Our World Youth Day (WYD) ambassadors have recently returned from their pilgrimage to South America with renewed vigour to take on the world. WYD is an extraordinary experience that allows the hearts and minds of young people from around the world to be inspired in faith and hope through their studies, their experiences and their contributions to the wider community.
A group of 42 students and staff from Australian Catholic University spent three weeks on their pilgrimage across Peru, Brazil and Chile as part of their journey to this year’s WYD in Rio de Janeiro.
For many it was the first time they had travelled outside Australia, and for most it was the first time they had experienced an audience with the Pope. The group represented all facets of the University community, joining more than 1700 pilgrims from dioceses and communities across Australia and millions of young people internationally.
Record crowds of around three million people turned out to see His Holiness Pope Francis, many of whom had slept under the stars to secure their position.
ACU and its students have been actively involved and committed to the most recent WYDs in Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Sydney.
During their pilgrimage to the heart of South America their journey and their experiences were profound: through spectacles of nature, inspirational missions, and remarkable people. Their own activities on this journey have also touched and inspired others, and will perhaps leave a lasting legacy for those they met, travelled with and visited.
On a steep hill in the shanty town of Pamplona in Lima, now stands a modest but sturdy chapel built by ACU students and the Christian Life Movement, using funds raised here to finance the venture.
It is a testament to their dedication that their fundraising and planning on this side of the world and hard work on the other has given life to a project that seemed to materialise out of nothing. Local villagers pitched in and children adopted our students with great enthusiasm, forging lifelong ties and memories that will extend long beyond the constraints of an itinerary.
On the last day of their five-day mission, Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, celebrated the first Mass in the newly built chapel. The Cardinal was joined by the Mayor and Bishop of Pamplona, representatives of the local community and our ACU ambassadors.
Throughout their travels the group regularly posted videos, blogsand photos providing those of us at home with insight into the unique and often life-changing experience that is WYD. Their updates indicated a heady mix of hard work, curiosity, discovery, adventure, compassion and also great passion: all the elements we would hope to nurture in our students that will guide them through their studies, their interactions with each other and the world around them.
We see in this pilgrimage an investment not only for those students and staff who attended, but also for the broader University through the expression and enrichment of our Catholic identity and mission.
Their pilgrimage is one of the pleasure of travel, the meeting of minds and exploring new ventures, and is also a spiritual journey through service, faith and love. The lessons learned from such a journey far exceed anything that can be gleaned from our myriad nof devices, channels of entertainment or hours in a lecture theatre.
They will take these pieces of South America with them in their hearts and their souls and it will colour the way they live, do business, raise families and participate as active and engaged citizens. On to Krakow 2016!
Read about their adventures at: blogs.acu.edu.au/wyd/
Professor Greg Craven is Vice-Chancellor of Australian Catholic University