Research into WYD pilgrims reveals an age-old difference

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

27 August 2008: Australian Catholic University (ACU) academics have conducted a research project into the experiences of pilgrims at World Youth Day 2008 (WYD).

Pilgrims’ Project, led by ACU’s Rev Dr Michael Mason STM and Professor Ruth Webber, in conjunction with Monash University’s Dr Andrew Singleton, studied the experiences of more than 12, 000 pilgrims from 164 countries before, during and after the WYD celebrations.

The study aimed to provide feedback to those who organised the event, as well as building an understanding of the level of spirituality of attending pilgrims.

Among the most noticeable finds from the research study was the difference between the experience of pilgrims aged 20-35 and the younger group aged 15-19.

“Whereas the older group were very focussed on spiritual values, by contrast, the younger group were unabashedly attracted to all the aspects of WYD which naturally appeal to younger people: they loved the adventure of it: the excitement of being part of a huge crowd of youth, travelling to a spectacular city, making new friends, celebrating,” said Dr Mason.

“It might have been a religious occasion, but it had lots of other appeal – it was going to be fun.”

“The most surprising finding from the survey so far,” said Dr Mason, “was the strength of the younger group’s spirituality.

“We’d got the impression from previous research, and from some interviews, that quite a few pilgrims, especially the younger ones, were not much involved with their local church.”

The study revealed that about three quarters of the pilgrims aged 15-19 had some involvement with their local church. Nearly half of them were regular church attendees, had a strong faith and a firm sense of Catholic identity.

The three researchers were the authors of the recent highly acclaimed book The Spirit of Generation Y. Among the book’s findings were results that showed that it was those young people who were really committed to their faith (not just nominal Christians) who were more likely to have a stronger interest in social justice, to serve the wider community and to have social concern at a higher level.

Australian Catholic University (ACU) established as Australia’s only Catholic, national, publicly funded university is open to all. The University empowers its students and staff with a strong sense of social responsibility and concern for the moral and ethical dimensions of their study and their professional and personal lives.