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Dreams of “Roos” and Didgeridoos at World Youth Day

World Youth Day '08

University Ministry students and staff were among a quarter-million registered pilgrims to share a sense of Catholic camaraderie “Down Under” during a two-week summer immersion to MAGiS ’08 and World Youth Day in Australia, where they communed with the pope, worked with aboriginal children, and labored on a sheep farm in the outback.

The joint trip was a first for University of San Francisco students as a group, said Executive Director of University Ministry Donal Godfrey S.J., who came up with the idea of the immersion to deepen students’ Catholic identification by being able to express their faith openly and joyfully, while avoiding a sense of being over or against or better than anyone else.

The theme of this year’s World Youth Day, held July 15-20 in Sydney, Australia, came from the scriptures, Acts 1:8 – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.”

“It was a big success and a profound experience for our students,” Fr. Godfrey said.

Particularly memorable were the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI by boat into Sydney Harbor as he was greeted by hundreds of thousands of young Roman Catholics; touring the streets of Sydney to witness the Stations of the Cross; and a three-hour pilgrimage through city streets and across Sydney Harbor Bridge for an evening vigil and Mass with the pope that culminated in a 250,000-person sleepover under the stars at the Royal Randwick Racecourse.

In all, about 500,000 attended Pope Benedict XVI’s final Mass on July 20 at the racecourse, according to World Youth Day estimates.

"Oh my gosh, 500,000 is a lot of people!" said USF sophomore psychology major Casey McKinnon, who took part in the immersion. Much of her time in Sydney was spent meeting people from any number of the 170 nations in attendance, getting to know her fellow students, and reflecting, internally, on what it means to be Catholic, McKinnon said.

“Being a pilgrim on the trip was such an amazing experience, there was a unifying bond that I felt wherever I went, even on the plane ride home,” said McKinnon, who started volunteering with Univeristy Ministry at the beginning of her freshman year as a tutor for underprivileged school children in San Francisco.

Helping to drive her reflection was her experience at MAGiS ’08, a local immersion designed to foster Ignatian spirituality through service that was held just prior to the official kick-off of World Youth Day events in Australia. MAGiS, which involved 1,500 pilgrims ages 18-30, was meant to build leaders with a sense of God’s place in their lives and a capacity to do something to build a better world.

For some USF students, that meant working with Aboriginal children in impoverished Bowraville, Australia. For others, it meant dodging Kangaroos on dirt roads to reach remote Koomooloo Station, a sheep ranch, where students painted buildings, removed fence posts and fence wire, sheared sheep, and collected firewood.

For McKinnon, working with Aboriginal children brought home the realization of how much she has and how much more she is capable of giving. “I have so much, and some people have nothing,” she said. “This realization really started to hit me there in a way that it never had before.”

Working with the children was her favorite part of the trip and was one of the aspects of the immersion that helped her to see God in people from all around the world, McKinnon said.

At Koomooloo ranch, sophomore psychology and teacher preparation program major Laura Gengler learned about different cultures, different forms of respect, and the different ways that God speaks to everyone, through her encounters with other cultures. “How often do you make friends with people who share the same passion, the same religion, and the same love for traveling?” Gengler said. “At World Youth Day, that was every person (I) met.”

Written by Edward Carpenter »usfnews@usfca.edu