The trip was incredible. No matter how many World Youth Days (WYD) I attend, each one in it's unique way is absolutely wonderful and the occasional disaster. This one blew me away in some major and innumerable small ways.
The incredible large moments were the Living Stations of the Cross and the overnight vigil and Mass with the Pope. The Stations were indescribable. Over the course of 3 hours, actors re-enacted the Passion narrative using the landmarks of Sydney as their backdrop. To see the Opera House transformed into Pilate's palace and Jesus transported with his cross on a simple flat float were stunning images that I am still processing. What spoke most to me was the casting of an Aboriginal man, in traditional garb, as Simon the Cyrene. After beginning to learn more of what the Aboriginal peoples of Australia suffered, the image of this man helping Jesus to bear the Cross was one of the most moving moments of the two weeks.
The overnight vigil was incredibly cold, down to 46 degrees overnight, but was a beautiful witness to the universality of faith among young people. Our small group from the U.S. was surrounded by Germans, Tongalese, a large group from the United Arab Emirates, and an enormous group from California. All of us were willing to brave the chilly temperatures, occasional issue with malfunctioning toilets, and canned tuna to pray together at night and close the WYD event with the massive Papal Mass on Sunday morning.
The small moments were the things that no news agency would wish to cover, but which made the trip more meaningful. Watching group members care for individuals struggling with the confusion, teens pausing to pray instead of sight-seeing, finding old friends in the midst of thousands of strangers, these were the moments that helped to ground the experience for me in a complex reality.
What is difficult is the reactions of the teens. WYD is primarily geared towards those 18 and older. By taking a significant number of 16 & 17 year-olds, the dynamics change. I obviously cannot have young people roaming long after midnight through a foreign city. This means curtailing our evening activities. With a diverse group of people, there is a complicated matrix of needs and wants to work with that rarely coincide with each other. Inevitably, people have disappointed expectations or are pushed beyond what they had imagined the trip to be. Young adults are more ready, developmentally, to face these challenges and make decisions accordingly. In the case of teens, they often will become antagonistic, shut themselves off, or begin the time honored tradition of complaining. I struggle greatly with this. I want to take teens, but I question the wisdom.
I had teens complain the trip wasn't religious enough. Others that it was too religious. Some wanted more freedom, while others I knew required structure. Balancing all of this is an impossible act. Of course the nay-sayers are the most vocal, which makes it more difficult. With my present exhaustion I am a bit more negative myself. Time will give perspective.
Until then, I will continue attempting to reorient myself to this time zone and enjoying the quiet.