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By Gelkoff Calmerin
It was July 11 when my friends from Buklod Study Center, Bacolod City, and I left the Philippines for Australia, the host country for this year’s World Youth Day celebration. Personally, I was excited with this trip for it was my first outside the Philippines. Well, I was also pretty tired because I had my examinations just the day before we left.
Nevertheless, nothing would keep my spirits from being up. This was a once in a lifetime event. Meeting our Holy Father and hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims from around the world was really something to look forward to.
‘Everything is set, there’s no holding back’ were the words that rang in my mind when we started on this memorable journey. We took a plane from Bacolod-Silay Airport for Manila, and then took a plane bound for Hong Kong. There we took a flight to Sydney. When we arrived at our destination it was like ‘Wow! We’re in Australia, mate!’ It was a funny experience because everyone was saying ‘Mate!’ which means ‘friend’. I was also surprised with their, to my ears, English-sounding accent. What was even funnier was our efforts to try and copy that accent during our brief stay. At first we sounded really ridiculous but, unbelievably, we were able to acquire the accent in just a few days.
Australia is such a wonderful place. It is rich in natural beauty, modern technology, and different cultures too. My friend said that Australia was like a cultural melting pot where all the cultures of the world meet and mingle with each other in one big community. Though the majority are non-Catholics, I still met a lot of friendly people during my stay.
During the start of the activities, I was really surprised to see such an enormous number of people. We met different people from other countries: Indians, Mexicans, Americans, Vietnamese, Japanese, Lebanese, Chinese, Africans, Frenchmen, and of course a lot of Australians. But these are only a few to mention. We met so many more. We also met a lot of Filipinos from around the world. I even overheard someone jokingly say ‘Wow! Everybody here seems to come from the Philippines.’
We had so many activities such as discussions, debates, catechetical sessions, Masses and get-togethers. We were able to mingle with other nationalities and talk about issues concerning the faith, society and life as a whole. We even met non-Christian Chinese who were part of our group. I really appreciated their open-mindedness and their good nature as human beings. They were very friendly and jolly people.
What fascinated me most were the Masses I took part in. So many different people from around the world were united in faith. It was in those scenes that I literally saw that the people of God, though many, are one. Indeed the Church is one. Though different languages were used in the Mass there was only one message for everyone to hear. It was then that I saw that God has gathered us into one flock to draw us to Himself. We are one flock with one Shepherd who loves us so much. It was then that I saw that the Church was indeed a family. It felt like I was part of a great big family, the family of God’s people. I suddenly felt that the whole world was my home and everyone was my brother or sister.
Finally we were able to see the Holy Father. It was a great experience to see him in person. Though I wasn’t able to shake his hand, his presence was indeed such a great gift to all of us. He was like a father given to all of us by God to guide us and to make us feel and know his presence among us. His loving message to everyone showed his fatherly concern for his children. Indeed we are his children and he is our father. This is also one thing that makes us more a family.
World Youth Day was indeed a great experience. It was truly eye-opening in the sense that it has made me see the love that God has for us in a much more global sense. It has made me see that the Church indeed is a family and was never indifferent to the needs and concerns of all people.
As with our preparations for our trip to Australia, we were as excited to prepare to leave for home. We really missed our families and friends and of course our Filipino dishes. We were so happy when we arrived in the Philippines and got on with our usual lives. The only thing that was new was the inspiration of World Youth Day in our minds and hearts that we shall carry for the rest of our lives. I hope I may be able to join more World Youth Days to come.
You may email Gelkoff Calmerin at email@example.com