SYDNEY, Australia — Pilgrims planning to attend World Youth Day in July 2008 will have to sacrifice thousands of dollars and a week of time to join the Catholic celebration.
But that’s nothing compared with what World Youth Day volunteers have sacrificed to prepare for the pilgrims’ arrival.
Many have given up their studies, jobs and family to serve as volunteers.
Twenty-year-old Chelsea Pelham put her studies on hold and left family, friends and a boyfriend in Christchurch, New Zealand, to volunteer for World Youth Day. She has been living with an aunt while serving as a volunteer in the World Youth Day’s media office as a liaison with the Journey of the World Youth Day Cross and Icon throughout Australia.
“It was a difficult decision,” said Pelham. “I thought the opportunity was too good to give up.”
She’s joined by others from Australia, and as far away as the U.S. Sisters Mary Madeline, Anna and Mary Rachel are three Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia (Nashville Dominicans) who have set aside teaching for the year to volunteer with the WYD office. They’ve been “down under” since Aug. 15 and will remain throughout World Youth Day next July. Bishop Anthony Fisher, a fellow Dominican and coordinator of World Youth Day, invited them.
Sister Anna is on the liturgy team, Sister Mary Madeline is providing spiritual direction, and Sister Mary Rachel is serving on the evangelization and catechesis team.
“Our community has realized the importance of the New Evangelization, and wants to support the Church in this way,” explained Sister Mary Rachel.
“Our community wanted to have a presence of religious life in Sydney in a unique way,” added Sister Mary Madeline. “We’re trying to further the spiritual mission. We see here an incredible commitment to the aims of the Church.”
Solange Nader of Sydney has attended three previous World Youth Days — in Rome, Toronto and Cologne. She admits that she comes from a World Youth Day culture and describes herself as a “WYD junkie.” Two of her sisters have been to one WYD. Another sister has attended the last four.
“I was 16 for my first WYD in Rome,” said Nader. “I expected I was going on holiday, but was able to come back and explain to my peers that I had been on a Catholic pilgrimage.”
Nader said that World Youth Day has provided spiritual building blocks for her faith. A theology major, she now works for a publishing company. She’s volunteering because she hopes to see Australians benefit in the way that she has benefited from past World Youth Days.
“Sydney will get more from the visitors spiritually than what they can get from us,” Nader said.
Nick Seselga agreed.
Seselga manages a youth mission team that visits approximately 4,000 Catholic school students every year throughout Sydney’s St. George Deanery.
“We’re activating the city leading up to World Youth Day,” said Seselga, who expects to bring 100 youth from his parish, St. Michael’s. He encouraged visitors to “come see the sleeping giant of Australia’s Church come to life.”
The volunteers are hopeful that WYD in Sydney will do what it’s done elsewhere.
Sydney University student Kassandra Hobbs attended the festival in Cologne and has been helping organize events for the Diocese of Wollongong.
“WYD in Cologne gave me an experience of the universal Church,” said Hobbs. “Before I went, I was searching. We had our Church and youth, but they weren’t integrated with the universal Church. After WYD, that distance of Australia was brought closer together.”
She hopes that the Sydney event will have a long-lasting impact.
“We’re trying to build up Catholic youth to sustain after WYD,” said Hobbs. “We hope to ignite their faith for 20 to 50 years after.”
“Australians who have been to previous World Youth Days are really active” with their faith, said Sarah Collins, a 21-year-old student at Sydney University who has been volunteering with the Sydney Archdiocese. “If it can have such an impact on so few, I can’t imagine what impact it might have on all of Australia.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.
BEFORE YOU GO
Traveling in Australia
At last count, more than 30,000 pilgrims will be attending World Youth Day from the U.S. Flights are limited. To ensure that you can get there, book your flight as early as possible.
Getting Into the Country
If you haven’t yet applied for a U.S. passport, you should do so immediately. Wait times on passports have been notoriously long. In addition, you will need a visa or electronic travel authority (ETA) to enter Australia. The good news is that the Australian government has made it extremely easy to obtain a visa. They have waived all government charges and are providing pilgrims a three-month visa no matter what country they are coming from.
Plan accordingly. If you want to be in Sydney on July 15, you’ll need to depart from Los Angeles on July 13. You lose nearly a day to traveling and another crossing over the international date line.
July is winter in Australia. While Australia doesn’t get snow, temperatures can drop to the 50s. Be sure to bring some warmer clothing, especially for the outdoor overnight at Randwick Racecourse.
Look to the Right
In Australia, as in England, cars travel on the left-hand side of the road. That means you need to look to your right before crossing the street.
You keep to the left when you’re walking too, and revolving doors go opposite to the way ours do.
If you find that you’re homesick and want to call home, international calling cards are available at most Australian convenience stores for as little as $5-$10. Using such cards, a call home is as inexpensive as a local call. Remember that there’s about a 15-17 hour time difference, so the best time to call is early morning Australia time.
If you’re seeking more of a cultural immersion experience, ask your diocese about opportunities the week before World Youth Day for Days in the Diocese and home-stays. The Diocese of Wollongong, for example, hopes to host as many as 2,000 youth in parishioners’ homes.
Travelers will find that food and services cost a bit more in Australian dollars. A hamburger, for example, will cost between $7-$10 Australian. With an exchange rate of approximately 85 cents to the Australian dollar, that works out to about $5-8 American. To avoid exorbitant exchange fees, exchange your currency at a home bank before you depart.
Many Americans incorrectly think that Australia is smaller than it actually is. It’s equivalent in size to the United States. That means that getting around the country, outside of Sydney, takes time. To travel to the outback, for example, takes hours by airplane, or days by car. Traveling from Sydney to Cairns — home of the rainforest and Great Barrier Reef — takes three hours by air. If you hope to see Australia prior to or after World Youth Day, allow yourself plenty of time for travel.
IF YOU GO
How to ‘Speak Australian’
Of course, Australians speak English. Here is Australian slang which you may encounter while “down under.”
The Coathanger — the nickname for the Sydney Harbor Bridge
Didgeridoo — an Australian aboriginal musical instrument made from a hollow log. It is used in aboriginal religious ceremonies
Dinkum — real, honest or genuine; can also be used to question validity. e.g. dinkum? (Really?)
Drongo — an inept, awkward, slow-witted or embarrassing person
How’re you going? — “How are you doing?”
Mozzie — a mosquito
Ocker — a stereotyped, uncultured Aussie
Onya — “well done,” a shortened form of “good on you (good for you)”
Sydney-sider — someone who lives or comes from Sydney
Terms Related To Food
Barbie — shortened version of barbecue, as for barbecue grill
Barramundi — a popular freshwater fish served at Australian restaurants
Flat White — Australian coffee prepared with espresso and milk
Lamington — coconut-coated cake
Pavlova — a meringue dessert, typically served with fruit
Vegemite — an Australian novelty, this yeast extract is best served thinly spread over buttered toast