This month will see young people from nearly every country on the planet descend on Madrid. Sarah Coppola looks at what's in store for ACU's World Youth Day pilgrims.
In the Spanish city of Madrid, the party starts well after midnight and rarely ends before sunrise. In the early hours of the morning you'll find young locals and tourists alike scouting for the cheapest cocktails and the hottest nightspots. This month, more than two million people will flood the streets of the Spanish capital for a different kind of vigil.
Young pilgrims all over the world are counting down to the 13th international World Youth Day gathering in Madrid.
Ninety-two ACU staff and students are set to make the journey for the week of festivals and catechesis, culminating in a candlelit vigil under the stars and morning Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.
World Youth Day began in 1984 when more than 300,000 flocked to St Peter's Square, in response to an invitation by Blessed John Paul II for the youth of the world to join him for a jubilee celebration. The international gatherings have now been held in 10 cities around the world, bringing young people together to learn, experience and celebrate the Catholic faith through talks, the arts, prayer and the sacraments.
When Sydney hosted the last World Youth Day in 2008, the ACU community was in amongst the festivities, providing volunteers, billeting pilgrims, hosting catechesis and youth festival events, and representing the largest university contingent in attendance.
Research conducted at the University following the event documented the significant impact World Youth Day had on the lives of the young people who attended.
ACU pilgrim and third-year theology student Cyrano Menezes said his experience in 2008 made the decision to journey to Madrid an easy one.
"It was an amazing and life-changing event," he said. "Through meeting people from all over the world, we begin to see that we aren't alone in our journey."
This year, ACU has assisted students making the pilgrimage by subsidising the cost of attendance and providing flexibility around course requirements.
ACU Director of Identity and Mission, Steve Lawrence, said he looked forward to seeing the ongoing fruits of this year's event: "World Youth Day gives hope for the whole church, not only for the young people attending.
"I hope that each and every student discovers the beauty, richness and power present within the universal church in a new way – and through that, is able to discover their own purpose."
The ACU pilgrimage is one of many routes to World Youth Day, but the only one in the footsteps of the World Youth Day founder and patron Blessed John Paul II. The group will start in his homeland Poland before moving on to Rome, where he served as Pontiff for 26 years. After a week of celebration with the rest of the world in Spain, the ACU journey will wind down in Fatima, Portugal.
You can follow the ACU pilgrims' journey at blogs.acu.edu.au/wyd2011
Beatified in May this year, Blessed John Paul II is commonly known as the Pope for the Youth. Before his election in 1978, he devoted much of his time and energy to the young people of Poland, teaching in universities and organising outings where he could speak with them and gain a deep sense of the unique threats and challenges they faced. His institution of World Youth Day has proved to be among many of the lasting legacies of his Papacy, transforming the lives of those who attend, and inspiring them to become effective witnesses to the faith in their own communities.