The more than 3000 Australian pilgrims who will attend World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal have started leaving the country, with groups also preparing to visit key holy sites in the Middle East and Europe.
The Australian contingent is one of the largest to ever attend an international World Youth Day, with the Archdiocese of Sydney and Melbourne each taking more than 500 pilgrims.
The Dioceses of Broken Bay and Parramatta each have about 180 pilgrims, the Maronite Diocese of Australia more than 100 and the Neo-Catechumenal Way will have about 300 pilgrims from Australia.
Archbishop Christopher Prowse, the chair of the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry, said it has been a joy to see how many young people have taken up Pope Francis’ invitation.
“It’s almost four decades since St Pope John Paul II instituted these great events and they continue to inspire the young Catholics of the world,” he said.
“With Lisbon hosting the first World Youth Day since 2019, and obviously the first since the pandemic, it’s encouraging to see the enthusiasm remains among our young adults.”
Eighteen Australian bishops are travelling to Lisbon, with many of them invited to lead catechesis sessions to help with the formation of pilgrims.
On August 1, most of the pilgrims will continue the tradition of attending a gathering of Australian pilgrims, celebrating the national component of a vast international event.
Malcolm Hart, who has attended several World Youth Days while working for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said these events have proven to be life-changing for people.
“As in previous years, dioceses and other groups have put a lot of time and resources into World Youth Day,” said Mr Hart, the director of the National Centre for Evangelisation.
“Research has shown that World Youth Day is a significant faith experiences for young adults. It makes an impact that lasts a lifetime.”
Almost all Australian groups will make pilgrimages to holy places on their way to Lisbon or on the way back.
Fatima, the site of a series of Marian apparitions to three children reported in 1917, is the most popular destination for those pilgrimages, but large group will visit the Holy Land, Lourdes or Rome.
“Spending time at these transformative holy sites will be part of an eye-opening experience for our young people and those who are accompanying them,” said Archbishop Prowse.
“We ask the Catholic communities of Australia to pray for us as we make this journey of faith, just as we carry your prayer with us.”