World Youth Day Pilgrimage

The first stop on our pilgrimage journey was Turin where we would stay for most of the first week exploring the history from a Salesian perspective, staying only 5-minute walk away from Valdocco. On Tuesday morning we visited Valdocco to immerse ourselves into its history. On our walk I was rummaging through images in my head of what it would look like, I was not prepared for what I was saw as we turned the corner to head towards the Basilica. My emotions were overwhelmed by its immense beauty and the joy of finally being here for real.

By coincidence, Archbishop Tim Costelloe SDB happened to be there with his pilgrimage group from Perth that same morning and invited us to join his group in celebrating mass in the Basilica. To begin our day in Valdocco and our pilgrimage with mass in the Basilica was one special moment that will not be forgotten by most of us for a long time.

After exploring the rest of Valdocco including a visit into the rooms of Don Bosco, we ended our visit with a late morning prayer in the Pinardi Chapel, given by Declan.

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Day Two was spent at the Becchi/Colle Don Bosco. On the way we stopped off in Chieri to visit the places of Don Bosco’s younger year. Before we left to continue our journey, we visited the Salesian Oratory which was alive with young people. Music, games of all sorts and a lot of running around, Don Bosco would himself be pleased to see as we were. Next stop Becchi, where we were given time to explore and experience Don Bosco and Colle before an amazing lunch at Mama Margaret’s Restaurant, then finishing off the day with mass in the Chapel of Mary Help of Christians.

On the third day (Thursday), Fr Bernie led us on a tour on Don Bosco’s Turin, stopping at places that were significant to Don Bosco and St Joseph Cafasso in their time. Our final stop was at the church of St Francis of Assisi, where the encounter with Batholomew Garelli took place. The current Sacristan this day was much more friendly, offering to show us the little courtyard where Don Bosco gathered his first boys and then the little chapel where he gave his catechesis lessons.

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Friday began very early (for some) as we headed back to Milan Airport to fly to Prague for the weekend, this time staying in a Hostel in the centre if Prague. A big hug of thanks and appreciation must go to Lauran for organising such fantastic accommodation at all three base locations for our pilgrimage. Saturday, after we split into smaller groups to tour some of the sights, a group of us decided to visit the Cathedral in the Prague Castle. It was late in the afternoon, and the only way to get in was to join in the mass. By another sheer coincidence, the mass was to send off another Pilgrimage group, and although the mass was said in Czechian, the opening hymn was in English, ‘Here I am Lord’. We ensured our singing was heard, even though we were sitting in the back! The end of mass was even more special, with the closing song again in English, one of our most famous camp hymns, ‘Walk in the Light’. We laughed and sang in amazement at how lucky we were to celebrate this mass in Prague. On the Sunday we went to Kobylisy, a Salesian Parish outside of Prague to celebrate mass there with the Salesians. Afterwards we were given a tour the Oratory, of course we had to experience some of what they offer their youth groups (8000 regular participants in their province).

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Monday we set off to Krakow Poland by bus to join the rest of the world in World Youth Day evens and celebrations. The opening mass was on Tuesday at Blonia Park with approximately two million other pilgrims. During the Eucharistic celebration, waiting my turn to receive Jesus, at that moment I felt an experience of what it might have been like when Jesus feed the five thousand with his disciples, I was overcome with awe at the immensity we were experiencing in the mass.

Over the next three mornings were catechesis sessions by various Cardinals, including Wednesday morning with Cardinal Mafi from Tonga. I wasn’t expecting much initially going to the first one, but they were awesome events. Music was provided by an excellent ministry group from Perth and we really identified with the Homilies. Wednesday evening was the Salesian Gathering (some 6000 in attendance). The highlight for me was meeting so many different nationalities from our wider Salesian Universe (and a photo with the Rector Major, Fr Angel Artime).

The final events were a 9KM walk in to ‘Campus Misericordiae’, south-east of Krakow for the Vigil and Closing Mass. At the Vigil we heard the testimony of a young Syrian girl who thanked and praised the Salesians in Aleppo for helping and supporting the young during this time of war. The Pope concluded in his Vigil Homily that our experience of the WYD events and the theme of Mercy does not end when we head back home. He challenged the youth (and us) to start today; if we want to change our future, as Jesus invites us to leave our mark on history.

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In all, this pilgrimage was an amazing experience with an amazing group of friends, and I thank Fr Greg and Bernie for allowing me to be a part of the World Youth Day Pilgrimage. As I have said, it was something that could not be understood without experiencing it yourself.

Br Barry Parker, SDB.