By Dan McAloon and Ambria Hammel
Catholic News Service
SYDNEY, Australia (CNS) – St. Francis of Assisi was so gentle that birds would perch upon his outstretched hand. But for Franciscan Father Joseph Maria Zukauskas, the sneaky magpie at Featherdale Wildlife Park preferred to keep its distance.
Father Zukauskas was one of 30 members of the national fraternity of Lithuanian Franciscan Youth who made the pilgrimage to Australia early for the Days in the Diocese July 10-14. The pre-World Youth Day program brings young people together with Catholics in Australia and New Zealand. World Youth Day is July 15-20 in Sydney.
The pilgrims from Poland, Lithuania and England were welcomed by Sydneys neighboring Diocese of Parramatta July 11 by the Aboriginal Darug nation and participated in activities such as visiting the wildlife park.
To ensure they have an authentic taste of the Australian bush during their visit, the pilgrims are staying with parishioners who live in the eucalyptus-forested Blue Mountains, about 60 miles from Sydneys urban center.
Virginija Mickute, national president of the Lithuanian Franciscan Youth, which was formed in 2006, said, "Todays evangelization to youth is challenging and countercultural," arriving at a turbulent time in Lithuanian society.
"Since Lithuania joined the European Union weve seen the same tendencies as the rest of Europe – an erosion of moral values and a preoccupation with material pursuits," said Mickute. She said the church, which blossomed after the collapse of communism, "is now confronting the generational spiritual hole at the heart of many families."
"Where parents grew up under the Soviet system theres a lack of spiritual formation for the children. Thats why we focus on working with young people. Were talking to the young personality and helping them to see that they have moral choices in life," she said.
Mickute said the Lithuanians had undertaken many fundraising activities to get to Sydney, but it was the donation from Lithuanian Catholics in the United States that made the difference.
Meanwhile, at Our Lady of the Way School, the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry welcomed pilgrims with dancing and music.
Aboriginal dancer Jai Pittman, a Durak, led his son and brother in dances of greeting and mimicry of the emu and kangaroo.
Pittman, his face and body adorned in ceremonial white ocher, told the visitors: "Sometimes people see only the differences between peoples, but I always see the similarities first. When people ask me what race I am from I always say, ‘I am from the largest race on earth – the human race.’ We are all part of creation."
Pittman invited members of the audience to join him onstage for their first lesson in traditional dancing, including imitating the kangaroo and the antics of the giant flightless bird, the emu.
Didgeridoo player Duan Pittman said the didgeridoo, made from a termite-hollowed branch, is known by different names among indigenous peoples, depending on where they live.
"I like to call it ‘yibaki,’ the name given to it by the Yolngu people of the Northern Territory," he said. "Each instrument is unique as no two give the same tone when played."
Using the circular breathing method, he played rhythmic pieces echoing the sounds of the Australian bush and an original composition, "The Hitchhiker."
The evening ended in prayer, with Aboriginal elder Janice Brown, a Gumbaingirr woman, leading the pilgrims in the prayer prepared by Aboriginal people for Pope John Paul IIs visit to Alice Springs in 1986.
In Brisbane, Australia, a small group of youths from Texas joined Phoenix teens staying at St. Joseph Nudgee College, a boys school for students in grades 5-12. The students spent six nights on air mattresses and sleeping bags on a classroom floor.
Some groups, including pilgrims from India, stayed on campus for lunch and relaxation while others took public buses into the city. The tourists came back with fond memories of Brisbane and its polite people.
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