World Youth Day by Justine Ralph

As a child brought up in the Catholic education system, this was not a foreign concept to me. I had done a number of research projects on the event throughout my schooling and it had always been something that I was interested in attending. Little did I know what a life-changing experience it would be.

The first half of the trip consisted of mission work in Peru. This was something that I was very excited about and an experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life. The mission work consisted of building a set of stairs up a steep hill covered in unstable rocks. We helped by creating a human chain up the hill, from the cement pit to the top stair and passed buckets of cement up the chain to be put into the stairs. While doing this work, I realised the importance of trusting that God will provide in times of struggle.

There was a moment where I was beginning to tire a little of the work we were doing but I very quickly received God’s grace through the people around me. At that time we began to offer up buckets to intentions, each intention received 10 buckets, before I knew it we had passed 150 buckets without being aware of it and we were done for the session.

Notre Dame girls with kids from school in Lima.

Another important lesson I learnt came from the locals. In the short time I spent with these people, I was able to notice the amazing love that they have within them - a love that only come through a love of Christ. For a number of the sessions I was working alongside some Peruvian men, who would carry a bucket around me if they thought that it was too heavy for me. For a moment the feminist in me was a little outraged by the action but I very quickly realised that I couldn’t take it that way. Firstly, they were right. Some of those buckets I wouldn’t have been able to lift. And, secondly, these men were making a sacrifice for me despite the fact that I was there to help them.

When I realised this I felt extremely touched by the action and the love these men showed me - the type of love and compassion that we so often forget to show in our own daily lives here in Australia. The type of love that Jesus asked us to show when he said; “Love thy Neighbour”. I learnt the importance of actions such as these in our daily lives and the affect they can have on those around us. I hope that I can take the lessons I have learnt on this trip and apply them to my daily life.

Sydney and Perth Notre Dame reunion

The actual World Youth Day experience is something that I will never forget. The opening mass was my first taste of what World Youth Day is all about. That night, I along with millions of other Catholics from around the world gathered on Copacabana beach to celebrate mass. It didn’t matter that it was raining and unpleasant; all that mattered was that we were there and we were celebrating in Christ through mass. During this mass I was struck by the faith of these millions of Catholics that had gathered on that beach. I realised that despite the fact that back home we are a minority, we are not alone in our faith and that the Church isn’t something that is becoming irrelevant but is being kept alive in the hearts of the millions of people who surrounded me. This realisation gave me a lot of hope and strength.

Notre Dame girls on stairs they built

Seeing the Pope was another astounding experience. It’s an amazing thought that a direct line can be traced from Pope Francis to St Peter, the first pope and Jesus’ apostle and friend. Someone turned to me and expressed their amazement at the idea that we were in the presence of the descendant of St Peter and in that moment I realised what a blessing that experience was.  We Catholics don’t worship the Pope, he simply guides us to a closer relationship with Christ and through his teachings I felt that he certainly did that for me.

World Youth Day is something that I will never forget. Not just the few special experiences I have shared in this testimony and the many others that I haven’t, but simply the time spent with so many people who have inspired me. Spending three weeks with these people who have found an amazing amount of peace and happiness in their faith, who understand their faith and who can argue for their faith, has inspired me to strengthen my faith and increase my knowledge of it. I have never spent so much time with young people who have such conviction in their beliefs and I have learnt so much from doing so. World Youth Day is one of those experiences that completely changes you. It turns everything you thought you knew about yourself, your faith and the world on upside down and you are left totally stunned, overwhelmed and exhausted. But it is one of the most worthwhile things you will ever do and you will come out of it with life long friends and experiences that you will hold onto for the rest of your life.  I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to jump on it and attend the next World Youth Day because you will not regret it in the slightest.