One Year to Youth Day ’08

Interview With Auxiliary Bishop Fisher

SYDNEY, Australia, JULY 25, 2007 ( Even though World Youth Day 2008 is still one year away, positive results are already being felt, according to the coordinator of the event.

In this interview with ZENIT, Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney comments on the status of the preparations for the youth day, and how one year out, the preliminary numbers for overseas pilgrims are already surpassing expectations.

Q: With one year remaining until World Youth Day to be held in Sydney from July 15 to 20, 2008, what do you see as the main priorities in coming months?

Bishop Fisher: The World Youth Day cross and icon have arrived in Australia and are already having an extraordinary impact. Bishops and parish priests are telling me that they have not seen such crowds of young people or such devotion for years. It is helping enormously both to raise awareness amongst ordinary people that World Youth Day is coming and in allowing young people to demonstrate that they do have and love their Catholic faith.

In the months ahead we will build on this. We want to get the message out not just to the “churched,” but to the 95% of Australian Catholic youth who are not yet regular attendees, and the many others who are searching for truth and meaning.

Recently we have released the WYD08 theme song — and this has been very well received — we have opened individual registrations for WYD08, and we have launched an intensive campaign of Eucharistic adoration and other prayers for World Youth Day.

We are “upping” our efforts in evangelization and catechesis, with the use of the new technologies. And we must continue all the very important work in logistics, pilgrim services, liturgy planning, government and business partnerships, and so on.

Q: What are some of the positive effects for the Church in Australia you have seen so far as a result of the preparations for World Youth Day?

Bishop Fisher: Several of the bishops and parish priests have told me that even if WYD08 were not to proceed, there have already been tremendous, tangible fruits.

It has brought all sorts of people together who might not otherwise ever have come together, to work on a common project. It has inspired and excited young people and older ones about their faith and increased their confidence about the Church’s future.

This already seems to be having some effects on interest in priestly and religious vocations, on youth ministry and youth groups, on local liturgical and parish life. And there is no doubt that among those preparing to come to WYD08 many have been reflecting with the ePilgrimage and other materials so that they will be formed and informed.

Q: The World Youth Day cross and icon are now starting a yearlong journey around Australia. What fruits is the Church hoping to obtain in this lead-up to July 2008?

Bishop Fisher: The World Youth Day cross and icon are the first WYD08 pilgrims. They have already arrived on our shores and are making their way to Sydney for July 2008.

Along the way they are drawing huge crowds behind them. Their effect is remarkable. Thousands of young people — and with them, older people too — are coming to touch and kiss and cry and reverence. They are praying near the cross and giving testimony to their Christian hope.

As cross and icon make their way through the more than 400 communities that plan to welcome them in the year ahead, Christ will touch many hearts. It will also be an opportunity to point forward to July next year. I like to imagine the cross and icon leading a procession to Sydney which is swelling every day with people from every nation, every tribe — and every Australian community.

Q: One of the challenges for Sydney is the big distance from many other countries. In your journeys overseas to present the World Youth Day program what have you been able to see regarding the interest in making the trip to Australia?

Bishop Fisher: To our delight the interest from overseas has been greater than we had dared dream. I think the distance has turned out to be part of the attraction. Coming to WYD08 in Sydney will be unlike any previous WYD in terms of the sheer geographic and spiritual adventure for many of the pilgrims.

Many are seeing it as their opportunity to visit a place they would have loved to come to as tourists, but in this way they can come as spiritual pilgrims as well. As a result, our “phase one” registration — group leaders’ estimates — suggests that we have already passed our original estimates for overseas pilgrims — and we still have a year to go!

This could be the first World Youth Day with more international than local pilgrims — which partly reflects the relatively small Catholic population here in Australia, but also reflects the tremendous interest from overseas.

Those international pilgrims will have a wonderful time here in Sydney with the Pope, the young people of the world, and above all with Christ. But they will also bring their own gifts of faith and culture to us and help draw in big crowds of Aussies. It is very exciting!

Q: What do you see as some of the main contributions young people can make to the life of the Church?

Bishop Fisher: The Church in every age needs the energy, creativity and passion of its young people. We have passed through a phase in Australia, as in much of the Western world, of a mixture of dogmatic secularism intolerant of religion and a softer — and possibly more dangerous — relativism, bored with or indifferent to the genuinely good and true and beautiful.

The new generation of young people can help lead us out of that. They will need evangelizing and may need additional formation and education in faith. But they will bring their gifts to service and leadership in the Church and perhaps fewer hang-ups than their parents’ generation.

Despite the attempts of the secular culture to inoculate the young to religion by giving them small does of dead or nearly dead religion, St. Augustine has been proved right: The human heart will never rest until it rests in God — and in his holy Church.

The enthusiasm of young people for World Youth Day is a dramatic demonstration of this. But there will be many quieter, enduring fruits in their lives, and in the lives of all those they encounter.


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