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Preparing for World Youth Day '08

Interview With Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney

ROME, Italy, APRIL 8, 2006 (Zenit) - Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko has called the master plan for the 2008 Sydney World Youth Day a "masterpiece."

The archbishop, president of the Pontifical Council for Laity, approved Tuesday the final project for the World Youth Day, which has been in the works for more than two years.

The team also launched their official organization, ideas and logistics to an international group of over 90 delegates for World Youth Day in a meeting held today in Rome.

We spoke with Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, coordinator for the event.

Q: Your presentation includes a unique "three-phase approach" to the planning for the event. Could you run through these phases for us?

Bishop Fisher: The first phase is a time of evangelization, catechesis and prayer with the youth leading up to the event itself from now until July 2008.

This is a program for anyone in the world who wants to join in as a way to prepare themselves for Sydney. They can join us through an "E-pilgrimage" and receive a pack of spiritual preparation monthly that will include scriptures, prayer, the life of a saint, testimonies from young people, as well as practical information about World Youth Day in Sydney.

Phase 2 will be, of course, the great week of the World Youth Day in Sydney and the days in the dioceses around Australia before that.

For some youth, their touchdown in Australia won't be directly in Sydney. We'll give them the opportunity to spend some days in the diocese in other parts of the country such as Adelaide or Melbourne and then make a special journey to Sydney from there.

Phase 3 will be from 2008-2028. The third phase is the follow-up phase when the young people return home. We want to be ready to welcome them home to a Church that has its arms wide open and says that we want you to be able to learn more about your faith, to be able to pray, participate, to be able to serve and lead; to be the next generation of our Church in Australia and throughout the world!

Q: How will your program reflect the theme for the World Youth Day: "You will receive power from the Holy Spirit, and you will be my witnesses when the Holy Spirit has come upon you?"

Bishop Fisher: When it comes to witnessing the Holy Spirit, I think it's about an exchange of gifts -- what Australia can offer the youth of the world and what can come of this reciprocity.

Australia represents for some "the ends of the earth," so it's a place that offers young people of the world an opportunity to come and be witnesses to their faith beyond their own surroundings. They come bearing gifts to share -- their enthusiasm and faith that will help evangelize our whole culture.

We, in turn, will offer those young people a place of hospitality, a place of pilgrimage, a place where they will meet the Holy Father and the young people of the world to celebrate and deepen their faith so they may return to wherever they came from with a renewed zeal.

They will find a place of great welcome -- we're a very multicultural society so wherever they're from, they will find people who speak, think and act like them. But they'll also find every other nation represented there, wonderfully united as one country.

Many pilgrims will be coming from countries that are hundreds or thousands of years old and Australia offers them a new land -- our European settlers arrived just over 200 years ago -- with a very ancient aboriginal culture, both of which they will have a chance to encounter.

We are very determined that we are going to offer people a very genuine pilgrimage experience.

Though it's true that we don't have ancient cathedrals with the relics of saints, what we do have is a young culture, a young Church that wants to be a place of living saints. We believe the pilgrims will help make Australia into a true pilgrimage center where they will meet Jesus Christ and where they'll experience his Holy Spirit.

Q: What sense are you getting from people around the world -- what sort of logistical programs are being put together, etc.?

Bishop Fisher: We're certainly trying to get the word out to the young people of the world. We're going to do that especially through the Internet, through briefing national bishops conferences and international youth meetings.

And, the fact is, our world is a very small place. You can get anywhere in the world in a day and that includes to Australia ... from anywhere in the world. So, it need not seem so "far" to people or so impossible to achieve. I do it regularly!

Q. And what about the cost?

Bishop Fisher: It's also not as impossibly expensive as they might imagine either. We are saying to young Europeans, or to North and South Americans for instance, that for the packages for WYD, the airfare, spending money, etc., why not set aside about 2 euros a day and you'll be able to easily afford all of those requirements.

The package received once in Australia -- that is your food, accommodation, transport, health insurance, etc. -- is the equivalent of one or two tickets to see your favorite performer in concert.

This is not big money we're talking about, given what young people save for other things.

We are certainly doing everything in our power to make it as accessible to as many young people in the world as want to come. And for those in poor countries, let me assure you that we'll be doing everything we can to make it possible for you to come too.

We don't just want rich, young Catholics to be there, we want everyone there.

Q: Immigration issues are always factored into the entire preparation, the bid, etc. How is Australia responding?

Bishop Fisher: We have been very blessed in our preparations in Australia for WYD with very good cooperation from our state and federal governments.

Part of that cooperation is the promise that we'll be able to offer free visas to the young people of the world; no caps or limits on any particular country, as there have been in some previous WYDs.

So if any young person from any part of the world gets together what is required to get there and register for the event, once they apply for a visa, they will be welcomed.

Q: In Cologne you had quite a team set up to outline some of the things people should and shouldn't do. What has Australia learned from this and past world youth days?

Bishop Fisher: We had a team of observers in Cologne and the Germans were wonderfully generous to our needs and gave us access to their organization so we could learn everything we could about hosting a WYD. We've also had literally thousands of people attending previous WYDs so we can learn something from everyone.

Basically, our goal is that we want to imitate and improve whatever has been done anywhere else that went well, while adding a bit of an Australian flavor to it.

We've planned to have our young people living in the greater metropolitan area of Sydney and they would have their catechesis in the morning near where they are living, ideally within walking distance.

Then, during the day, they will come into the city center for some of the youth festival events such as the arrival of the Pope, the Mass, and Stations of the Cross, where all the best of our public transport system is on standby to make that happen.

Then, in terms of the vigil and final Mass, our plan is to hold that at our Olympic site which is very central in Sydney and has fabulous public transport going straight into it.

But, many of the youth will choose the option of walking to the site, as at previous youth days. For this, we've arranged the most beautiful and moving pilgrimage walk that WYD has had in all its history. We're planning that they will walk over the five bridges of Sydney: the ANZAC Bridge, the Harbor Bridge, the Iron Cove Bridge, the Gladesville Bridge and the Ryde Bridge to Homebush Olympic Park.

Because the Olympic Park is so central -- its not a big field way out of town as most WYDs have had to be, such as Tor Vergata was here in Rome, or Marienfeld at Cologne -- ours will prove much easier for people to get to and from.

I don't want to underestimate the challenge. We're still taking into consideration that there will be enormous crowds -- the biggest crowds in the history of our country will be gathered for the final Mass of the World Youth Day.

That's very exciting and of course, it will require some patience and young people will have some of the real pilgrim experience -- but, in general, I think we're a city which has demonstrated, from having held events like the Olympics and the World Cup, that we can cope with these sorts of crowds.

Q: What's your hope for this event?

Bishop Fisher: We're hoping that the Australian Church and Australia will never be the same again.

My hope would be for a genuine, deep renewal of the whole life of the Church in my country.

But, then I hope that through the experience of World Youth Day in Australia, this won't just be a really exciting week for a lot of young people who simply go back to work afterwards, but that this will be a change in the lives of all young people in attendance. I hope that it will be a time for a deeply moving encounter with Christ and his Church, and a time to experience the power of the Holy Spirit, and that they will return as witnesses to Jesus Christ -- really wanting to show the world what they believe -- and show the world a way to be good and true and beautiful.


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