from family and friends raised about $1,000. Babysitting money and money from my parents gave me another $1,000. I made a Christmas CD (singing and even playing some guitar) and sold it at my parish and at school for a donation of $10; that brought in over $1,000! Our group projects netted another $1,000 apiece, giving me the $4,000 needed for this pilgrimage.

My traveling companions and other people I met at World Youth Day have similar stories about fund-raising. We invited our communities to join us in solidarity in Sydney, and we prayed for all.


Maria Zarick is a senior at Mt. Notre Dame High School in Reading, Ohio. Her interests include singing, playing the piano and helping out in various service activities. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career in music, possibly music therapy. Going to Australia was her first trip outside the United States.

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