Sunday, July 20, 2008

World Youth Day, Part II: Papal Mass

Just back from the Papal Mass which concludes World Youth Day, which took place at Randwick Racecourse, a massive horse track about 4k from downtown Sydney. The event was enormous -- I don't know if they hit the 500,000 they were predicting or not, but it sure looked full. (Click to get the big picture.)

Probably the coolest part of the liturgy itself was the bringing of the Gospel book, which was danced and sung by people from Fiji. I'm downloading a video of it onto Youtube. I'll post a link when it's done. Suffice it to say, experiencing how other cultures pray and celebrate -- just amazing.

Speaking of other cultures, I love this banner which hung above the altar area. The image actually comes from an an aboriginal woman. I guess she and her son were out on a boat a few years ago, and he said, look, mom. And she looked, and she saw this huge white dove floating above the land. She identified it as a vision of the Holy Spirit -- Australia is actually known, by the way, as the Great Southern Land of the Holy Spirit. So she went home and painted it in exactly the way you see it here. The dot-style is very aboriginal. Someone explained to me that the dots represent the dust from which we come and to which we fade. The red background, to my mind, functions as an image of this great land, which is oh so red at its heart.

In his homily, the Pope prayed for "a New Upper Room", that is, a new experience of the Holy Spirit coming down upon us and sending us out into the world, as had happened to the disciples at Pentecost in the Upper Room. A neat image. He also asked us, What is the world we are leaving for the next generation, a question that haunts.

I have to say too, being able to give out communion while the choir sang "Taste & See", a song from my own ordination liturgy, was really powerful. I was sent into the middle of an area, and I just stood in one place, turning round and round while people of all kinds of different walks of life came up from all sides.

Of course, there were funny moments in the liturgy, too. Like the walking. Not at the event, but to get there and to get home, oy vey did we walk. Honestly, when I got off the train finally to go home, my leg hurt in places I've never felt before.

Understatement of the Year.

There was also the pre-liturgy vibe, which was sort of telethon meets tele-evangelist meets motorcycle rally. We had two "hosts", a man and a woman, who would come running up on stage and try to get people wound up with "Are you ready to meet the Pope?" and "I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you, ARE YOU READY?", followed by faux-meaningful interludes that ill-suited the occasion.

My favorite moment, though, was when the male host introduced the Pope's arrival onto the course at Randwick in the Autopapa. "AND NOW...." he hollered, (I kid you not), "PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER FOR HIS HOLINESS, POPE BENEDICT... the SIXTEENTH!" I just needed "SO LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE!" for the moment to be complete.

Immediately prior to the liturgy, former Australian Idol Guy Sebastian and others sang some Christian rock songs, including the WYD "theme song", "Receive the Power," which is impossible to get out of your head once it's in there. Impossible.

Sebastian's sentiments were genuine, and his passion laudable. Still, I wanted to shake him a bit when he said "This isn't a performance, this isn't a show, we're praying here," immediately after he had just made a costume change.

Guy Sebastian: third song, second outfit.

The one other challenge of the day, I'd say, was language. The Pope has a wonderful tradition at World Youth Day (and every Sunday he's in Rome, too), of speaking a few brief, nicely prepared words to welcome people in different languages. He begins, that language group cheers, he says some nice things, and then he's on to the next one. People really enjoy it.

But today the language choices were almost entirely European. The Pope spoke in French, then Italian, then German, then Spanish, the Portuguese, then English. It was great, but as I'm sitting there surrounded by Africans and Asians, I couldn't help but wish for something in Swahili or an Asian language. To be fair, the prayers of the faithful included ones in Arabic and I think Chinese (maybe Vietnamese).

Also, the Our Father was sung in Latin, which I just didn't get. The youth don't speak it, and frankly neither do a lot of the rest of us, and of all the prayers of the mass, I'd say the Our Father is the one that most embodies for people our sense of unity. We hold hands, sometimes we sing, we've just done the sign of peace. Doing it Latin really shortcircuits that. I don't know. Color me "Huh?"

Having said that, as I sit here in bed, considering ice for my legs and a chocolate milkshake for my stomach, I have to say, it was a great, great day.

Next World Youth Day will be in 2011 in Madrid. And at the end of the liturgy, I found out the guy sitting next to me was a priest from Madrid named...Ignacio. Could it be a sign?


Sandra said...

Guy made a costume change? I didn't even notice. Unusual for him unless it's a minor change towards the end of a heavy duty sweaty soul concert. I believe he does have a change of clothing handy at performances, just in case. Maybe an 'in case' situation arose. I know what you mean about the song though - it's hard to get out of the brain.

I enjoyed the presence of the World Youth Day people in Australia. It was indeed a wonderful time.

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

I almost wasn't sure about the costume change myself, but I'm pretty sure he was wearing a red outfit at the start, and then the coat and tie later.
Glad you enjoyed WYD. All the best, Jim

Anonymous said...


I thought I might have had to send you bail money after you climbed over that fence but once again someone was watching out for you. By the way you know that the Pope is like a President as far as security goes.


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