One year on from World Youth Day 2008, Bishop Anthony Fisher, the coordinator of that event, examines some of the lasting and unexpected consequences….

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Homily for the First Anniversary Mass for World Youth Day

source – http://sydney.catholic.org.au/

Remembering WYD08 with faith, hope, love and thanks
St Marys Cathedral Crypt, Sydney
Most Rev. Anthony Fisher OP, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney
20 Jul 2009
Thanksgiving

“Incredible, amazing, staggering, phenomenal, overwhelming”: that’s how one visiting bishop and his pilgrims described World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney. “Better than anyone expected; the best World Youth Day ever,” many said. A quarter of a million registered pilgrims and who-knows-how-many thousands of unregistered pilgrims and onlookers: ask almost any of them and they’ll tell you how deeply it affected them.

WYD08 had the impact it did because it drew upon the talents and energies of people as diverse as described by St Paul in our Second Lesson (1 Cor 12:4-13). Our World Youth Day team, including Danny Casey, the six department directors, all the staff, volunteers and collaborators, poured themselves out completely for God and His young people. The Catholic community, with its pastors, parishes, schools and agencies, got behind it with heart and soul. But we were joined by federal, state and city leaders, public servants, police, business and tourism operators, Aboriginal and other community leaders, other churches and religions all in a common project for the good of our country and our young people. We offer this Mass today in thanksgiving to God for his many graces, for the extraordinary privilege of hosting a World Youth day, but also in thanksgiving for the exceptional contribution of so many people especially for each one of you.

Some of you may have been a little preoccupied a year ago. We had our tasks to perform and so we might not have heard all the messages or seen all the graces. But an anniversary is a chance to relive, re-collect, re-vision.

Spe salvi: A testament to hope

On this date, 20th July, last year over 400,000 people, including 4,000 priests, 420 bishops, 26 cardinals and one very happy Pope gathered for the largest youth gathering, the largest religious gathering, indeed the largest people gathering in one place for any purpose in the history of Australia and of Oceania. Looking on in awe, then and for much of the preceding week, through television and the internet, were the rest of our nation and another billion people around the world

The young people were by then very well prepared to hear the Holy Father’s beautiful words. They had been attending daily catechesis at 235 locations around Sydney and taking part in some of the 450 Youth Festival activities, such as concerts and exhibitions, forums and debates, drama and film, and centres of prayer, preaching and sacred music. Almost every hour of that week 2,500 of them passed through this Cathedral, through the Vocations Expo at Darling Harbour, through the Adoration and Reconciliation sites, and through the Shrine of Blessed Mary MacKillop in North Sydney.

150,000 participated in the Opening Mass at Barangaroo on the 15th July when Prime Minister Rudd welcomed the visitors and declared his confidence in the premier rle of Christianity in the future of our country; when Cardinal Rylko formally inaugurated the celebrations and declared the Spring sunshine a portent of Springtime for the Church and the world; and when our own Cardinal Pell called all young people, and especially those searching or suffering in any way, into the love of Christ and his People.

Half a million people lined the harbour and the city streets for the Holy Father’s spectacular arrival on the Thursday afternoon. God was very good to us with the weather and the city was like a garden blooming with red pilgrim packs. Amidst all that beauty and fresh off the boat, Pope Benedict challenged us to care for both our natural and human environments. He was convinced that life is not meaningless or random; no, our “very existence has been willed by God, blessed and given a purpose! Life is not just a succession of events or experiences [but] a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this in truth, in goodness, and in beauty that we find happiness and joy.”

There at Barangaroo His Holiness expressed confidence that with God’s grace young people will take on even the biggest and most apparently-insoluble problems. They would, he said, receive that same power which thrust the first disciples forward into the world. “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, [the first disciples] were transfixed by the truth of Christ’s Gospel and inspired to proclaim it fearlessly They set forth, bearing witness to the greatest story ever [told]: that God has become one of us, that the divine has entered human history in order to transform it, and that we are called to immerse ourselves in Christ’s saving love.”

The Pope’s hope was well-founded. Ask any policeman, transport worker or office worker who encountered the young people during that week. Their idealism, their manifest goodness, raised everyone’s hopes.

Deus caritas est: A power to love

So the Pope began his sojourn amongst us with hope, hope for our young people, hope for our world. It was a theme to which he often returned. But love has priority, even over hope. On the Friday afternoon that greatest ever love story was enacted against the backdrop of the iconic sites of Sydney. We may never see such as moving rendition of the Stations of the Cross again. Even our most doubtful news media could not resist the images of young love nailed to a cross for the salvation of the world.

At a meeting that night with some disadvantaged youth, the Holy Father taught our young people about the difference between genuine love and mere idolatry. People make idols out of shallow relationships, sex, drugs, power or possessions: all are attempts to play God, “to seize total control, with no regard for the wisdom or the commandments that God has made known to us.” But such counterfeit love can be destructive, even lethal. With Christ, young people can find another way, a way to life. The real love of God and neighbour is the very programme “hard-wired into every human person”, the Pope said; we only need the wisdom and generosity to live by it.

The next night, when by candlelight the Holy Father addressed all the young people together, he challenged them also to broaden the horizons of their love and see that only the Holy Sprit of Love can bring a deep and lasting unity: “Be watchful! Listen! Through the dissonance and division of our world, can you hear the concordant voice of humanity? From the forlorn child in a Darfur camp, or a troubled teenager or an anxious parent in any suburb, or perhaps even now from the depth of your own heart, there emerges the same human cry for recognition, for belonging, for unity. Who satisfies that essential human yearning to be one, to be immersed in communion, to be built up, to be led to truth? The Holy Spirit!”

“Let unifying love be your measure;” said the Holy Father. Let “abiding love [be] your challenge; [let] self-giving love [be] your mission!” There are many challenges there, in those evening testaments to love. No-one who has tried will pretend love is always easy. It’s the most natural thing in the world, and yet the most demanding. It’s the most supernatural thing in the world, and so the most gratuitous, unmerited, untamed. If young people are to love well, they need meaning, direction, commandments, a plan of life; they need a mission; they need faith.

Caritas in veritate: A foundation of faith

So the Holy Father began his teaching in Australia with holy hope, and then enriched it with divine love; finally, he reflected on faith, that belief in truth which is the foundation for hope and love. On the Saturday morning seminarians and young religious joined priests and parishioners for the Consecration of the Cathedral altar, in what might have been the most beautiful Mass in the history of this Cathedral. Now, to consecrate something is to lift it out of the ordinary realm and raise it to a godly purpose. The Pope reminded us that we, too, have been “set apart for the service of God and the building up of his Kingdom”. But we can so easily be re-secularised, that is, colonised by that world from which and for which we were set apart, “immersed in a world that would set God aside”. History, he was convinced, including the history of our own time, shows that “the question of God will never be silenced” because “indifference to the religious dimension of human existence ultimately diminishes and betrays man himself. Is that not the message which is proclaimed by the magnificent architecture of this cathedral?” he asked.

“Are you building your lives on firm foundations? Are you [making] space for the Spirit in a world that wants to forget God?” These questions of the Holy Father at the Final Mass still echo in our hearts one year later. And just lately there have been signs of people making space for God. An editorial in the Australian newspaper last week insisted upon religion’s place in the public square. It noted that the demise of religion, divined by the Euro-prophets of secular modernity and fed by left-leaning baby-boomers and their self-leaning children, has proven hollow. Gen Y are searching for meaning and values; some, at least, are unconvinced that life without God is possible or desirable. Just nine years after The Economist ran an obituary for the Almighty, two of its most senior staff have just published a book entitled God is Back. Religion is assuming a fresh importance in many places, from the Middle East to the US, from Africa to South America. Those places still attempting a religion-free social experiment are suffering such personal, family and social fragmentation that people can no longer avoid asking the big religious questions. As Pope Benedict said in his recent encyclical, Caritas in veritate, “Without God man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is.”

But faith, the Pope continued to teach us, here in this very cathedral, “Faith teaches us that in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, we come to understand the grandeur of our own humanity, the mystery of our life on this earth, and the sublime destiny which awaits us in heaven. Faith teaches us that we are God’s creatures, made in his image and likeness, endowed with an inviolable dignity, and called to eternal life. Wherever man is diminished, the world around us is also diminished; it loses its ultimate meaning and strays from its goal. What emerges is a culture, not of life, but of death.”

While the Holy Father was articulating the vast vision of faith here in the Mother church of Australia, tens of thousands took the pilgrim walk across the Harbour Bridge to the Southern Cross Precinct at Randwick. That night our pilgrims heard testimonies from seven of their number, one from each continent, and from the Successor of St Peter at the Vigil of Light, were prayed for by the bishops of the world, and then knelt in enthralled silence before our Eucharistic Lord. Perhaps that kneeling silence spoke more loudly and clearly that all the words of WYD. It spoke of young faith in God made man, made Eucharist, made Church for us.

Thousands of stories have been told of how World Youth Day affected ordinary people. You will want to share your own best memories with God in this Mass and with each other at our reception afterwards. Every day of the past year His Eminence and I have heard them and I expect that for every story we hear there are thousands we will not know until we join the great World Youth Day in heaven. One visiting bishop wrote to me about the number of Aussies he met on the street, on public transport, or in pubs I’m not sure how many pubs this bishop visited who, though not necessarily all people of faith, were “filled with wonder, curiosity and joy at how well the young people behaved and their enthusiasm for Jesus Christ.” He said that some told him it had raised deep questions for them in their hearts, questions they knew they would have to reflect upon once WYD was over.

“Empowered by the Spirit, and drawing upon faith’s rich vision,” declared our Holy Father one year ago, “a new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed. A new age in which love is not greedy or self-seeking, but pure, faithful and genuinely free, open to others, respectful of their dignity, seeking their good, radiating joy and beauty. A new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deaden our souls and poison our relationships.” The Church and the world need this renewal!

What will you leave?

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you (Acts 1:8). We have seen this promise fulfilled!” This was the theme of our World Youth Day and this was the judgment of our Pope at the Final Mass. This week past, one year ago, was undoubtedly the happiest and holiest week in the history of our city, with its streets vibrating with the Spirit of God, the spirit of youth, the spirit of friendship. Pope Benedict thought it was Pentecost Down Under, a rediscovery that our ancient Church is ever new, and the relaunch of our young people’s mission. When he returned to Rome he talked about it repeatedly in his speeches, saying he could not get the images of WYD-SYD out of his mind! Neither, I suspect, can many of us.

You all pushed yourselves so hard for World Youth Day. You did Australia proud. You did the Church proud. You did yourselves proud. The question now is: what are you doing now? How has it changed you? The risk one I know in my own life is that you’ve ticked the box on a great work for the good and now you’ve returned to normal. But WYD should have changed forever what is normal’ for us. That common project of working for God and the future of our world should mark us for ever.

“What will you leave to the next generation?” the Pope asked, “What legacy will you leave? What difference will you make?” We may all have different answers to give on our last day. But there is one answer we will offer God together: Lord, we gave you World Youth Day. We worked with you, we worked very hard and we worked together. We gave it our all. Lord, please keep bringing forth the fruit. Thanks be to God for you all.