WYD converted hearts before even starting

28 Jul 2008

By The Record

By Anthony Barich
World Youth Day was already bringing converts to the Catholic Church, and it hadn’t even started yet.

 

Crowds, crowds, crowds: Perth WYD Officer Miller Lo, wearing glasses and near the front on the left hand side, helps carry the Cross through the streets of Sydney. The singing of hymns could be heard from as far away as several blocks writes Record journalist Sylvia Defendi, who was covering the event. Photo: courtesy getty images/wyd 08

 

Sydney’s Polish-Catholic community World Youth Day coordinator,
24-year-old Basia Slusarczyk, explained to The Record that her non-Catholic
boyfriend is participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation for
Adults. His conversion was triggered by the experience of praying with
her for the fruits of World Youth Day.

"He is attending World
Youth Day with me and I hope the week of events and the solidarity with
so many Catholics from around the world will make him proud to be
joining the Catholic family," Basia said.

She was with a group
of young Polish-Australians dressed in traditional Polish dancing
uniforms at the veneration of the World Youth Day cross and icon at
Belmore Park.

With international pilgrims already bringing a
buzz to the life of Sydney, Basia believes the youth event will breathe
new life into the Church in Australia, and re-energize what has been
dormant.

"We have small and vibrant churches in Australia, but we need them to be alive for future generations," she said.

Basia affirmed that young people are drawn to Benedict XVI just as they were to Pope John Paul II, who started World Youth Day.

She said the late pontiff’s interest in the lives of youth continues to draw youth to the faith, especially from Poland.

"[Karol
Wojtyla] was actually upset when he was asked to be the next archbishop
of Krakow, because it meant giving up his daily work with the youth of
his parish," Basia said. "But when he became Pope, he maintained his
love of youth, even through his illness. There was something in his
eyes and his voice that just drew youth to him."

Basia leads a
200-strong group registered for the youth event in Sydney, and says
pilgrims from Ireland, Canada, Poland and even Western Australia have
joined them.

"We are great lovers of John Paul II and realize the
big impact he has had on each of us and the world," said Agnieszka
(Agnes) Jaszczyszyn, 34, the group’s other pilgrim leader.

But
the reigning Pope is never far form their thoughts, and they continue
to pray for the success of his mission in Australia. "It is because of
Pope Benedict XVI that we have World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney — he
kept the tradition going," she said. "The youth of the world are here
because of him."

The streets of Sydney were
flooded with pilgrims such as the Polish group, wanting to witness the
final leg of the journey of the World Youth Day cross and icon.

The
youth day cross was given to the young people of the world by John Paul
II in 1984 to be carried as a symbol of Christ’s love for humanity; the
icon of Our Lady was his second gift to young people in 2003, to
accompany the cross.

The symbols’ last leg through the streets of
Sydney was the culmination of a global trip. After traversing the
continents, the symbols were handed to Australian representatives on
Palm Sunday 2006 in Rome.

Hundreds of pilgrims followed the
cross and icon as they were carried by ferry from Manly to Circular
Quay, then walked with the images as they cut through the center of
Sydney’s central business district down Pitt Street, past Sydney Tower
and down to Belmore Park.

There, every pilgrim got a chance to
venerate the cross and icon, and many, including some from Texas, were
moved to tears and embraced each other as others prayed and sang around
them.

It was the cross and icon’s last leg before the images form
part of the scenario at the opening Mass on Tuesday at 4 p.m., local
time. The Mass will be presided over by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney
at Barangaroo, a disused shipping port in East Darling Harbor.

 

Polish-Australian WYD pilgrim Basia Slasarczyk, far right, processes with the WYD Cross and Icon on July 14 down Pitt Street, Sydney ahead of WYD08. Photo by WYD08/Getty Images