Youth Day Countdown; a Carmelite Primer

Melbourne Prepares the Way for Sydney 2008

ROME, JULY 12, 2007 ( In just about one year, 5 million of the world’s youth will gather Down Under to celebrate World Youth Day 2008.

While Sydney, Australia, will be home for a week to the millions who will come together to meet Benedict XVI, the Diocese of Melbourne, to the south of Sydney, will also host thousands in the days prior to the main events.

Tim Davis is one of the project officers for Days in the Diocese, a series of programs and events for the quarter of a million young Catholics from around the world who will stop in Melbourne on their way to Sydney.

Here in Rome last week for another round of preparatory meetings, Davis described what is in store for Catholic youth.

“One of best aspects of Days in the Diocese will be the opportunity for people from different cultures to get to know the day to day experience of people here,” Davis said. “We often think the mundane is boring, but for others it can be interesting, and helps people understand the faith life of people here, how it is developed and sustained.

“This will be an opportunity for others to see the living Church in action.”

In addition to being home to the largest diocese in Australia, Davis said that Melbourne is known for its hospitality and is accustomed to hosting large crowds for sporting events, such as the Grand Prix and football matches.

“Victoria is an event state, and being the city that it is, Melbourne is proud and loves providing hospitality,” he said.

To cut costs for young people who cannot afford to travel, many businesses and individuals have made generous offers of support. The state is also supporting the World Youth Day effort by absorbing some of the cost of logistical support, allowing the Church to concentrate on programs and people.

As much as most Australians are used to large numbers of visitors for special events, Davis said the World Youth Day crowd promises to be different from most groups Melbourne is accustomed to hosting.

“When the streets are filled with young people who are full of joy and excited about their faith, others take note,” Davis said.

He added, “We seem to lose that demographic of young people between the ages of 15 or 16; we are hoping that this event or gathering will be a stimulus, especially when they see young people excited about their faith.”

Davis said families in parishes and schools throughout the diocese are already preparing to accommodate pilgrims from all over the world.

Some, he said, have decided to host groups from particular parts of the world such as North Korea, in order to allow international communities to come to know each other.

For example, he said, Nazareth College in Victoria will host a group of students from the Holy Land.

The most important thing will be the sharing of the same faith among people from different cultures: “People from different communities will come together for prayer or Mass, and this will be a powerful way for people from different parts of the world to know each other.”

Beyond prayer, he said, there will be opportunities for different activities. The diocese will host cultural events and musical festivals, as well as speakers and pilgrimages.

“We don’t have the same religious history that Europe holds. But we want to share our own pioneering and missionary Christian faith, and how far we have come in 2,000 years,” Davis said.

In addition to dynamic leaders and role models such as Mary Ann Glendon, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, the diocese will host pilgrimages in the footsteps of Australia’s first blessed, Mary Mackillop, beatified by John Paul II in 1995, and to the Cistercian Tarrawarra Abbey in Victoria.

Davis said the momentum for the event is building gradually. “It’s a slow-moving steam roller. People who don’t know what to expect will suddenly see the streets filled with faith-filled young people.”

Franciscan Friar Father Stan Fortuna, a leading musical artist, has already toured Australia to give young people a small sample of what they can expect a year from now.

“He worked hard when he was here. He gave concerts in every major city and, in the two days I was with him, did about a dozen interviews,” Davis said.

As a former Australian rules football star and teacher in a program for children with behavioral and emotional difficulties, Davis said he jumped at the opportunity to work for World Youth Day.

“I have always wanted to be involved in World Youth Day,” Davis said. “For me personally, the most interesting part of this has been the people I have met from all corners of the earth. To see the universal Church has been very moving.”

* * *

Under Mary’s Protection

Just beyond St. Peter’s Square down the Via della Conciliazione looms the beautiful white facade of the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Traspontina.

Here every year large numbers of the Roman faithful gather to thank Our Lady of Mount Carmel with a special novena in preparation for her feast, July 16.

Beginning July 7, a different cardinal every day preaches about Our Lady at an evening Mass.

In a homily last Sunday, Cardinal William Levada, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, focused on Mary’s role in welcoming the Word of God into the world.

“The Evangelist Luke places the Gospel manifestation of the Word of God in the context of the mystery of Mary,” he said. “So much so, that Mary becomes the ‘instrument’ by which God rescues man from the slavery of sin, and brings him into the intimacy of communion with himself.”

In the same way, he continued, Mary even today reveals the glory of God’s presence among us. Moreover, he said that we enjoy her special patronage when we are consecrated to her.

Carmelite pastor, Father Piero Leta, explained that this aspect of devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is central to the identity of all Carmelites.

“I am a son of Mary,” he said. “She is the patron and protector of all Carmelites in a unique way.”

Father Leta said the history of the Carmelite order is unique, and their identity is centered on the patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who appeared to St. Simon Stock in the 13th century during a time of turmoil among the Carmelites.

“As an order, we are unique in that we have no one founder,” Father Leta said.

For centuries, he explained, Carmelites lived as monks on Mount Carmel, where Elijah met God. The Carmelite tradition was established by those who sought to live apart from the world, to find God in the silence of a desert retreat.

During the time of the Crusades, the Carmelites fled to Rome, where they were suddenly thrust into the bustling life of a busy city. Without a founder, and in completely new surroundings, the order suffered an identity crisis.

“The Holy See wanted to suppress us around the year 1250, because we did not have a founder that we could identify, as other orders do. We had simply always followed the desert tradition of Elijah and were dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel,” he explained.

Facing suppression, the Carmelites prayed fervently to Our Lady of Mount Carmel whose providence had never failed. She appeared to Carmelite Friar St. Simon Stock in England with the scapular, a sure sign of her protection and preservation.

For this reason, Father Leta said the origin of the devotion is directly linked to the brown scapular of Carmel: “The scapular is a sign of our consecration to Mary as our mother and is a sign of her protection of us. We belong to her, and everyone who wears this scapular as a sign of consecration is identified as her son or daughter.”

Since that time, and renewed again by the 16th-century reform of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, the entire Carmelite family, which includes the discalced and the Order of Carmelites, has flourished in many places throughout the world, Father Leta said.

The widespread devotion of the faithful who wear the brown scapular as a sign of consecration to Our Lady, he said, is a special gift for all that was entrusted to the Carmelites.

Moreover, Father Leta said the Traspontina church has been a privileged place for this devotion since the 16th century when it was placed under the care of the Carmelites after the sack of Rome.

The church itself is a treasury of art and architecture depicting history of the Carmelite order. Beginning with the altar, which depicts the prophets Elijah and Elisha on Mount Carmel, visitors can trace the origins and growth of the Carmelites, and the elements of the Carmelite charism that set it apart as a “desert oasis.”

Father Leta explained that Mount Carmel was a garden, an oasis of beauty and peace in the Holy Land.

“Our Lady is always adorned with the Flos Carmeli, the flowers of Carmel,” he said.

The novena will end Sunday, when the massive statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel will be carried down a main side street, Borgho Pio, and through the rest of the neighborhood.


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