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The Countdown Begins

Inside World Youth Day 2008

By Catherine Smibert (in Sydney)

Preparing with Prayer Power

SYDNEY, Australia, JULY 23, 2007 (Zenit) - With one year to go, the host city for the 2008 World Youth Day is buzzing with what some on the ground are describing as "holy anticipation."

And to honor the request of Benedict XVI and his predecessor, prayer is playing a vital role in the variety of preparatory activities occurring throughout Sydney and other national dioceses.

Last Friday, July 20, a year from the day of the final papal Mass, young and old alike united in one of the oldest churches in Sydney for what the coordinator of WYD '08, Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher, dubbed "A Holy Hour of Power."

The evening began with a stunning rendition of the already popular WYD theme song, "Receive the Power," performed by young Catholic performing arts students.

Tears then sprang to the eyes of some of those gathered as they witnessed a screening of Benedict XVI's most recent audience emphasizing his encouragement in the Australian mission.

But following some more song, Scripture and a personal testimony from ex-professional football player-turned WYD director of evangelization and catechesis, Steve Lawrence, it was really Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament who took center stage.

Learning from the first Aussie faithful

As Bishop Fisher pointed out, the exact location for the sacred event emphasized the challenge Sydneysiders face today.

He recounted the history of St. Patrick's Church as dating back to the early 1800s when the first Catholics in the nation tried to obtain a grant of land for a church and the government refused their request. Then, the only priest was expelled by the British Authorities, leaving behind just one consecrated Host.

But this didn't stop the Aussie Catholics witnessing to their faith, the bishop told us. The picture of persecuted Catholics gathering secretly for prayer was used to describe those early years as a "catacomb" era.

"The lay faithful continued to guard and adore Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament for an entire year ... until another French priest arrived to consume it and say a Mass for them again," the bishop explained.

So, as we returned to the roots of our faith in this continent, Bishop Fisher encouraged Australians to try and tap in to that dedication of our forefathers and to revive devotion to God's truth and will.

Heeding the call of the Holy Father

Such encouragement echoes the Pope's appeal in his WYD message when he instructs youth to become the new soul of humanity by being credible witnesses to the Church's mission to the world.

Here Benedict XVI clarifies that we can only be Christ's missionaries if we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

And this is echoed by the willingness of every parish across Sydney and the 'WYD SYD' (as it's affectionately known here) team.

Twenty-six-year-old Ivan Yau, WYD Coordinator for the Military Ordinariate of Australia, told me that "already the Spirit-filled experiences surrounding the event here in Sydney are really firing us up to do our part in responding to the Pope's request that we help launch a new Pentecost for the Church and humanity in the third millennium."

"We're sure the visitors of the world will share in our abundant sense of commitment to live up to our calling not to fear becoming great evangelizers," he added. "Now we tangibly know we can do anything with the Holy Spirit!"

Indeed the instructions and urgency of mission as presented in Benedict XVI's 6-page message for this occasion are already being followed Down Under.

In paragraphs 7 and 8 of the document, the English translation of which has still not been released, the Pope especially highlights young peoples' growing unease about their future, their questions regarding fighting injustices and suffering and how they should react to violence and egoism which seem to prevail in today's society -- but most importantly, how to give meaning to their lives.

In response to these concerns, Benedict XVI appeals to the world's youth not to forget the greatness of God's gifts which are the fruits of the Holy Spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, meekness and self control.

The Pope says that these can heal the wounded world and above all the world of today's youth.

The Holy Father calls on youth to become the new soul of humanity by being credible witnesses to the Church's mission to the world.

"Once again," he writes, "I tell you that only Christ can fulfill man's innermost desires"

Benedict XVI clarifies that we can only be Christ's missionaries if we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

And though he's aware that "some people may feel that by presenting the precious treasure of their faith to people who don't share the faith means being intolerant ... this is not so -- because representing Christ does not mean imposing Christ."

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