Bishop Anthony Fisher is a youthful-looking bishop.
That may be why he was appointed chief organizer of World Youth Day (WYD) 2008.
The 47-year-old bishop, a member of the Order of Preachers, also serves as auxiliary bishop to the Archdiocese of Sydney, where WYD will begin July 15.
He spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake from the chancery office in Sydney.
Are you looking forward to WYD in Sydney?
I am just recently back from the youth meeting in Loreto in Italy where there were 300,000 young people and perhaps as many as half a million by the time of the final Mass. That’s a similar scale to what we’d expect here.
It was interesting to me to look out at that crowd and think that this will be in Sydney next year. That will be an extraordinary thing for our country. We’ve never had anything of that sort of scale. It’s the kind of thing that Italy does every year or so. For us, this will be an extraordinary time.
Sydney is being invaded by the young people of the world, full of joy, laughter, song, hope and ideals. It’s very exciting for us to have this opportunity to host the world’s youth. We really want people around the world to know that our arms are wide open for them.
Already our families are getting ready to open their homes and their schools to use their buildings. All different parts of our civil society, as well as our Church, are working together with us to make this a wonderful experience for our visitors.
How was the WYD theme about the Holy Spirit (from Acts 1:8) chosen?
We don’t know for sure, but think it was chosen because the original name the first explorers gave this area was the Southern Land of the Holy Spirit. From the word Terra Australis — the Southern Land of the Spiritus Sanctus — we got the word Australia. That’s what this land has been called from when the first Christians came here. We think that’s why the Pope picked the theme of the Holy Spirit.
How might WYD impact those who are not Catholic?
The experience of World Youth Days around the world has been that it helps to raise questions of religion for everyone and therefore it is a positive for all believers. And we know there will be ecumenical groups having events during the festival.
Taize usually presents during the youth festival and Focolare usually organizes some international forum on ecumenism and interfaith matters, so I think there will be opportunities for people, whether they are Catholics, Christians or not, to explore questions of religion. We hope above all to come to encounter Jesus Christ, his Church, and his Holy Spirit, and also to share something of their common humanity and hope for the future.
It will be positive for us all whatever religion we are while we are clear that we are ourselves and we are offering the Catholic faith at WYD.
Why is this event so significant for Australia?
At previous World Youth Days we’ve had 1-, 2-, 3-, 4,000 Australians. This will be the first chance for there to be 100,000 or more young Australians. That’s a huge plus for us.
We have a chance to really offer this to all of our young people rather than just a small group who can afford to go to the other side of the world for a WYD. I think we’re going to see for this country rejuvenation of all different aspects of the Church’s life and civic life of so many people experiencing this time — the dividend in terms of a greater connection and commitment to God and the Church. People [will be] thinking about their vocations whether priestly or religious as committed married people and single people in the world. “Do I want to go into politics or business or professions or the arts?” and “Where does my faith fit into that?”
To have a next generation asking these questions at a crucial time in their lives and experiencing what they are given at WYD will be wonderfully fruitful for this country. We’re already seeing some of those fruits as we prepare.
What will your international pilgrims find that will be specifically Australian about this World Youth Day?
Obviously one thing they’ll find is an extraordinary geography that Australia offers — this vast island continent with the beautiful harbors.
Throughout this World Youth Day, they will see the physical beauty of Australia as the backdrop to a lot of our events. Our opening Mass, for instance, will be right on Sydney Harbor. The pilgrim walk — pilgrims will walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The Stations of the Cross will be celebrated around the iconic places of Sydney, so that’s one obvious thing that will be very Australian.
The people will see our beautiful scenery.
I hope they’ll encounter our Australian temperament and culture. For one thing, we are much more multicultural than most of the previous hosts have been.
Every language and ethnic group and nation is represented in Australia already, so when the pilgrims come there will be an existing population from their country already here ready to join in welcoming them with all the other Australians. That will be a peculiar and interesting element of coming to this very multicultural country and very multicultural city. The young Italians will come and find Italian Australians and so on from every country, as well as the more traditional Anglo-Celtic kind of Australia that’s also very prominent, and they’ll see that very interesting mix in our Church.
That again will be present in our liturgy and our youth festival events throughout the week.
I think also they’ll find some of the things that people say about Australians. They are very friendly people, plain speaking. I think they’ll find them very welcoming, warm, wanting them here.
For many previous hosts … When Rome holds World Youth Day: Well Rome has people come to it every day. It’s normal life. For us, this is unusual and therefore there will be a kind of unparalleled excitement here that we are inviting the young people of the world, and I think that will show on the faces of ordinary people.
I hope that some of the events will have a kind of Australian flavor to them. For instance, there will be aboriginal song and dance in some of our liturgies and other events which will be very particular to Australia. Some of the other Pacific nations will be prominent too at WYD for the first time to show something of their culture and history.
People will meet our local St. Mary MacKillop — our beata — and the living saints of Australia when they come here, so they will find a young, vibrant Church when they are here.
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.