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Wednesday, 30 August 2023 11:52

Youthful display of faith at World Youth Day an inspiring experience for Fr Joseph

WYD2023 Nth Qld pilgrim group 550The experience of being at Lisbon’s World Youth Day as chaplain for the North Queensland Catholic education offices pilgrim group was a gift that will be cherished for a long time for Fr Joseph Reddy SVD.

Fr Joseph, who is a parish priest in Townsville, said that being with faith-filled young people from around the world and listening to the words of Pope Francis to not be afraid and to be a welcoming Church for everyone helped nourish his own faith and send him home with refreshed spiritual vigour.

He said it was an honour to be able to assist the education offices of Townsville and Cairns as chaplain for the North Queensland pilgrim group.

“Preparation for WYD23 began towards the middle of last year,” he said.

“We were warmly welcomed into colourful Lisbon, and the hot, humid weather was ok for us, given our experiences of weather back home in North Queensland.”

The pilgrimage began with a trip to Fatima where the group participated in an international Mass in the Holy Trinity Basilica.

“The display of faith and witnessing the pilgrims praying and interceding through Mary was contagious,” he said.

“It was a blessed moment to walk around the places where the three children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, had the vision of Mary. Pilgrims from so many countries were visiting to pray and experience the special grace of spiritual healing through Mary, our Mother.”

WYD23 Fr Joseph Reddy with koala 550From there, it was on to the opening Mass for WYD, where the group witnessed the sea of youth on the streets, in the churches and the restaurants and ferries.

“They made the City of Joy (Lisbon) into the singing city with their slogans and welcoming sirens for Pope Francis. I have never before seen so many national flags. I had to ask where some of them came from, such was the diversity.”

Fr Joseph said he found the words of Pope Francis at the welcoming ceremony both assuring and encouraging.

“Dear friends, you are not here by accident. The Lord has called you, not only in these days, but from the very beginning of your days. Indeed, he has called you by name,” the Pope said.

“He calmed all our fatigue and listening to him was soothing and felt like we listened to God’s voice,” Fr Joseph said.

The Pope continued: “At this World Youth Day, let us help each other to recognise this fundamental reality: may these days be vibrant echoes of God’s call of love, for we are precious in His eyes, despite what our own eyes, clouded by negativity and dazzled by so many distractions, sometimes see”.

WYD2023 crowd 550He urged the pilgrims to welcome the gift of being called as community of brothers and sisters.

“Friends, I want to be clear with you, for you are allergic to falsity and empty words: in the Church, there is room for everyone. Everyone. In the Church, no one is left out or left over. There is room for everyone. Just the way we are,” Pope Francis said.

“Dear young friends, I encourage you to reflect on the beautiful fact that God loves us, as we are, not how we want to be or how society wants us to be. As we are! He calls us with our faults and failings, our limitations and our hopes in life.”

Fr Joseph said he was assured by the Pope’s exhortation to not be afraid that the love God is enough for us.

“Be a welcoming Church that welcomes everyone,” the Pope said.

Apart from the times spent in prayer and reflection with Pope Francis, the pilgrim group also moved around the city of Lisbon, attending catechesis sessions and visiting sites of spiritual importance.

“I encountered the youth of different nations and their lively smiles, patriotic chants and the exchanging of souvenirs,” Fr Joseph said.

“Their exhibition of faith enthralled me and my journey was nourished as I prayed with an intent for many who were there to have a strong experience of God to take home with them.”

WYD2023 Pope Francis meets pilgrims 550After an “excruciating” walk in the hot sun on Saturday, the group arrived at their allocated section of the Campo de Graca park for the Prayer Vigil with Pope Francis and sleep-out ahead of the closing Mass of the Transfiguration on Sunday.

“The Adoration was quite touching to our hearts and moved us to pray with devotion the prayers led by Pope Francis,” Fr Joseph said.

“We woke up to a stunning sunrise and a kind of canonical DJ music being played by a priest. Some 1.5 million young people were gathered in the park and we were close to 10,000 priests concelebrating with Papa Francis.”

During the homily, the Pope spoke on the experience of the Transfiguration.

“After these exciting days, surely, we feel like repeating the words of the Apostle Peter on the mount of the Transfiguration: ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here!’. Indeed, how good it has been to share this experience with Jesus, with one another, and to pray together with joyful hearts. Now, we can also ask an important question: What will we take back with us as we resume our daily lives?”

WYD2023 Fr Joseph Reddy SVD vested 400“This is what I would like you to carry home from the Gospel we have heard: to shine, to listen, and to be unafraid. To listen to Jesus, that is life’s secret. Listen to what Jesus is saying to you. Be careful of selfishness disguised as love! Listen to Jesus, for he will show you which paths are those of love. Finally, do not be afraid, we often find these words in the Bible, in the Gospels: ‘Do not be afraid.’”

Fr Joseph said he was struck by the solidarity of the WYD23 pilgrimage experience.

“When we went on this pilgrimage, we were more present to those around us and to our fellow WYD pilgrims, sharing a common experience, a common pilgrim’s purpose, and a common worship and prayer life created a profoundly powerful bond of community,” he said.

“I also felt more connected to the millions of pilgrims and saints who have gone before us in faith and love. For me this opportunity to go onto WYD was a gift which I will cherish for a long time and it will help keep me young until WYD27 in Seoul, South Korea.”

PHOTOS - by Neil Helmore, Townsville Diocese and Fr Joseph Reddy SVD

TOP RIGHT:The North Queensland Catholic Education Offices pilgrim group prepares to leave for World Youth Day in Lisbon.

TOP LEFT: Fr Joseph arrives in Lisbon ready to swap some souvenirs.

MIDDLE RIGHT: The sea of pilgrims and flags from every nation preparing for the WYD23 Opening Mass.

MIDDLE LEFT: Pope Francis greets pilgrims from the Popemobile.

BOTTOM RIGHT: Fr Joseph, vested and ready for the Closing Mass.